Cannes 2022 with Alice Black


9 June 2022

Alice Black, DCA's Head of Cinema, is back from the Cannes Film Festival, where she has been seeking out the very best new films to bring to our screens in the coming year. Here's Alice's report on some of the highlights of the festival, and the intense challenge of seeing as many films as possible in just 10 days…

The Cannes Film Festival has become synonymous with glitz and glamour with red carpets and yacht parties, Hollywood stars and big-name directors. Yet, underneath all the pizzazz, it is a key industry event, where some of the best and brightest films get their first outing, careers are made on both sides of the camera, and all-important financing and distribution deals are struck.

“Making the best selection involves strategy, research, luck and coffee”

Depending on what part of the film sector you work in, the Cannes experience will be very different. For some, it will all be about meetings and networking. For others, press conferences and filing stories to a deadline. For anyone who works in programming, our only goal is to see as many films as possible in the ten days. It might sound easy, but it is impossible to see everything with hundreds of films on offer in the Competition and other strands and triple that number in the market. Making the best selection involves strategy, research, luck and coffee, and invariably, there will be films that I have missed that I wish I had seen and films that I have noticed that I wish I could forget. If I see less than four films a day, I won’t feel I have done my job correctly, but with more than six, your eyes go fuzzy, and your knees start to ache.

An average Cannes day…

After two years of attending festivals only online from my sofa in Dundee, returning to the old routine was reassuring. Technical issues with the ticketing portal meant a very frustrating first few days. Still, nothing would dampen my excitement at being back with my international colleagues in the cinema. The average Cannes day for a film programmer begins at 6:30 am, frantically logging into the ticket website to see what the algorithm gods have allocated to you, booking what you can and then rushing out the door at 7:30 am to your first screening. A day of back-to-back films follows, peppered with a few minutes of sunshine dashing from one venue, standing in a queue to grab a quick baguette or coffee in between back-to-back viewings. Finally, I head to bed in the wee hours and then repeat. Once or twice during the festival, there is usually a welcome chance to have pizza and a glass of rose with colleagues, dissect what we’ve seen, swap recommendations and revise plans for the rest of our viewing schedule.

“There’s a rawness to your reactions at festivals…”

Even though I watch films for a living and have been going to Cannes and other major festivals for two decades, I still get chills every time the lights go down and realise I am about to see something no other audience has seen yet. There’s a rawness to your reactions at festivals, which can be hard to duplicate when a film has already generated reviews or media buzz. I always think of it as a chance to flex my critical muscles! The most challenging and lonely part of my job is coming back full of excitement and enthusiasm for something I’ve seen and having to park that for several months or even years before the film is released in the UK. But when they do, you’ll hopefully remember this piece and think, oh yeah, THAT’s the one Alice was going on about…

Early highlights and late night Bowie

Out of the 40 films I saw over eight days of film viewing at Cannes, this is just a small selection of the ones which made the most profound impression. I’m not going to discuss the films that were underwhelming, disappointing, or downright bad. Still, if there is an omission here, remember it might just be that I couldn’t fit that film into my schedule, not that it was awful. I’ll leave you to guess which! 

The film I was most looking forward to seeing was Swedish provocateur Ruben Ostlund's (Force Majeure, The Square) English language debut, Triangle of Sadness, a dark comedy about a shipwreck on a luxury yacht for the super-rich. Ostlund consistently and unflinchingly holds up a mirror to our contemporary culture, asks us to question our moral positions, and offers very few answers. Less subtle than his previous films, but with a fantastic ensemble cast, including a superb turn by Woody Harrelson as the captain of the ill-fated ship, this is one three-hour cruise you’ll never forget.   

“Triangle of Sadness is one three-hour cruise you’ll never forget…”

In retrospect, I was glad to have seen The Eight Mountains relatively early in the festival when I could fully appreciate the length and breadth of this epic story of a life-long friendship between two men in north-western Aosta Valley in Italy without danger of nodding off. Set against a stunning backdrop with a fantastic soundtrack, directors Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) explore beautifully what a life well-lived looks like as the two men take different paths in search of fulfilment. 

