Cannes is 68 and ageing nicely

Cannes has always been a place where the greatest art meets the biggest market.

Jury member actor Jake Gyllenhaal arrives at Cannes [REUTERS]
Jury member actor Jake Gyllenhaal arrives at Cannes [REUTERS]

The great talent of the Cannes film festival has been to age gracefully, evolve with the times we live in, while reflecting them closely, and adapt to the incredibly fast pace of technology.

At a time when anyone with a smartphone can pretend to make films that may get some air time on television and be shown in festivals (the iPhone film festival was created in 2010), the Grande Dame of festivals, which can screen any kind of film from 35mm prints to computer files, is still going strong.

Figures speak eloquently. The world’s movie industry keeps flocking to the Croisette and even increases its presence every year. In 2014, eight new countries added their national pavilions in the international village. Bahrain, Burma, Iraq, Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Mauritius, Laos, Syria and Brunei joined forces with the 108 already represented countries.

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The international village is posted just outside the Palais where films in the official selection are screened from eight o’clock every morning till after midnight, while brisk trade takes place just below sea level, in the Palais’ basement. Cannes has always been a place where the greatest art meets the biggest market.

Worlds collide

In Cannes, different worlds collide, cinephiles and critics cross paths with producers, financiers, sellers and buyers, but they don’t necessarily talk. In between, you find past, present and future stars, screenwriters, directors, film publicists and international brands such as jewellers vying to get some exposure from the heavy media presence.

For 10 days, Cannes seems indeed to be the focus of the world. From 700 journalists in 1966, Cannes now attracts 4,700 journalists, of whom only 35 percent come from France. The Cannes Film Market attracted 11,800 professionals last year of which 2,000 were film buyers. Compared with 1995, when there were only 3000 professionals coming to Cannes, it is almost a four-fold increase in just 20 years.

It is interesting to see that China is more and more present in the market (a 22 percent increase between 2013 and 2014) while the Americans are still the most numerous, representing almost 20 percent of all industry people. As for films, in 2014, 5,200 films were for sale at the market, of which 810 were documentaries.

Cannes shows films that ask difficult questions, demand that we reconsider our actions, and gives us a novel perspective on present and past events.


And to finish with those dizzying figures, in terms of overall accreditations, 31,400 are granted, and more than 125,000 people come to Cannes for the festival, to work, to holiday and to get a glimpse of actors. This city of 75,000 inhabitants suddenly swells to 200,000, to the joy of traders and shopkeepers, and the dismay of most Cannes residents, mostly wealthy elderly pensioners.

And if Cannes still remains on top of the film game, it is not only a question of numbers and dollars. It is first of all a question of artistic integrity and controversy. Films selected at Cannes tell us about the world we live in, or what newspapers call “current affairs”. And they do not usually paint a rosy picture.

Geopolitics lesson

Watching the year’s “world cup” of films at Cannes each year is the best graduate course in geopolitics. Cannes shows films that ask difficult questions, demand that we reconsider our actions, and gives us a novel perspective on present and past events.

This year, the uncompromising French film director Jacques Audiard is back with “Dheepan”, a film about three refugees. They arrive in France, having fled the war in Sri Lanka, and pretend to be members of the same family in order to be accepted in, when in fact, they are complete strangers. It is a film about feeling alien and about integration in a new environment in more ways than one.

The Chinese film-maker Jia Zhang-Ke also talks about exile and immigrants in his film “Mountains May Depart”. In 1999, a young Chinese woman makes a choice, immigrates to Australia, which has far-reaching consequences on her friends and family back home.

Cannes does not only deal with the world outside, but also with our inside world, family, and relationships. In other words, the politics of the intimacy. It seems that this year again, the theme of how we all deal with the end of life, is preoccupying a lot of film directors. “Chronic” by Michel Franco shows Tim Roth as a nurse in palliative care. Old age and death can however also take a comic turn, it sure should with the Italian comedy directed by Paolo Sorrentino and ironically called “Youth” with Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine in the leading roles. And to wrap up this trend, Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” with Matthew McConaughey, also deals with suicide and survival in the shadow of Japan’s Mount Fuji.

Cannes’ 68th edition should again strike world critics to the core, and reveal tomorrow’s new unyielding talents.

Agnes Poirier is the UK editor for the French political weekly MARIANNE, and a political commentator for the British, American, Canadian, French and Italian press, and a regular contributor to the BBC, Sky News, and Al Jazeera. She is the author of ‘Touche, A French woman’s take on the English’.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.