The Directors' Fortnight and the Critics' Week

in 66th Cannes Film Festival

by Pierre-Simon Gutman

For many years, the Cannes Critics’ Week was seen as the weak link of the Cannes film festival, lurching behind the shadows of the official Competition on the one side, and the media impact of the Directors’ Fortnight on the other. But after a string of successes, those two parallel selections are finally starting to look like equals, and it is probably for the better: no more competitiveness over who has the best reviews, but a complementary partnership serving the same goal of finding and nurturing new talents and future famous film auteurs.

Probably to distinguish himself, the Directors’ Fortnight general delegate (Edouard Waintrop) has managed to present one of the more diverse selections of Cannes: a science-fiction movie, a horror picture, an animation, a comedy, a documentary, a thriller and an action movie. It’s as if Waintrop wanted to reflect all the colors of today’s filmmaking, thus avoiding the tag of the auteur’s festival. Noble intentions, but the result is definitely a mixed success. Guillaume Galienne’s autobiographical comedy Me Myself and Mum (Les enfants et Guillaume à table) was a hit with the public, but the sci-fi movie Last Days on Mars by Ruairi Robinson and other intrusions of the genre category (We Are What We Are by Jim Mickle, On the Job by Erik Matti) have met with dismal reviews and an almost tepid public response. At the end of the day, it was the more classic (for Cannes) auteur movies which made this year’s Director’s Fortnight. The sweet Singapore movie Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen — akin to a minor Yi Yi, the Ed Yang classic — won the Camera d’Or. Kaveh Bakhtiari’s L’Escale is a courageous and touching documentary about several immigrants trapped in a flat in Switzerland. The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard is a classical exercise in the realist British vein, but its director shows some undeniable promise. Blue Ruin by Jeremy Saulnier follows a desperate man as he seeks revenge and faces the consequences. By showing characters that define themselves through their actions, Saulnier finds the remains of a true classic American style, invoking important issues (the violence in American society) with a light, but still relevant, touch.

As for the Critics’ Week, one of their big successes was Salvo (Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza), an Italian drama about a hit man and his growing feelings for one of his would-be victims. Far from cliches, Salvo is imbued with a slow, almost contemplative tone, seeking to follow the painful personal awakening of its lead protagonist. Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril is a powerful drama that starts in familiar territory (the British realism of the Ken Loach school) to suddenly embrace a daring path that includes madness, guilt, and the representation of the unconscious mind. The Dismantling (Le Demantélement, by Sébastien Pilote) is a touching, almost Fordian drama, about a man who slowly loses all his lif’s work. Strangely, just like in the other parallel section, the Critics’ Week fell short when it tried its hand at genre pictures: Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (Dabba) is a charming but quite inoffensive Indian comedy, while the French movie Our Heroes Died Tonight (Nos Héros sont morts ce soir, by David Perrault) is a highly ambitious but ultimately flawed mix of kitsch, melodrama and film noir.

In many ways, the true success of those selections will be determined only with time: will these movies by unknown directors find an audience and, in the even longer run, will one of them become the new Michael Haneke or Abdullatif Kechiche? The beauty and burden of the Critics’ Week and the Directors’ Fortnight is the perpetual bets they are forced to make on a sometimes distant future. A hard task but, of course, a potentially very satisfying one.

Edited by Carmen Gray