Cannes film festival may have been cancelled this year, but it has nevertheless assembled a compelling 2020 official selection list to rally behind struggling filmmakers
The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Cannes film festival this year, only the second time in its more than seven decades of history. That, however, hasn’t stopped the influential annual event on the French Riviera to pore over thousands of hours of reels and put together an official selection to rally behind struggling filmmakers. The Cannes 2020 selection of 56 films, many of which will be screened at certain other festivals later this year, reflects the reality of contemporary world, from racism to the state of uncertainty.
Two new films by British director Steve McQueen—Lovers Rock and Mangrove—that deal with racism are the highlights of the Cannes official selection along with such films as American filmmaker Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, half way between comic strip and animation, Japanese Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers and American director Jonathan Nossiter’s Last Words, which is about the end of the world. Like last year, there are no Indian films in the 2020 official selection.
Race & justice
Lovers Rock and Mangrove by McQueen, who won the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave in 2014, tell the story of the black community in London in the 70s. The period movies are part of the director’s five-film anthology series, Small Axe, developed from a TV series of the same name. Small Axe is a 1973 Bob Marley song about the rights of the marginalised inspired by the Caribbean proverb: “If you are a big tree, we are a small axe”.
“This is, of course, very topical today,” said Cannes festival’s general delegate Thierry Fremaux, while unveiling the official selection on June 3. Soon after the Cannes selection, McQueen, also a Turner Prize-winning artist, dedicated Lovers Rock and Mangrove to George Floyd, the African-American whose death in police custody in the US has led to protests against racial injustice across the world. McQueen is no stranger to Cannes having won the Camera d’Or for his debut film Hunger in 2008.
Lovers Rock, the title taken from the reggae music style that dominated London’s cultural scene in the 70s, is a fictional story, while Mangrove is a true story about a landmark trial, also in the same period, that was a turning point for the black community in Britain. The subject of Mangrove is the trial of nine black men—called Mangrove Nine—who were part of a cultural movement by the West Indian community in Notting Hill against racial dominance.
Pandemic & future
The Cannes selectors have also responded to the pandemic that has paralysed the world by including on the list a post-apocalyptic drama. Set in 2086, Nossiter’s Last Words, a French-Italian co-production, presents a world without crops and power, and where no child has been born for 10 years. Based on the novel My Last Words by Argentinian writer-filmmaker Santiago Amogorena, the film turns the focus on the last few people left in the world after climate change wipes out the rest of the human population.
Shot in Italy, the film stars Nick Nolte, Charlotte Ramping and Stellan Skarsgaard. “You might think that it was written last week,” said Fremaux of Last Words. “It very much resonates with the very peculiar times we are experiencing. I hope this (the pandemic) won’t happen again,” he added, while listing out the selected films that come without the usual Cannes categories, including the prestigious competition section for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize.
Domination of Asia
Instead of categories, the selection this year comes under titles The Faithful (for regular Cannes participants), The Newcomers, The First Features, An Omnibus Film (a movie on Hong Kong), 3 Documentary Films, 5 Comedy Films and 4 Animated Films. The Omnibus entry, Septet: The Story of Hong, is directed by seven renowned filmmakers from Hong Kong (including prolific director-producer Johnnie To), each of them exploring the history of the special administrative region of China recently hit by anti-government protests in the past seven decades.
A year after Korean film Parasite won the Palme d’Or, the selection has 11 films from Asia, among them Kawase’s True Mothers, South Korean Im-Sang-soo’s Heaven: To the Land of Happiness, compatriot Yeon Sang-ho’s sequel to his highly-acclaimed Train to Busan, titled Peninsula, Lebanese director Danielle Arbid’s love story Passion Simple and Chinese filmmaker Wei Shujun’s road movie Striding Into the Wind.
The Cannes festival, known for packing films with heavy political content, has also selected several women-centric films this year, notably the documentary Nine Days at Raqqa by French director Xavier de Lausanne. The film is about the battle of Leila Mustapha, the 30-year-old mayor of Raqqa, to rebuild the former Islamic State capital in Iraq, which was reduced to ruins after the war. The Cannes selection, which considered films that would see theatrical release until next May, also has Green Book actor Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling. Anderson’s The French Dispatch, on the other hand, is a tribute to journalism.
For the first time, Cannes received more than 2,000 entries this year. “We needed to give these movies a boost,” said Pierre Lescure, president of Cannes festival. “There will be no winners this year. This time, everybody will be allowed to give out their own Palme d’Or,” said Fremaux, who noted that cinema was very much alive during the lockdown, as people watched movies on TV. “The film narrative is the story of cinema, about people going out to theatres and watching movies,” he added.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer