Elephants and Dinosaurs

in 56th Cannes Film Festival

by Andrei Plakhov

For sure it was not the best year in the history of the Cannes festival. Except for “Dogville”, no masterpiece was shown either in the official or parallel sections. Nobody could understand why Vincent Gallo’s film turned to be a part of the competition, and everybody who is not familiar with high math had difficulties to count the real number of French competition entries (with or even without co-productions). And certainly not everyone felt happy with the victory of Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” – a film which is not at all uninteresting but too marginal to be decorated by the Palme d’Or.

Nevertheless Cannes-2003 does not look like an empty year. The festival discovered Nuri Bilge Ceilan, the extremely talented Turkish filmmaker whose “Uzak” reminds the poetic magic of Andrei Tarkovski. Samira Makhmalbaf with “At Five in the Afternoon” confirmed her reputation of a filmmaker of great artistic potential and signalized the regional explosion of creative energy not only in Iran but in the Middle East. Francois Ozon’s elegant “Swimming Pool” gave festival spectators two hours of pure pleasure. Controversial and hardly received “Time of Wolf” by Michael Haneke was an important film anyway.

Such distinguished masters as Peter Greenaway and Alexander Sokurov presented films which witness the progress of their author aesthetics. “Tulse Luper Suitcases” not only impresses you with intellectual and technical virtuosity but provokes a question: what is cinema itself and where are boundaries between different media? “Father And Son” explores obscure corners of psychological and physical reality and leaves open space for free interpretations, presents an enjoyable visual quality.

Elephant also looks more convincing as a stylish exercise than as a political or social statement. Following long sterile school corridors and lonely students migrating (always seen from the back) Van Sant creates inhuman space where violence is naturally born from the air. “Elephant” looks more like an installation or a photo-session than a film in its conventional sense.

“Dogville” remains the most radical and successful experiment in this year Cannes program. Lars von Trier reanimates old principles of Brechtian theatre and traditions of TV theatre of the seventies. That is a real miracle that half dead and half forgotten aesthetics comes to life again in the frames of another media.

So if you don’t speculate but just watch the films you find the Cannes competition rather impressive and full of significant trends. At the same time you feel that something is missing – and it is an important something. The program definitely lacks new territories – not even in geographical but in cultural and artistic way. Masters and veterans still dominate in the yearly Cannes Pantheon reunion. And relatively new names (Gus Van Sant or Kiyoshi Kurosava) come to the festival stage not at the most exiting moment of their careers. Cannes needs fresh air – otherwise it will become the festival of dinosaurs.