I attended the Cannes Film Festival last week, after skipping it for the last two years. Cannes can be frustrating without a high-level access badge and, in 2013, my market credentials were just good enough to get me, and then strand me, on ticket waiting lists. As with most festivals, though, having experience and getting advice from others (including Marian Luntz from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, who also attended this year) helped me better navigate the event, and I had much greater success.
Marian and I got terrific seats in the Palais for the premiere screening of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, her first American feature film. I’m a great admirer of Arnold’s British films, Red Road and Fish Tank, and even the two episodes she directed of my favorite current TV series, Transparent. European directors’ visions of America have generated some terrific films (including Paris, Texas, Stroszek, Stop the Pounding Heart, etc.) and American Honey is a road movie filled with a foreigner’s perceptive and humorous observations of contemporary American culture. Somehow, Arnold managed to elicit a strong and disciplined performance from Shia LeBoeuf. And Sasha Lane from Frisco, Texas, who plays opposite Shia, gave the most dazzling acting debut of the festival.
My personal favorite this year was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry, the second of his autobiographical features after The Dance of Reality. Jodorowsky, famously the director of El Topo, is still bursting with surrealistic, cinematic ideas, and watching the film was exhilarating and, at the end, deeply moving. The Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake, by the director Ken Loach, painted a devastating picture of the deteriorating welfare state, and I admired it, but would not have given it the Palme. The Golden Eye documentary prize went to Eryk Rocha’s passionate, experimental film exploring the Latin American film movement, Cinema Novo, in which his father, Glauber Rocha, was a leading figure. I will definitely pursue the Jodorowsky and Rocha films for HCAF 2016.
My Cannes festival navigation skills improved this year, but still have a way to go. I was shut out of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, adored by critics I respect. I did manage to get into one of the hot ticket screenings, Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart, to my regret. Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, which we screened two years ago in HCAF, proved Stewart has more range as an actress than many of us had realized. Here, she is trapped in an un-scary, meta-horror film that, like Sils Maria, is also, but less interestingly, meta on the subject of celebrity. It was a big disappointment from one of my favorite directors, but, luckily, most of what I saw was strong. I can attest, then, that the new crop of art films coming out of of Cannes and headed to HCAF, MFAH, and your other favorite venues, is a rich one.