What a program! Woody Allen, Nanni Moretti, the Dardenne Brothers, Terrence Malick, Aki Kaurismäki, Lars von Trier, Takashi Miike, Pedro Almodóvar, Nuri Bilge Ceylan... No other festival can come up with such an exquisite selection of the best names in world cinema. This was the best program in years, not just in the official competition but also in the official section "Un Certain Regard", which featured Gus Van Sant, Kim Ki-duk, Robert Guédiguian, Andreas Dresen, Bruno Dumont and Eric Khoo — though not all of the films delivered on the promise of their pedigrees.
After nearly two years of rumors, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was not only the festival's most-anticipated film, but also the most-discussed. While films in Cannes are almost always one-day events — the next day inevitably brings another major release to discuss — The Tree of Life was still a polarizing title days after its screening, with more appreciation coming from American critics (obviously) than the Europeans, who were less enthralled. The question this time wasn't which film would take the Palme d'Or, it was whether it would go to The Tree Of Life.
By the way, also Woody Allen's opening-night film Midnight in Paris found more supporters among the European critics (as is the case with most of his recent films). Even the French critics were on its side, despite Allen’s tourist's view of Paris in the legendary 1920s — though he did craft it with imagination and an overwhelming charm.
Cannes 2011 was marked by an extraordinary diversity of cinematic conceptions — the visionary films of Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier or the Japanese Naomi Kawase; the documentary-like realism of the Dardenne Brothers, Bruno Dumont, the French Maiwenn, the Austrian Markus Schleinzer, the German Andreas Dresen, and the modest, intelligent pleasures provided by Aki Kaurismäki or the French Michel Hazanavicius (who presented a wonderful homage to the Hollywood of the late 1920s and early 1930s, The Artist). More than just a glamorous showcase for movie stars — and there were a lot of them this year — the Cannes screens offered admirable actors: Tilda Swinton in Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin; Michel Piccoli in Nanni Moretti's Habemus Papam; Sean Penn in Paolo Sorrentino's This Must be the Place.
Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Paul Belmondo were honored with tributes. Malcolm McDowell held a cinema masterclass, which coincided with the presentation of a restored version of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) in the Cinema Classics series — which also screened a tinted version of Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (1902).
Surprisingly, a new feature by Jafar Panahi had been programmed: This Is Not A Film. Panahi had been sentenced to prison and been banned from making movies. Together with his friend and colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb he shot a sort of diary, unfolding one day of his life under house arrest, around the Islamic New Year. He makes and receives telephone calls; he talks to his lawyer; he watches TV; he plays with an iguana; he talks about a new script; he watches a fireworks display; he chats in the elevator with a janitor taking out the garbage. And he reacts with astonishing calm when he learns a prison sentence will be unavoidable. To show this film to an audience — and to be part of that audience — was a simple gesture of solidarity with an artist and defiance of the Iranian regime determined to end his career. (Klaus Eder)
Cannes Film Festival: www.festival-cannes.com