Final preparations are made for the 65th Cannes Film Festival. Picture: AP

AS the world’s coolest film festival gets underway today, Stephen Applebaum finds that behind all the glitz and the glamour there lies an institution not to be messed with

THANKS to the internet, we are living in an age of leaks. And it seemed like the security-conscious Cannes Film Festival might have sprung one, when a list of 24 films supposedly selected for this year’s 65th edition appeared on a French website calling itself Blog du Festival de Cannes, nearly three weeks before the official launch of the Competition line-up on 19 April.

It was a tantalising post, designed to get film fans’ juices flowing (and, no doubt, to attract traffic to the website). However, the inclusion of last year’s press-shy Palme d’Or winner, Terence Malick, as well as There Will Be Blood’s Paul Thomas Anderson, with films that most commentators believed wouldn’t actually be finished in time for the 2012 edition of the world’s glitziest – and frequently most vulgar and crazy - collision of cineart and commerce, instantly called its authenticity into question.   

Launching into damage-control mode, festival director Thierry Fremaux pronounced it “all lies” and warned that “Cannes is an institution and must be preserved. There is a code of conduct for Cannes and it must be respected,” he told website, adding darkly: “Those who don’t respect the code will never come back to Cannes.” 

He wasn’t kidding. As Lars von Trier discovered very publicly last year, one of the first rules of participating in Cannes is, don’t embarrass Cannes. After making some ill-advised off-the-cuff remarks about being a Nazi and having sympathy for Hitler when he was holed up in his bunker, at the now infamous press conference for his Competition film, Melancholia, the Danish iconoclast was declared persona non grata, and banned from the festival. Although the furore didn’t stop Kirsten Dunst from winning the award for best actress, the decision to exclude her director sent a powerful message: if one of Cannes’ favourite sons, and a past Palme d’Or winner to boot, can be barred, then no-one is safe.

Indeed, it is not just filmmakers that can provoke the wrath of Cannes’ organisers. Journalists are also bound by strict protocols, the breaking of which can result in one’s festival badge being revoked. These precious pieces of colour-coded plastic, depending on their hue, can make you feel like a king or la merde de la Croisette. Some people have the luxury of sailing fairly smoothly into screenings and Press conferences, while others find themselves in a situation that creates the sensation of cattle being herded to slaughter. (The fact that some films make you wish you could be put out of your misery only adds to the effect.) Consequently, tempers have been known to flare and fists to fly.
Whether there will be any of that this year remains to be seen. On paper, though, there is much in the official line-up with the potential to get passions running high. 

Malick and Anderson, to nobody’s surprise, are not part of the programme. Even so, fans of auteur cinema should be well served by the likes of Wes Anderson, whose Moonrise Kingdom kicks off proceedings tonight; Michael Haneke, whose film Love reunites with him with his daring Piano Teacher star Isabelle Huppert; Leos Carax, whose Holy Motors is his first feature since 1999’s Pola X; and the UK’s own Ken Loach, whose Scotland-set whisky heist movie, The Angels’ Share, is a lighter and less controversial proposition than his last Cannes winner, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, six years ago. No doubt Loach’s detractors on the Right are already preparing their well-rehearsed jibes about champagne socialists hobnobbing with the conspicuously rich on the French Riviera. 

Another festival favourite, David Cronenberg, will pitch up with his hotly anticipated adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, which the trailer suggests is far more recognisably Cronenbergian than his recent Freud/Jung face-off, A Dangerous Method. Some fear it could be dragged down by its star, Robert Pattinson, whose recent performance in Bel Ami failed to convince many critics that there was more to him than Twilight’s Edward Cullen. Perhaps Cronenberg can help him silence the naysayers.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand will go toe to toe for the top prize in the shape of The Road director John Hillcoat’s prohibition era thriller, Lawless, and Andrew Dominik’s dark tale of revenge, Killing them Softly, starring Brad Pitt, both of which should be hot tickets.

America’s Lee Daniels returns for the first time since Precious with The Paperboy, which boasts Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Macy Gray among its cast. He will be joined by Jeff Nichols, who follows last year's sidebar placement for Take Shelter with a Competition slot for Mud. Meanwhile, first-time feature director Benh Zeitlin will bring his acclaimed Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild, to Un Certain Regard.

With other Competition entries also including films from the likes of Cristian Mungiu (2007 Palme d’Or winner for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah), Thomas Vinterberg (Festen), and Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), the jury – headed by Nanni Moretti and counting Ewan McGregor, Andrea Arnold, and, surprisingly, Jean Paul Gaultier among its members – could have a tough time choosing the winner.

All will be revealed when the festival wraps on 27 May, after which the world’s media will stumble out of Cannes as if suddenly awoken from a fever dream and head back to reality. For 11 days, however, the small seaside town with hyper-inflated prices will have felt like the only place to be.

• The 65th Cannes Film Festival runs from today until 27 May.

First published in The Scotsman, May 16, 2012

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