On the Croisette
Wednesday, May 14th marks day one of the most important annual event on the art-film calendar: the Cannes Film Festival. Now in its 67th incarnation, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of a showcase that has debuted more great films, especially in recent years, than any other festival. Indeed, of the top six post-1999 finishers on the authoritative 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the "greatest films of all-time", all six (In the Mood for Love, Mulholland Drive, Yi Yi, Tree of Life, Tropical Malady, Cache/Hidden) premiered at Cannes. Whether this speaks to the quality of its films, the power that event yields over taste-makers or - in all likelihood - both, the point is that Cannes is a very big deal, especially to those who think that movies can be something more that a meaningless diversion, that it can be an art indeed on par with the greatest works of literature, painting and music. A big statement perhaps, but a lot more plausible when it comes to films like those cited above.
Even for those of us who will be nowhere near Cannes this May, myself included tragically, the French festival should be of considerable interest as it will foretell much of what will be worth seeing throughout not just the rest of 2014, but also into twenty-fifteen and even twenty-sixteen. This year's main competition is, as is almost always the case, headlined by Cannes veterans: Mike Leigh for Mr. Turner, a biography of the great English landscape painter; Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg for Map of the Stars, his second consecutive Robert Pattinson vehicle; Tommy Lee Jones for his latter-day Western, The Homesman; two-time top prize-winning Belgian brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for Two Days, One Night, starring Marion Cotillard; French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard for his 3-D!!! Goodbye to Language (pictured, on set); and top Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Winter Sleep. While there's certainly the chance that at least one of these films will be an affront to all that is good in the world, there's an even greater likelihood that one or more will endure as great works of film art, movies that will be discussed by cinema-lovers and taught in film studies classrooms long after The Amazing Spider Man 2 fades from our collective memory - which should be sometime next week, if we're not already there. My own best guess for greatness is Winter Sleep, though I wouldn't sleep on - I promise you I hate myself for that pun, worse than you hate me, and I know you do - Japanese director Naomi Kawase's Still the Water or Mauritanian auteur Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu.
So where does one see these films after they debut on the Croisette? The majority of the English-language films will receive proper commercial distribution, beginning this summer (at places like Greenwood Village, the Mayan and the Denver Film Center; Jim Jarmusch's excellent Cannes 2013 title, Only Lovers Left Alive, is currently screening in the Mile High City), while a handful of the foreign language titles will receive their Colorado premieres at Telluride or the Denver Film Festival. For those films that don't open locally, streaming provides another outlet for the adventurous movie goer, while home video eventually provides another home - I've got to stop doing that - for most of the films.
Which of course brings us back to the Denver Public Library, and its fabulous floating collection: of those top six films of the early twenty-first century, DPL has copies of all six (available in our collection by clicking on the titles above). DPL in fact has the majority of the Cannes competition premieres of the past few years: absolute highlights include Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul's experimental re-positioning of his native folklore and Buddhist spirituality in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010); the aforementioned Turkish auteur Ceylan's aesthetic synthesis of East and West in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011); former enfant terrible Leos Carax's twenty-first century obsessed Holy Motors (2012); and last year's Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language Film, and genuinely intelligent take on a Fellini classic, Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty (2013). These films, like the best of what will emerge in the South of France over the course of the next week or two, are guaranteed to expand your understanding of how films tell stories, make meaning... or simply, what it means for a movie to be great art.