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A tribute to women, original cinema at Cannes 2015

For the first time since 1987, the festival opened with a film directed by a woman

Yasser Moheb from Cannes, France, Saturday 23 May 2015
The Sea Of Trees
(Photo: Still from The Sea Of Trees)
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Action! Screenings, red carpet, press conferences, debates and controversies. The Cannes Film Festival launched on 13 May and closes on 24 May.

Last April, while presenting the festival’s official selection, its artistic director Thierry Fremaux and new president Pierre Lescure, who has succeeded Gilles Jacob, promised a "rich and different Cannes".

Today it seems many promises have been realised.

Redefining Cannes

From the first few days, the Cannes Film Festival offered its audience many surprises.

Heading the jury this year are American directors and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, regular visitors to Cannes, and two worthy representatives of the seventh art, over a century after iconic French siblings Auguste and Louis Lumière invented it.

"The concept of awarding the Best Film seems quite strange when coming from an artist, especially when you reward people who practice the same art that we do,” Joel Coen explained about how the jury would select the winning film.

“We are not critics, neither do we hate films. It's all about agreeing on a film that we all love and that we want to celebrate. This is how I see our role here.”

For its opening ceremony, the festival usually chooses big-budget American films, as was the case with Moulin Rouge, The Adventures of Robin Wood or last year's Grace.

But this year, for the first time since 1987, it opened with a film directed by a woman.

Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall (La Tête haute) stars veteran French actress Catherine Deneuve in the leading role of a judge at a juvenile court.

The film is not running in the official competition, but Bercot is also an actress and she has been nominated this year for the Best Actress award, for her role in fellow French woman director Maïwenn’s My King.

Also new this year is the Golden Eye (L’Oeil d’or) award for best documentary film as, the jury explained, documentary as a genre is booming and meeting growing success in film theatres worldwide.

An eclectic wine list

Like an eclectic wine list, Cannes aimed at offering films across all cinematic genres this year. The festival's programme included many talented directors, even if their works kept the press divided.

Among 17 contenders this year, Italian director Matteo Garrone is vying for the Palme d'Or with his film Tale of Tales.

After winning two Jury Grand Prizes for Gomorrah in 2008 and Reality in 2012, this time Garrone has presented a film steeped in magic, with special effects to counter the festival’s otherwise solemn display. Here, we find a king hunting a sea monster and a queen played by Salma Hayek who, desperately wanting to have children, follows the advice of a wizard, and eats the heart of the sea monster killed by her husband.

As if from a beautifully illustrated book, its characters appear like troubadours who have come to entertain Cannes. But despite its fantastical tone and childish charm, Tale of Tales suffers from prolonged scenes. As for its cinematography, it suddenly loses imagination, seeming to hesitate between credibility and coldness.

After four years of absence after Restless in 2011, American director Gus Van Sant has returned to Cannes with The Sea of Trees, a romantic existential drama also competing for the Palme d'Or, in which the director reinvents himself with the theme of suicide.

The Sea Of Trees discusses the subject through the story of two people who meet by chance in Japan in Aokigahara’s famous "suicide forest." In it, an American man (Matthew McConaughey), struggling with the death of his wife (Naomi Watts), decides to fly to Japan to end his days. The film is an opportunity to see the director explore death, loneliness and longing for love.

Gus Van Sant is known for the sophistication of his works but, without being a total disappointment, The Sea of Trees has not so far met the expectations of his fans.

The film falls short of presenting profound ideas and complex relationships in simple words. But it is an ode to the regret of suddenly losing a soul that is close to us, and does succeed, with its romantic and mysterious allure, to attract us for a few minutes into this forest of dreams.

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