Cannes 2019: Rich in politics and creativity

Yasser Moheb from Cannes, Sunday 26 May 2019

This year's 72nd Cannes International Film Festival gave a platform to a number of films with distinct political accents

Les Misérables
A still photo from Les Misérables (2019) by Ladj Ly

Dozens of stars walked on the red carpet this year at the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival. Many were present in films in the prestigious competition, or made a showing simply because, for seven days, Cannes becomes "the place to be" for all who want to counted in the cinema world.

Panoply of films with a political tint graced screens at Cannes. “Sorry, We Missed You” by British director Ken Loach presented in the official competition, in which he denounces the injustice and indirect violence of the world of work.

The film follows the daily life of couple Ricky and Abby and their two children. This poor family from Newcastle, in the northeast of England, tries to find their daily bread in an "increasingly rigid European society" and chaining low paid jobs. The hero of the film —Ricky — decides to sell his car to buy a van and become a delivery driver for an online sales company. Loach previously won the Palme d'Or in 2016 with his film, “I, Daniel Blake.”

Loach declared himself, at the press conference following the screening of his film, as supporting collective mobilisations, like the yellow jackets in France, against what he calls "this alienating spiral." "You have to listen to their stories," he said of the drivers and workers whose lives his film is about.

Les Misérables dazzles

Presented in competition, the feature film Les Misérables by director Ladj Ly managed to be the first to upset La Croisette. Thanks to his brilliance, his virtuosity as an artist and his documentary approach to the moral misery of the suburbs, the projection of this feature was crowned by a long standing ovation. The work was inspired by real events, in October 2018, which made Les Misérables the more sentient and a serious candidate for the Palme d'Or.

Not an adaptation of the great novel of the same name, by Victor Hugo, but a realistic film, immersed in the daily Les Bosquets, in Montfermeil, on a very hot summer day. Everything is played in 24 hours or just 48 hours, through the adventure of three policemen. First, Stéphane, just arrived from Cherbourg, who joined the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil. He will meet his new teammates, Chris and Gouada, two experienced policemen, and he quickly discovers the tensions between different groups in the neighbourhood.

While they are overwhelmed during an arrest, a drone films their every move, including unintentional violence on the part of Gouada against a small child. A war broke out between marginal people and the police. However, Les Misérables is far from being an "anti-police" film. On the contrary, with his camera, Ladj Ly manages to trigger in the spectator empathy for these three police officers under pressure, completely overwhelmed by events.

The phrase of Victor Hugo, extracted from Les Misérables, "My friends, there are no bad men or weeds, there are just bad cultivators," closes the film.

The documentary approach is also the highlight of the film. The way he describes the corrupt environment of the city, presents the various protagonists of this game that imposes a semblance of social peace. If the film works very well, it is not only for the realism of its situations, but because it penetrates the character of the simple cop. In short, a striking piece about the problem of social discord.

The Algerian Papichas revolt

In the section Un certain regard, a mine of new talents, the Algerian-French Papicha, Mounia Meddour, just snapped. A feminine film with faces of women who mark and will strike bravely Algeria of the 90s. Meddour returns to this dark period in her first feature film. It is about Nedjma, a student 18 years old, living in the university and dreaming of becoming a stylist.

At night, Nedjma slips through the mesh of the fence of the city with her best friends to enter a nightclub where she sells her creations to "papichas," which means pretty girls in Algerian, while the country's political and social situation continues to deteriorate. Nedjma decides to fight for freedom by organising a fashion show, against all odds. In the current political context, the arrival of this film on the Croisette represents, for some, a certain tribute to the fight of the Algerian population, in a new phase of intensity for months.

Papicha is then a cry of rage against the obscurantism that threatened to engulf Algeria in the 90s. Beyond the vivid images, sometimes poetic, sometimes shocking and upsetting, that punctuate his film, Meddour succeeds in distilling a powerful message that Algerian women do not admit defeat. Together, in a sorority illustrated by the family of Nedjma, where there is no longer one man, they stand strong, against the violence that is thrown at them every day.

Feminist, the work particularly seduced by its shocks, its freshness and the charisma of its main performer. Without seeking a special tone, the film succeeds in accurately delivering the chaotic climate of the 90s in Algeria, the reign of some fanatics, increasing violence and pressures on women, but pays tribute to those who persist in the adversity of religious fanaticism to dream of a new world.

Emotional story from a Syrian newborn

It was necessary to have a strong constitution to endure the film For Sama, by Syrian journalist Waad Al-Kateab and the British filmmaker Edward Watts, presented out of competition. This documentary filming daily life in the ruined streets of Aleppo impressed the room. This first film is an open letter from Waad Al-Kateab to his eldest daughter, Sama, born during the siege of Aleppo in 2016. The journalist explains why she and her husband, Hamza, a doctor, refused to leave the city, a symbol of resistance that becomes the target of air raids of the Syrian regime and Russian military forces.

In the fifth month of the siege of the city, 300 wounded arrive daily at the hospital where the filmmaker makes the majority of his film. But in the midst of blood and tears, Waad also shows life. First, Sama (a name that means sky in Arabic), a baby who does not cry, plays in the middle of the noise. And then there's a staggering scene of a lifeless newborn, pulled too early from the belly of his mother who gave in to her wounds, and that the doctors strive to revive.

Presented out of competition in a special session, this documentary by Al-Kateab deserves more media exposure. Far away from the glitz and the glamour, the film managed to get the attention of critics. The screening was followed by almost three minutes of standing ovation from a full house.

Protestors at the Directors' Fortnight

Always in the same tone of peaceful demonstrations, about 40 employees, or ex-employees, manufacturing spare parts for the automobile industry, made the trip to present, at the Directors' Fortnight (Quinzaine des réalisateurs), the documentary "On va tout péter," of which they are the heroes.

Lech Kowalski, a cosmopolitan 60-year-old documentary filmmaker of polish origins, who was born in London and trained in New York, put his camera closer to life, settling with his companion and collaborator at La Souterraine for a year and a half. The film, deep, joyous and intimate, refuses to "be a propaganda film" and ends with a workforce divided in two.

Fighting for abortion ... at Cannes

Waving green scarves and chanting "Solidarity for women!" an Argentine film crew and several dozen campaigners turned the Cannes red carpet into a protest ground as they showcased a documentary looking at the highly-charged issue of abortion. Que Sea Ley (Let It Be Law) follows the battle to pass a bill legalising abortion in Argentina.

Warnings by tattoos

Sand Van Roy, the Belgian-Dutch actress who sued French director Luc Besson for rape last year after starring in Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is back to Cannes. The actress walked onto the red carpet with a large temporary tattoo spread on her back reading, “Stop Violence Against Women,” with the #MeToo movement symbol.

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