Cannes: Closing Narratives

Cannes: Closing Narratives

With Cannes nearing its close, it’d be fair to say that the selection by artistic director Thierry Frémaux and his team has left most critics more than satisfied. The medium might be threatened by the spectre of streaming, but this week has shown that cinema is very much alive and well. Of course, the hottest ticket in town was Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, his sprawling love-letter to 1960s film and TV starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively, as fading actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth.

Featuring a remarkable cast – Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Damian Lewis and many more – this tale begins in February 1969, six months before Charles Manson’s acolytes went on a killing spree that resulted in the murder of actress Sharon Tate (played luminously by Margot Robbie). Really, though, it’s a buddy movie between Pitt and DiCaprio – their first ever team-up together – and a film that comes across as surprisingly emotional.

As good as it is, Tarantino’s film was overshadowed, by the film that played in competition straight after – South Korean director Bong Jon-ho’s sublime Parasite. A unique study of social inequality, moulded into a farcical black comedy with elements of satire and the thriller, it’s a hugely accomplished tale about a family of four seeking out gainful employment with a wealthy CEO and his wife and kids. It trumps even Bong’s earlier films Memories of Murder and Mother.

What else to recommend? A Hidden Life, Terrence Malick’s ninth film, marked a return to form for a director who even hardcore admirers were beginning to doubt after his experimental forays with To The Wonder and Knight of Cups. This rather more accessible historical bio explored with great sadness the life of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer and conscientious objector who refused to swear allegiance to Hitler during World War II. With Malick’s obsessions with nature and religion coming to the fore, it was a beautifully moving and elegantly-made work.

While the jury will now have to decide what films take home the main prizes, Jessica Hausner’s offbeat Little Joe deserves acclaim for its striking aesthetics. The Austrian director’s first foray into English-language cinema, it stars the radiant Emily Beecham as a scientist who grows a new strain of plant – nicknamed ‘Little Joe’ – that emits a feeling of well-being. From the costumes to the production design to the framing, everything is meticulously designed. It’s quite a wonder to look at, even if a little cold at times.

Finally, Xavier Dolan returned to Cannes two years after winning the Grand Jury Prize for the divisive It’s Only The End of the World. This time, the French-Canadian brought Matthias and Maxime, a typically heartfelt and passionate drama about two long-time friends, played by Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas and Dolan respectively, and the complex feelings thrown up after they share a playful kiss in a short film directed by Matthias’ sister. Messy but gradually infectious, it proved yet another engrossing movie in this year’s excellent Cannes competition.

The Cannes Film Festival runs until 25 May.

James Mottram