Art or elitism? Two film buffs go head-to-head on the nature of Cannes


The Attack

Cannes is the most pretentious, least responsive, most overhyped event in the film world. You’d assume that the point of making a film was so that people could watch and enjoy it. Not at Cannes.

The Cannes film festival is arguably the only place in the world where film fans are turned away from the cinema. You ‘re only allowed to one of Cannes’ screenings if you’re part of the film industry. If you or I were to head down and try to catch a glimpse of the next big hit, we’d be unceremoniously dumped outside and told to stay there. One the one hand, being exclusive makes an invite far more glamorous. On the other, I can’t help but have reservations about the sort of place where the public are treated in such a profoundly negative way.

But what’s even worse than the lack of respect shown to the people who actually pay for the movie industry is how unbearably serious the whole affair is.

In recent years, the Palme D’Or has gone to The Tree of Life, The White Ribbon and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. What that essentially means is that if you made a film in the last three years that happened to contain a joke then you were wide of the mark. What you ought to have made was a slow black and white film about German protestantism in the early 20th century, or a meditation on death and the soul.

The worst of the bunch was probably the 1988 winner, Pelle the Conqueror. Not only was it about as enjoyable to watch as having your hand frozen off, it wasn’t even that good.

As much reverence as I have for Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke, I like my films to be watchable and fun. Sadly. the films that show at Cannes tend to be anything but.

And finally, anywhere that accepts Lars von Trier as readily as Cannes has some issues. He’s mental, his films are horrible (I’m talking about Antichrist and The Idiots) and he’s a nazi. Why Charlotte Gainsbourg keeps working with him is a mystery.

The Defence

The Cannes Film Festival remains great today because it has stayed true to its original remit. Set up in 1939 as a reaction to Mussolini’s Venice Film Festival – which at the time was little more than a procession of fascist propaganda – Cannes Film Festival projected a view of impartial art for art’s own sake.

Tim Burton, director of Edward Scissorhands and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, stated in 2010 whilst head of the Cannes Jury that the festival had retained that air of independence. When interviewed by the Doha Film Institute he said ‘everybody talks about technology, 3D versus not 3D and business and money and the thing that always remains here is that its always just about film…at the root of it the films we’re watching are just made by passionate film makers from all over the world.’

Cannes has developed into a big business over the last 63 years and this has had both positive and negative effects. Whilst some would bemoan the paparazzi parade’s rise to prominence their presence does provide a powerful tool for film makers to get their work on a global stage. For instance, last year’s surprise hit The Artist first garnered international attention when shown at the festival. For films produced outside of the US, especially those not in English, Cannes is the main way for the public to hear about them and spark their interest. It through this process that Cinema Paradiso, The Emperor and the Assassin, and Life is Beautiful became such mainstream hits across the globe.

Thankfully Cannes is no longer opposing anything as reprehensible as Benito and his Black Shirts. However, it still has an important counter-cultural role to play. Alongside other major independent film events, including Robert Redford’s own Sundance Film Festival, Cannes provides an antidote to the Hollywood monopoly on cinema. The Avengers was always going to get global distribution, The Artist wasn’t. Cannes is great because it facilitates the distribution of artistic and independent house movies across the world so that we can all enjoy them.

Alex Lynchehaun & Sam Poppleton