Postcard: Cannes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 2:00pm

Before the 67th Cannes Film Festival, which wrapped up last Sunday, there was much talk that artistic director Thierry Frémaux had played it safe with this year's selection. You could practically hear the phrase "same old faces" as veteran Palme d'Or winners such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers jostled, again, for the top prize.

That the jury, led by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, bestowed cinema's highest honour on Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan for his three-hour slow-burner Winter Sleep hardly represented a radical change in direction. Ceylan might be a first-time Palme d'Or winner with this domestic drama about a family running a hotel in the mountains, but this was his fifth time in competition, having already won the best director award for 2008's Three Monkeys and the Grand Jury Prize for 2002's Uzak and 2011's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Most critics were happy to go along with the assertion that Ceylan's time had come, and that Timothy Spall was a fine choice for best actor with his glorious turn in Leigh's superlative Mr Turner, a biopic of 19th-century painter Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner. Likewise Julianne Moore for best actress as a Hollywood has-been in David Cronenberg's satirical Maps to the Stars.

There also weren't too many complaints about Bennett Miller getting the best-director award for Foxcatcher. Scheduled for a November release in the US, it's the sort of prestige awards-baiter Hollywood loves, not least with Steve Carell in a rare dramatic turn as real-life eccentric tycoon John du Pont, who takes two Olympic wrestling brothers (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) under his wing.

I'd have preferred to see Xavier Dolan win for Mommy. While his first competition entry, it's the 25-year-old French-Canadian's fifth film in six years, and confirms his talent. The story of a widowed mother dealing with her teenaged ADHD-suffering son, it's a transformative piece of cinema. Talk about the festival needing new blood: this is a transfusion right into the arteries of the official selection.

In the end, Dolan took a share of the jury prize with Jean-Luc Godard and his 70-minute puzzler Goodbye to Language. Ostensibly a tale about the ups and downs of a couple's relationship, Goodbye was a typically playful experiment from the former Nouvelle Vague director. What is most shocking is that this share of the award is the 83-year-old auteur's first-ever prize in Cannes.

Fans of Asian cinema will feel hard done by: Japanese director Naomi Kawase's contemplative Still the Water was overlooked, and Zhang Yimou's tender Coming Home was relegated to an out-of-competition slot. His first collaboration with actress Gong Li in eight years, it was an old-fashioned tale of heartbreak set around the end of the Cultural Revolution; while falling short of their classics such as Raise the Red Lantern, there was still much here to enjoy.

Also in Cannes to launch films still in production were John Woo Yu-sum and Jiang Wen. The Hong Kong director arrived with his cast, including Zhang Ziyi, to promote The Crossing, a Titanic-like tale set in 1949 about the sinking of a passenger ship to Taiwan.

And at a glitzy press launch, Jiang unveiled footage from Gone with the Bullets, the sequel to 2010's mega-hit Let the Bullets Fly. Set in 1920s Shanghai, the dazzling clips looked every bit as glam as last year's Cannes opener, The Great Gatsby.

In the absence of Lars von Trier, or any other mischief-maker, it was left to Bad Lieutenant director Abel Ferrara to cause a stir with Welcome to New York. Not in the official selection but given a special screening on the beach, it drew a huge crowd of journalists. The reason? Gérard Depardieu playing a character inspired by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit as the International Monetary Fund head in 2011 after being arrested for sexually assaulting a maid in a Manhattan hotel.

With Strauss-Kahn threatening to sue, Welcome to New York proved the story of the festival. Until that point, the biggest furore surrounded Olivier Dahan's risible festival opener Grace of Monaco. Starring Nicole Kidman as Hollywood actress Grace Kelly in the years after she married Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), it was a spectacular misfire savaged by the majority of critics. Young or old, Cannes is not for the faint-hearted.