My Dreams & Nightmares
(In Cannes 1995)
The Cannes Film Festival is an event which can neither be taken seriously nor accepted outright. A festival covered by numerous journalists from around the world, having a reputation second to Oscars. This isn’t a report on the festival. Our associate, Mamad Haghighat, who has been attending this festival for about 14 years and has strived to introduce Iranian cinema, has been writing the festival reports for this magazine. My reason for writing these lines is to convey the adverse and different emotions that I had during my first trip to Cannes Film Festival.
This year, for me, the Festival had two distinct parts: First the festival itself, which was interesting and aroused the curiosity of a newcomer like myself (dreams), second were my nightmares, since my biggest mistake was that I had gotten my hopes up for the Cinema Centennial this year.
One Hundred & One: A century of cinema in Cannes had only one retrospective on John Ford. No mention of late Tarkovsky, Fellini, Bunuel, Wells, Ozu, the semi-living Bresson, Bergman, Antonioni, and the living like Godard and Alain Resnais In the history of cinema, no filmmaker has been written about more often than Godard. Cinema was founded by the Lumiere Brothers, though Godard questioned it and re-invented it. What is a cinema centennial without Godard?
The festival for professionals: Contrary to my beliefs -fortunately or unfortunately-, the festival is not open to the public and only three thousand journalists and another three thousand film people and film school students, holding exclusive passes, were going from place to place and going through twelve days filled with love -and fatigue-.
Here you notice that you are not faced with an entity called Cannes Film Festival. Every section has its own power and management. For instance,” The Director’s Fortnight” is a completely separate section, and there is a high degree of rivalry -even to the point of enmity- with the “Official Selection”. They believe that the “Official Selection” -especially “Competition”- is too flashy, and that they show too many non-artistic films.
Form, Content and Cinema: The common themes of the films in “Competition” were: youth, racial tensions, the Bosnian war, and cinema itself. Most films related to youth, -even if one of them was brave enough to be shot in Black & White- had a video clip-like structure: fast editing, lots of sound effects and excessive music, constant and unjustifiable camera movements, using mostly wide lenses, even when shooting a close- up of a face and exaggerated overdone characterization and acting.
In the subject matter of cinema, aside from Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema, -which was the only film to be officially dedicated to cinema’s centennial-, Ed Wood -Tim Burton-, Ulysses’ Gaze -T. Angelopolous-, Augustin -Ann Fontaine-, The Underground -Amir Kustarica-, The Lisbon Story -Wim Wenders-, were also related to cinema, of which I can resolutely say that Makhmalbaf had more candidly, beautifully, and fundamentally dealt with cinema and its association with the contemporary man -especially in terms of power-.
A Short Private Moment: Tranquility in Cannes is impossible. People are constantly bombarded with information. I think each journalist gets his or her share of a kilogram of paper, catalogues and photographs daily. Between eight to ten films a day, 18-20 hours of daily screenings, press conferences, closed circuit TVs, and touch-screen computers, which supply you with any kind of information, in its true sense. All the information, in addition to lots of free juice, tea, and coffee, and cigarettes in the journalist’s club, at times, agitate the mind, and, at other times, the overall chaos totally debilitates it.
Cinema’s Arid River?!: A beautiful image of Antonioni smiling, was one of the few posters in each corner of the town. In the background, there’s a picture of the Ganges River mounted behind Antonioni, and the title The River of Cinema, in big letters, at the top. At the bottom of poster was written: “A Documentary on Antonioni”. Since the screening was in the festival market, I asked about the date the film was being shown, and I found out that there are small video rooms in the underground market area with about 25 seats. On the day of the screening, I made plans to see Samadian, editor-in-chief of the Tassvir –Image- Magazine, and Kalari -director of photography-, outside the screening room. I got there ten minutes early. There was no one there. The person in charge of the film approached and greeted me and then asked detailed questions about my background, as though I were of a human race on the verge of extinction. I said: “Why are you asking me these questions?” He said: “I want to know who the first person coming to see this film is!” A few minutes later Samadian and Kalari arrived also, and, I believe, about 15 minutes into the screening we finally had twenty people. The relationship between the Ganges River and Antonioni had to do with the beginning of the film, where there’s a tribute ceremony held in his honor, in Bombay.
