AS THE world wages its wars across known and unknown boundaries, filmmakers across the globe are arming their new works with a common theme: how to survive in a broken universe. The subject of survival is having a unifying resonance at the 68th Cannes Film Festival as well, known for setting the stage for what the audience will watch around the world in the coming months.
The most vocal message for survival is from Australian director George Miller, who brings back his Mad Max series after a three-decade-long gap. The Mad Max series, made memorable by Mel Gibson as a road warrior with a survival instinct matched only by the vehicles he drives, got its fourth installment with the world premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road at Cannes. It took 30 years for a new episode to emerge after the last episode, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. “My world is fire and blood,” says the new Max Rockatansky, played by English actor Tom Hardy, better known as Bane, the destroyer, in The Dark Knight Rises. “It is hard to know who is crazy—me or anybody else,” he adds, referring to the upheavals faced by the world today. As Max extends his survival instincts in a never-ending Australian desert, he has an ally in Charlize Theron, who is looking for redemption as Imperator Furiosa, a runaway warrior fighting for a new world for the fringe dwellers. Both Hardy and Theron scorched the red carpet at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, the main venue of the Cannes festival on May 14, a day before the film’s worldwide release, including in India, on May 15. Miller, who directed the previous three episodes as well, the first in 1979, recreates a Max haunted by his turbulent past, but still able to fight hard enough in a 30-minute-long road war sequence.
American director Woody Allen, however, has taken only four years to return to the French Riviera, with his new film, Irrational Man, about a philosophy professor who gets involved with two women while surviving as an emotional wreck. Allen, who brought literary greats to life through an American writer’s dream in Midnight in Paris (which premiered in Cannes four years ago), again finds himself in the out-of-competition section along with Fury Road. The unveiling of a philosophical yet more violent new Mad Max was preceded by a brand-new Catherine Deneuve film, La Tete Haute (Standing Tall), which opened the Cannes festival this year on May 13. Also screened in the out-of-competition category, La Tete Haute tackles the theme of survival, that of a young delinquent boy, who is helped by a judge (Deneuve), as he goes on a journey of hope. Directed by French filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot, La Tete Haute, a rare opening film by a woman director in Cannes, traces the travails of the eight-year-old boy in the juvenile justice system.
“Emmanuelle Bercot’s film makes an important statement about contemporary society in keeping with modern cinema,” says the festival’s general delegate, Thierry Fremaux, the number two in the Cannes hierarchy. “It focuses on universal social issues, making it a perfect fit for the global audience at Cannes.” As per him, the selection of a woman director’s film for opening the influential film festival was a “clear reflection of our desire to see the festival start with a different piece, which is both bold and moving”.
Bercot is not new to Cannes, having shown her first feature film, Clement, in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival 14 years ago. With the theme of survival forming the broad canvas of films in Cannes, it is not strange that the two people responsible for choosing the best film of the festival this year happen to be brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (they handled a singer’s survival story in the backdrop of the 1960s’ folk songs era in New York in their last film Inside Llewyn Davis, screened in Cannes in 2013). The Coen brothers head the jury of the competition section, which will choose the Palme d’Or winner. The other members of the jury include French actor Sophie Marceau, Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal, British actor Siena Miller and Canadian director Xavier Dolan.
The prestigious competition section, with 20 films vying for the top honour, has Italian directors Paolo Sorrentino and Nanni Moretti in the race with American filmmaker Gus Van Sant, French director Jacques Audiard, and Chinese filmmakers Jia Zhang-Ke and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Moretti, who won the Palme d’Or for The Son’s Room in 2001, returns with My Mother, four years after he came to Cannes with a troubled Pope’s story in Habemus Papam.
Moretti’s compatriot Sorrentino, winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with The Great Beauty last year, is in contention for Youth, the story of two octogenarian friends going on a vacation to the Alps. Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees takes the audience on a journey to the foothills of Mount Fuji, where people go to contemplate life and death. French filmmaker Audiard, who made the critically-acclaimed The Prophet, tells the tale of a Tamil tiger rebel in Dheepan, as the Lankan civil war draws to a close. Chinese director Jia Zhang-Ke, who hasn’t won a Palme d’Or in his last three attempts, returns with Mountains May Depart, while veteran Hou Hsiao-Hsien will have his first shot at the Cannes top prize with The Assassin. The Palme d’Or winner will be announced on May 24, the last day of the festival, which is missing an Indian entry this year as well. A Punjabi film and a Hindi movie, however, will make up for the lack of Indian presence at the competition. Chauthi Koot by Punjabi filmmaker Gurvinder Singh and Masaan by Hindi director Neeraj Ghaywan will represent the world’s biggest film industry in the official selection at Cannes this year in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer