The Cannes Film Festival always has something of a great circus parade whose tracks would be a red staircase. To the usual stars, the 2022 edition has added a beautiful menagerie, which above all told us about men’s madness.
The donkey who knew too much
After a selection of very high quality, the festival practically ended with the anecdotal “Showing up”, the story of an artist in his studio plagued by doubt and the torments of creation. She is accompanied in her meditations by a cat and a dove. The film ends in an expected way with the escape of the dove (and yes it is a symbol of liberation). Kelly Reichardt’s pigeon failed to steal the show from the star beast in the 75th competition: the donkey. Superstar in “Hi Han” by Jerzy Skolimowski, he was literally stoned in “Without Filter” by Ruben Östlund. The donkey is a paradoxical animal. It traditionally symbolizes stupidity, and the dunks were formerly wearing a cap that mimicked their ears. But in the cinema, from “Au chance Balthazar” to “Antoinette dans les Cévennes”, the donkey is a four-legged philosopher. That is why when he dies so brutally, killed by a group of ultra-privileged shipwrecks in the film Ruben Östlund, we witness the murder of wisdom on this earth.
And this image sets the tone for a selection that, with as much talent as despair, reflected the cruelty of the human race. In one of the most unique road movies in the history of the film, Skolimowski’s donkey casts its calm gaze over a confused century. As he walks the roads of Europe, he shows us a path that other characters in the committee will follow: the return to nature. In “The 8 Mountains”, a beautiful film by Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix Van Groeningen, which is shown discreetly at the start of the festival, it is by walking in the mountains that the hero is spiritually reconciled with his deceased father.
It is also in the mountains, at the foot of the Pyrenees, that the hero of “Brother and Sister” flees from his family and finds a hint of happiness after the death of his son. “RMN”, certainly one of the festival’s strongest works, takes place largely in a forest where bears are reintroduced. They eventually appear in an enigmatic shot, commented in detail by the festival goers. But what was Cristian Mungiu trying to tell us at the end of his virtuoso and sour portrait of Europe in the 2020s? Maybe man is a bear to man, and it can become an animal again. Mungiu would here answer Vandermeersch and Van Groeningen: No, nature will not be a refuge or a place of wisdom. It is a mirror that sends us back to man’s true “nature”, to its savagery. “Never go to an animal without a gun” advises the father of his son in “RMN”. There will be deaths …
The time of the crime
Killers often get animal names. In the early 1980s, in a holy city in Iran, there was a serial killer nicknamed the Spider. Inhabited by a divine mission, he strangled prostitutes in the indifference of the police … who even regarded him more or less as a vigilant who served their cause. Ali Abbasi’s “Nights of Mashhad” has been criticized for its repetition in murder sequences. But he just showed the terrible routine aspect of his monstrous hero’s gruesome work. The spider killed like vacuuming.
Above all, this film is emblematic of the framework chosen by a large number of selected filmmakers this year: the rediscovery of the codes of “criminal film” in all its forms. Claire Denis (“Des étoiles à midi”), Tarik Saleh (“Boy from heaven”) and Albert Sera (“Paiction”) tackle spy films in their own way. Park Chan Wook (“Decision to Leave”) and Ali Abbasi revisit the archetypes of the investigator and assassin.
The Dardenne brothers dive into drug trafficking circles and illegal emigration networks in Belgium (“Tori and Lokita”). In “Nostalgia”, Mario Martone takes us to a Naples infested with thugs and gangsters. With “Crimes of the Future”, David Cronenberg mixes film noir and science fiction in a dosage that belongs only to his kitchens. Hirokazu Kore-eda describes baby trafficking in Korea in its own tender way in “The Good Stars”.
Two sayings unite all of these films: the pursuit and the spinning. These characters are constantly being watched or chased … which does not stop them from finding themselves so locked up and trapped: behind the high walls of al-Azhar University in Cairo in “Boy from heaven”, in a cannabis greenhouse in “Tori and Lokita” Or even in the insoluble Neapolitan labyrinth “Nostalgia”.
Dirty laundry in the family
The committee just listed the new works by two great authors of whodunnits. However, neither James Gray (“The Yards”, “The Night Belongs to Us” …) nor Saeede Roustaee (“The Law of Tehran”) chose this path. They tackled the other big genre in the competition: family drama. Gray draws with “Armaggedon Time” a very personal work set in the early 1980s. In it, he tells of his love and admiration for a grandfather plagued by illness; a friend went wrong; dreams of conquering space … but also the first rappers on the radio and the advent of the Reagan years.
As for Saeede Roustaee, he describes in “Leïla and Her Brothers” an Iranian sibling trapped in a debt spiral. A virtuoso conductor, the filmmaker moves from one character to another, from moments of comedy to toxic exchanges of incredible cruelty. Family films thus also reflect a sense of confinement, suffocation or surveillance than film noir. James Gray regularly frames his characters behind bars. Serebrennikov films the shackles of madness that the unfortunate “Tchaikovsky’s wife” throws herself into under the influence of a destructive husband. Still locked in a hatred that is as obsessed as it is absurd for Arnaud Desplechin’s “Brother and Sister”.
In all these films, the children are abandoned in “The Good Stars”, beaten in “Armaggedon time”, exploited in “Tori and Lokita” or simply terribly unhappy in “Close” by Lukas Dhont. In “Les Amandiers”, a filmed autobiography by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, the family does not exist. The young actress appears to have been raised in her bourgeois house by a butler. His family will be the theater’s. This second idea pops up in “Tori and Lokita”, “The Good Stars” or “The Eight Mountains”: you can choose your brothers and sisters along the way. Is friendship stronger than family?
Only the last night and “A Little Brother”, the family tried, without always succeeding, to withstand the storms of the century. Léonor Serraille’s second feature film opens halfway through the 1980s with the arrival of an Ivorian mother and her sons in France. The filmmaker will then follow them for several years, marked by graceful ellipses … “A Little Brother” is not exactly a political film or a historical reconstruction. It is first, quite simply, the story of a mother who loves her children. It also by two brothers who love and support each other as best they can. Thanks to Léonor Serraille, the festival ended with these saving words that we no longer dared to believe: “a little brother is nothing”.
The winners of Les Echos Week-End (by Adrien Gombeaud @AdrienGombeaud and Olivier De Bruyn @OlivierBruyn)
The Palme d’Or: “Armageddon Time” by James Gray.
Grand Prize: “RMN” by Cristian Mungiu.
Jury Prize: “Without Filter” by Ruben Östlund.
Best Director: The Dardenne Brothers for “Tori and Lokita”.
Manuscript Prize: “Leïla et ses frères” by Saeed Roustaee.
Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role: Annabelle Lengronne in “A Little Brother”.
Award for Best Actor: Tawfeek Barhom in “Boy from Heaven.”