One of the most anticipated premires was Park Chan-wook’s Decision To Leave. He had Cannes success in previous years with Old Boy, Thirst and The Handmaiden, and we were expecting a visual feast. Director Park didn’t disappoint. Decision To Leave is a Korean and Chinese language thriller about a detective who falls in love with his lead suspect. This uber stylised homage to Hitchcock will benefit from repeated viewings; its complex construction is full of atmospheric twists and turns.    

Two other films which started to generate buzz early were also thrillers. Tarik (The Nile Hilton Incident) Saleh's Boy From Heaven about state interference in the election of grand imam set against the backdrop of a prestigious religious university in Cairo was a riveting watch. And Ali (Border) Abbas’ portrait of a serial killer in the Iranian city of Mashhad Holy Spider was a challenging but essential watch.  

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda who won the Palme d’Or with Shoplifters back in 2018, returned to the Competition with Korean-language drama Broker. When two men take a child from a ‘baby box’ (a place where parents leave infants they cannot raise), hoping to sell him on for adoption, their plan is immediately complicated by the baby’s regretful mother and two police detectives. While the premise doesn’t sound particularly heartwarming, in Kore-eda’s hands and with Parasite’s Song Kang-ho heading the cast, this is another gem from a master filmmaker who careful explores societal issues while foregrounding the unique friendships forged on the margins of society.

Of all the films in the Official Competition, the one that struck a cord most strongly for me was the latest film by Belgian director Lukas Dhont, who had burst onto the scene with his first feature, Girl and won the Camera d’Or and Queer Palm in 2018. Without giving too much away, his sophomore feature, Close, chronicles the close bond of friendship between two 13-year old boys, Leo and Remi, which is disrupted when they move into middle school and begin to feel the pressure to fit in. With extraordinary performances by the young cast, this film explores some of the critical issues facing teenagers today with devastating sensitivity. There were tears.           

Selections in the sidebar sections were just as strong. The Director’s Fortnight strand yielded some gems: Mia Hanson-Love’s latest heartfelt family drama, One Fine Morning; Ukrainian folk-tale infused Pamfir, the portrait of a father drawn back into his old criminal ways to save his son; Mark Jenkin’s atmospheric Cornish horror Enys Men and Owen Klein’s darkly comic coming-of-age story about a comic artist, Funny Pages.  I didn’t get to spend much time in the Certain Regard section this year except to catch Hlynur (A White White Day) Palmason’s remarkable period drama Godland, about a Danish priest travelling through remote and unforgiving Iceland to build a church and photograph the people. A midnight screening of Moonage Daydream, the David Bowie documentary, which clocks in at over 2.5 hours, did not disappoint any Bowie fans in attendance. Given full access to the archives, filmmaker Brett Morgan lived up to his ambition to make an experimental cinematic odyssey.    

“…for the Scottish contingent, Aftersun was probably the most anticipated film of the entire festival”

But for the Scottish contingent, Aftersun, which was part of the Critic’s Week selection, was probably the most anticipated film of the entire festival. This debut film from writer/director Charlotte Wells, funded by Screen Scotland, is a bittersweet tale of a father/daughter relationship centred around a holiday abroad 20 years ago. Paul Mescal (Normal People) plays a young divorced dad navigating the relationship with his pre-teen daughter (an extraordinary Francesca Corio).

The film blends beautifully both the sharp edges of reality and the hazy poetic quality of what it is like to remember a significant life event. It was so exciting to hear the buzz about the film circulating amongst international programmers and feel a swell of pride as the film deservedly crept up many film programmers' top 10 lists. Of all the films I saw this year’s Cannes, it is the one I am most looking forward to sharing with our audiences and watching them discover, as I did, a vibrant new voice in Scottish cinema.

Thank you, Alice, we can't wait to see your film selections on the big screen at DCA Cinema! For all the latest news on new releases and upcoming films at DCA, subscribe to emails here and select 'Cinema' in your preferences.

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