The Cannes Film Festival has often been reproached for being more of a film market than a festival of film, an inevitable paradox for the festival and for cinema in general. Yet, at the closing ceremony, when the young Belgian director Jonas Geinaert received the jury prize for his short film “Flatlife” from Nikita Mikhalkov, we were reminded that the artist is primarily a defender of fundamental values, the basis of humanity.
Making a film is a moral and political act. This is truer than ever before at a time when this vision is becoming more and more confused, when these touchstones are threatened to the point of extinction. The three main prizes of the festival, the Palm d’Or, Un certain regard et Caméra d’Or, were given to films with a ‘message’.
“Gold (My Treasure)” (Or — Mon trésor) by Keren Yedaya, shown in the International Critics’ Week, was chosen as the best first film. The film plunges us into the hell of being on the margins of society in Israel which crushes those who no longer have the strength to struggle. A young girl fights to rescue her mother from prostitution and give her a better life. Keren Yedaya dreams also that her country will change and that one can live there in better conditions where people are given more consideration. In her declaration on receiving the prize, she recalled the humanist dimension of her work as a filmmaker and affirmed that she dedicated her film to the just cause of reducing slavery under blind power, an obvious reference to the dealings of Sharon’s government in Palestine.
Ousmane Sembène, the founder of African cinema, continues to dream. His new dream, or rather the form he gives to his dream, is called “Moolaade” (Moolaadé). He dreams of seeing his continent change and to reach a level of modernity that has hitherto escaped it. By directly attacking the problem of female circumcision, he promises a change in the depths of African culture. This would lead African societies to get rid of the absurd traditional barriers and to improve the basis of humane and humanistic culture which can propel it to a true sense of modernity. The anger and the militancy of the director, a symbol of African culture and cinema, has not abated over the years. Committed in its soul, the cinema of Sembene is even more well constructed and technically more mature than previously. It is no longer a question of making allowances for poor cinema under the pretext of the primacy of the idea.
Finally, the supreme consecration of the festival which confirmed its engagement, was the highest prize given to “Fahrenheit 9/11” by the American director Michael Moore. The main jury (headed by another American director) recognised his documentary style which approaches a political essay. The film was imbued with the very personal fingerprints of the director who refuses to allow “the truth to stay hidden in a drawer” as he commented when he received the prize which he, and many others, had not expected.
Moore confirmed, in his cinematic approach, that one can make a political film which can also be intellectual, aesthetic, humorous and, above all, human. Teaching by laughter is not a new device. Moore belongs to the tradition of the court jester, those who thwart the system and try to open the eyes of those in power by laughter and derision.
It was one of the rare moments in the history of Cannes when the official jury and the FIPRESCI prize were given to the same film. This could mean that film professionals and film critics have both recognised the human and aesthetic properties necessary for a work of art. This stresses that art is the conscience of humanity, and brings us back on the right road when we are tempted by madness and suicide.
© FIPRESCI 2004