Judgment Day: All the films in “Official Selection” are shown to journalists 24 hours prior to the main screening. Those who find it difficult to verbally praise a film, rarely applaud at the end. Of the approximately 20 films that I saw, The White Balloon, Salaam Cinema, Ulysses’ Gaze, and The Underground, were the only ones which aroused some excitement among journalists. A couple of films were booed and The Lisbon Story received a combination of both.
Awards: Ulysses’ Gaze and The Underground both dealt with the Bosnian War. Previous works of Angelopolous and Kustarica are anecdotes of the humanitarian and socio-political concerns, and maybe they could be called “Committed Filmmakers”. Common themes of the two filmmakers are racial tensions, immigration, nationalism and touching upon lonely people, who have lost the ability to love. Also, both doubt the existence of goodness in man and are pessimistic about the future. In the press conference, Angelopolous, unlike his dark films, was jocular and cheerful; and Kustarica, on the other hand, was very serious, tired and agitated-contrary to the humor seen in his films, which, of course, is of a dark kind-. This is so much so that when asked: “What do you think your next film will be?” He replied: “I’m in a crisis right now and I really have no idea about the future.” The coincidence which took place was that in response to the trite question;”Do you believe your film will help improve the war situation in Bosnia?” they both said that they were not so idealistic to think that a film can change the world, but they hope that their films have a large audience. As a matter of fact, Ulysses’ Gaze, being awarded the Special Jury’s Prize and The Underground, the Palm D’or, have the opportunity to attract more attention.
When Angelopolous’ award was announced by the presenter, he did not rise from his seat for quite a while, and then he reluctantly rose and walked slowly towards the stage. At this point, there were whispers among the 1800 audience. We watched the ceremony through a closed circuit TV. -The awards ceremony was happening at the Lumiere Theater, but not having a formal suit, I preferred to see their image in the Debussy Theater next to Lumiere-. Angelopolous went behind the microphone and after a rather long pause said: “Because I expected to receive the Palm D’or, I have nothing to say”. This was when the audience at Debussy started to boo him. Of course, he could not hear us, and then he left the stage in a very dejected and sad manner, somewhat like a sulky child. Here the boos were combined with laughter.
Kustarica, after receiving the Palm D’or, said in a rather emotional voice, “If I were asked what my main objective was in making this film, I’d have to say it was to gain your love and affection. Thank you, I love you, too.”
A Personal Opinion: It’s the duty of any competitive film festival to specifically promote further exposure for the film by awarding the filmmakers whose films are “difficult”. Popularity among 6,000 regular viewers in Cannes is not impossible to achieve. A close look at the content and style of the films in “Official Selection”, can tell you what to do for greater success. Sometimes it is the filmmaker who is tempted to approach Cannes standards, and not the other way around. Actually, receiving an award, along with its undeniable advantages, has its disadvantages also. Following up on the films of my favorite filmmakers, who are still active and have their own personal style -such as Atom Egoyan, Hal Hartley, Aki Kaurismaki, Jim Jarmusch, Angelopolous, and early Wenders-, just recently made me realize that even the most innovative filmmakers, after reaching a successful point in their careers, tend to become repetitive and predictable. If you don’t have a personal style, then you‘re not a significant author, and if you do, you may fall into your own trap! Then what can one do? I don’t know!
At the cinema centennial, the aesthetics of video and TV prevailed to a greater extent than previous years. According to Godard -and the obvious message of Wenders’ new film-, cinema and images are no longer representatives of the true human, but they are made up to either sell themselves or another product.