Tim Brown’s Cannes lowdown

Brighton CineCity Festival’s director takes you through his picks from Cannes 2017.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown of CineCity Festival

As ever many of the gems and real pleasures of the festival were to be found outside of the main competition, in the Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and Out of Competition strands.

Faces Places

An excellent and engaging documentary – screening out of the main Cannes competition streams – is Faces Places (Visages Villages), which follows legendary Agnès Varda, now 89, and French photographer JR as they travel through rural France pasting up JR’s massive photographs on buildings.

As the pair form an unlikely friendship, their interactions with each other and the ordinary working people they encounter are immensely uplifting. Varda – awarded an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015, the same year she came to Brighton to present her films in person – is now suffering from failing eyesight and unable to make films on her own, but this was an absolute delight.

The Prince of Nothingwood
(Directors’ Fortnight).

Nothingwood is Afghanistan’s version of Nollywood, Bollywood or Hollywood. Sonia Kronlund makes her feature debut with this documentary profile of Salim Shaheen, the most prolific and popular actor-director-producer in Afghanistan who has made more than 100 films in the past 30 years in his war-torn country.

This is a highly entertaining celebration of cinema and a fascinating character study of a one-man industry. Vertigo is planning to release in the UK in late 2017.

I Am Not A Witch

(Directors’ Fortnight). This highly original feature debut from Zambian born, Wales- based filmmaker Rungano Nyoni and set in a world of contemporary witchcraft, is an intriguing mix of satire and fairytale.

Nine year old Shula (a wonderful central performance from Margaret Mulubwa) is banished from her village and sent to a travelling witch-camp where she is told that if she tries to escape she will be transformed into a goat. Cut through with moments of humour and surrealism, I Am Not a Witch is wonderfully shot and also features a striking soundtrack. Curzon Artificial Eye has picked it up for UK distribution.

The Rider

(Winner of Art Cinema award, Directors’ Fortnight). Two years after her debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which Cinecity was delighted to screen in 2015, Chloé Zhao’s follow-up focuses on a former rodeo star, played by real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau, who must rebuild his life after his skull is crushed in a riding accident.

Brady Jandreau in The Rider, with horse

Brady Jandreau in The Rider

The film is not at all what one might surmise from a brief synopsis. The ‘masculinity in crisis’ tale is subtle and nuanced and expertly handled throughout with a balancing tenderness, especially in Brady’s relationship with his sister who has learning disabilities. Sumptuous cinematography from Joshua James Richards (he also shot God’s Own Country coming out in September, and which screens at our Hub member event on 18th July) superbly captures the vistas of South Dakota. Chloé Zhao’s first feature Songs did not get a UK release but Altitude has thankfully bought The Rider for UK distribution.

April’s Daughter

Mexican director Michel Franco (Daniel and Ana, After Lucia, Chronic) has produced another assured and unsettling drama, which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. 17 year-old Valeria (Ana Valeria Becceril) is pregnant by her teenage boyfriend but doesn’t want her absent mother, April (Emma Suárez, last seen as Almodovar’s Julieta) to know. When her sister Clara (Joanna Larequi) goes behind her back and calls April, their mother arrives all ready to help. However, once the baby is born, it soon becomes all too clear why Valeria wanted to keep April as far away as possible.

A number of reviews refer to Franco’s cool, detached style as sometimes reminiscent of Michael Haneke but somehow at odds with a melodramatic storyline that pushes believability. But Franco is powerfully adept at skewering family dysfunction and April, brilliantly portrayed by Suárez, is a fascinating case study.

Tim’s personal highlights

As for the main competition, extensively covered elsewhere, my personal highlights were:

Loveless, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, The Return), winner of the Jury prize. It is a masterful examination of the emptiness at the heart of contemporary Russia as a divorcing couple, in the process of selling their apartment and preparing to move on with their new lives, neglect their 12-year-old son Alyosha and barely notice when he disappears. Somehow combining elements of a police procedural with a state of the nation dissection, it confirms Zvyagintsev as one of contemporary cinema’s most accomplished film-makers. It is due for release by Altitude on Nov 10.

Loveless

Loveless: Unforgettable

120 Beats Per Minute
Winner of the Grand Prix, Franco-Moroccan director Robin Campillo’s third feature follows  gay activists in 1990s Paris amid the rise of the AIDS epidemic and their battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. With a tender love story set against a detailed backdrop of ACT UP Paris weekly meetings, 120 Beats Per Minute brilliantly links the personal and political and features an excellent ensemble cast. It is due to be released by Curzon Artificial Eye on Oct 20.

You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s first feature since 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin won joint best screenplay award and a best actor for Joaquin Phoenix’s contract killer (Joe) trying to rescue a politician’s kidnapped daughter from the sex trade. Joe has the physical, and – revealed through flashbacks – mental scars of time spent in the FBI and Marines but partly what makes the film so utterly compelling is the way familiar tropes are thoroughly re-invigorated and elevated by a director at the very top of her game.

There are scenes of graphic violence (the film has been described elsewhere as a 21st century Taxi Driver) but everything revealed is so finely judged and precise. The film also features a great score from Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood.