Retracing Historical Events

in Festival International du Film, Cannes 2023

by Constant Carbonnelle

For its 76th edition, the Cannes Film Festival offered a large number of films retracing significant historical events, from the tumultuous marriage between Catherine Parr and King Henry VIII (Firebrand), the horrors of the Second World War (The Zone Of Interest) to the high-profile trial of Pierre Goldman (Le Procès Goldman).

The Cannes Film Festival drew to a close on Saturday, May 27th, 2023, awarding the Palme d’Or to Justine Triet, for her meticulously crafted thriller Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d’une Chute). Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone Of Interest, which chillingly details the life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig in their home next to the camps, won the Grand Prix.

While there’s no shortage of films about the atrocities of the Second World War—several of which have been shown at Cannes, including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), László  Nemes’ Son Of Saul (2015), and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life (2019)—Jonathan Glazer’s film evokes the horrors by never showing them, and plays with small details and careful direction to chill our blood. A powerful way of denouncing and, above all, remembering this tragic period in history. A richly deserved Grand Prix. It’s also worth noting that this year, the stunning actress Sandra Hüller is part of the cast of both Glazer’s and Triet’s film, a winning double for the actress.

Also in the official competition section was Karim Aïnouz’s Firebrand, which portrays the marriage of Catherine Parr and King Henry VIII in a sumptuously costumed period film. Played by Alicia Vikander (Parr) and Jude Law (Henry VIII), who both give masterly performances, this film depicts the violent relationship of a marriage between two historical figures in a tale of power struggle and betrayal.

In the parallel section, the Directors’ Fortnight, the festival opened with the French film The Goldman Case (Le Procès Goldman) directed by Cédric Khan, retracing the high-profile trial of Pierre Goldman, suspected of killing two pharmacists during a robbery gone wrong. In a closed-door film with long, brilliantly written tirades delivered with power by actor Arieh Worthalter, this trial effectively demonstrates the workings of justice (and also resonates with Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or).

There was no shortage of historical films this year either, as Maïwenn’s Jeanne Du Barry, which tells the story of Jeanne Bécu and King Louis XV, opened the festival. In the Un Certain Regard section, Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia (Wadaean Julia) takes place just before the separation of South Sudan, and in the Critics’ Week section, Lost Country is set in Serbia in 1996, during student protests against the Milošević regime.

As we can see, whether it’s through costumed stories of betrayal, atrocious wars, or notorious news stories, the Cannes Festival demonstrates its importance to the development of important universal narratives, and also proves that it serves as a pillar to ensure that our history is not forgotten, so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Constant Carbonnelle
Edited by Robert Horton