For Gilles Jacob, Cannes’ life-long director, the mammoth festival’s 60 candles had to be blown in a different direction this time. No complacency, no gushing tribute, and if possible, no overwhelming nostalgia. The main rules were that To Each His Own Cinema had to be a compilation of 3 minute long segments. Jacob and his team gathered 33 directors from all five continents and from 25 different countries. The general assignment was to translate “their current state of mind as inspired by the motion picture theatre.” No director was to know of the other fragments and synopses from colleagues, and they all accepted to discover the film at the same time as festival-goers and the general public, who were able to watch it thanks to an evening replay on French TV.
As Jacob points out, these shorts are made by drastically different individuals expressing varied aesthetic orientations and thematic preoccupations. The 33 directors are visual poets who capture a parcel of the world and transcend it into an art, cinema, “which under our very eyes creates its own history”. It’s amazing to witness the freshness, pretension-free audacity and accessibility of these sketches, which so skilfully translate the melting-pot aspect of their cultures, origins and talent into 3 minute wonders.
One of the main questions the film raises is whether art imitates reality and whether nature necessarily prevails over nurture. The most extreme example of this occasionally uneasy cohabitation is Amos Gitai’s Le Dibbouk de Haifa. A mixed crowd of Israelis and Palestinians is enjoying a movie until a bomb is dropped on the cinema and the roof collapses, killing and injuring people from both sides. For highly political Israeli Gitai, art for the sake of it can only be enjoyed up to the point where it dissolves behind life’s grim reality. And can one even be bothered thinking about films when he or she confronts daily life-threatening situations?
Cronenberg’s short is politically charged, but also ferociously ironic, as he films himself At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World. The sequence shows him grimacing and trying to position his gun in the best (and often ridiculous) possible ways to commit suicide. Cronenberg’s hilarious performance would on its own have an impact, which is here enhanced by the mock commentary delivered all the way through by unseen and abject Fox-type TV presenters seeking the ultimate juicy drama, like the media vultures they are. The ending sentence “Don’t worry, we will keep you informed all the way to the end” cynically resonates, bringing echoes of past news reports where journalists, seemingly unable to help victims materially, revelled nevertheless on documenting slow and painful deaths.
Finnish cult director Aki Kaurismaki treats us to his unique blend of dry humour and mock socialism, setting his screening in a metal factory (La Fonderie/ The Foundry) and using fetish actor Matti Pellonpää, former Leningrad Cowboy, in a typical low-key, silent and comical performance. Roman Polanski’s Cinéma Erotique, in a completely different register, turns upside down the porn-cinema cliché of the masturbating loner, adding to the scarce showroom audience a middle-aged couple, who gets more and more “inconvenienced” by increasingly loud grunts from their back-row co-viewer. As for Nanni Moretti, he distillates in Diario di uno spettattore his inimitable mix of self-deprecating humour and shameless cinephilia.
All of these, along with Takeshi Kitano, Chen Kaige, Tsai Min Liang, Jane Campion and Lars Von Trier, manage to send an uplifting love message to cinema, and to their audience, while keeping their feet solidly on reality’s ground. All shorts are not equally entertaining, some even feel incredibly pompous or boring or both (I’m thinking of Michael Cimino’s segment, as well as those of Youssef Chahine, Gus Van Sant or Wong Kar-Wai), but the main reproach that can be done is that the film doesn’t including more female directors such as French veteran Claire Denis or young Iranian prodigy Samira Makmalbaf, daughter of the great Mohsen Makmalbaf, one of Iran’s leading directors alongside Abbas Kiarostami. Whether this is due to unavailability or negligence I don’t know, but it reminds us once again how male-centred the industry still is.
The problems of cinema come from issues of power and responsibility, in particular as cultural propaganda for Western ideology. Though the wide array of world directors is able to show global perspectives, it often describes the 'idea' of cinema as nostalgic and American. Children in rural China watch Charlie Chaplin, there are Westerns in Africa, and some Indian teenagers are treated to fashions and styles far removed from their own. There is a melancholy tone to some descriptions of viewings about the fact that this social medium hasn't been used to mythologize their own culture and stories.
The Coen brothers turn this on its head in their clever character led film, World Cinema. An ignorant cowboy, Josh Brolin, tries to pick which classic of world cinema to watch (either Rules of the Game, or Climates) and is suitably moved by the experience, or is it the sales clerk?
But more strongly put is the opposite case, and here are examples in which the directors seem to be saying it's life which is beautiful.
Takeshi Kitano's One Fine Day depicts a failed cinema going experience in which a farmer can’t manage to watch Kitano's Kids’ Return. With little dialogue, the film is a humorous farce cleverly interweaving moments of Kids’ Return as a punchline. Disgruntled, the farmer leaves the cinema to walk home through a beautiful vista of setting sun and mountains, into the eponymous 'fine day'.
Ken Loach- Happy Ending
In the face of increasingly ridiculous and schlock blockbusters, a father and son decide instead to go the football. It's simple, satirical and charming, and who's going to criticise Ken Loach for a happy ending?
Walter Salles- A 8944km de Cannes
Without stepping foot inside a cinema, two Brazilian musicians, Castanha and Caju, do a 3 min freestyle in honour of the Cannes Festival. The talent on display rather enforces music as the world's most potent and entertaining medium, and as they wander off screen Castanha admits that he's never been to Cannes, he just learned about it on the internet.
Wim Wenders' War in Peace is out of the serious shorts the most successful political statement made. It documents an actual screening of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down to a village in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The grim faces of the adults and children, shot in infrared of the dark screening are contrasted by events outside the make shift cinema, where music and community fill the surroundings. The Western imperialism is emphasised in the juxtaposition of the real victims of war against the racially problematic and biased American entertainment film.
Whatever your perspective on cinema is, one thing that all cinephiles can agree on is the premise for Lars Von Trier's short Occupations. As shockingly violent as it is hilarious, the point is made clear: if there is anyone you should truly hate, it's the film critic.