Private View: Time to dance the Cannes Can

Cannes, the world’s largest, most glamorous and certainly most famous film festival got under way this week and will no doubt dominate the news headlines for the next fortnight. But, what is Cannes? It’s more than a film festival – it’s better described as a showbiz happening.

Most of the news coverage won’t be centred on the films being shown, but instead will be hundreds of pictures of glamorous stars arriving at premieres or wannabe starlets posing in bikinis on yachts.

But there again Cannes is not really showbiz either because it also acts as a platform for a diverse array of art-and-auteur movies, which will find it hard to find exposure anywhere else.

So what is Cannes? It is a unique collection of contradictions which combine to defy reason. Even the location is absurd and should undermine the event. Who would design a film festival, which, by its very nature takes places indoors and in the dark, to take place on the Mediterranean coast in high summer?

Cannes seems to exist out of place and out of time, in a temporary state of harmony, before, like the guests and the film-makers attending the event, the elements are scattered to the four winds.


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As much as other international film festivals jockey for position on the world stage – Edinburgh, London, Toronto,Venice and Berlin are all in the first division of film events – Cannes remains the one name that is instantly recognisable with the public at large. Cannes has a certain cache, a mark of both glamour and quality, which is why Hollywood makes a B-line to the festival to launch their annual array of summer blockbusters – movies which would not be in the official festival selection in a million years but Cannes is happy to host premiere parties and out-of-competition screenings in return for an A-list guest list.

As you would expect, the film festival takes over the whole of the resort for two weeks in May. The frontage of expensive hotels become poster hoardings for forthcoming movies. Some are never made, they remain merely poster images, while others, awaiting imminent release, sometimes become all-time classics.

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Cannes is part art appreciation event, academic symposium, marketing opportunity and a commercial deal-making centre. It’s a place, not only, where a finished film can get a high profile launch, but also where the germ of an idea can gain the finance necessary to turn it into a reality and, in-turn, the resulting film may get its premiere at the festival two or three years down the road.

Part of the allure of Cannes can be found in the history of the event. Next year it celebrates its 65th birthday and it’s clearly as spry and vital as ever. The idea for a film festival was first mooted in the late 1930s as an apolitical event to celebrate film as the 20th century art form. The first Cannes Film Festival was launched on September 1 1939 only to be cancelled almost immediately following the news that Germany had invaded Poland.

It was an inauspicious start, which proved to be only a hic-cup because in 1946 with the Second World War barely finished the Cannes Film Festival was relaunched and was an immediate success. What was amazing was that from the beginning, it had an international flavour gaining support not only from other European nations but also crucially from Britain and America.

During the early years, the competition juries were made up of a representative from every country taking part. Indeed some film-makers owe their continued careers to support from the Cannes festival.

British film-makers like Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsey are better regarded in France than they are at home while Woody Allen, virtually ignored in the US, is almost treated as an honorary Frenchman.

But the British have a funny relationship with Cannes. It’s a festival in which its fame out-shines its influence. In the last three years, ten prize-winning films which received excellent reviews at Cannes, have yet to receive a UK release.

As screen space for foreign language films continues to shrink, British audiences are without doubt, missing out on some excellent films.

Even films which gain a mainstream following like Gaspar No�’s superb Enter the Void or Amelie can take three or four years to find their way over the Channel while some, seemingly very commercial movies like the excellent pyschodrama Don’t Look Back starring Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci by-pass us altogether.

Cannes will provide the celebrity mags and the gossip columnists with plenty of material during the coming days.

But I hope that among all the star-spotting and reports of premiere parties someone, somewhere gets to report back on the films being shown and that we, here in the UK, get to see the best of them.

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