A Veteran Film Critic previews Cannes

A Guest column by Ron Holloway 

Ron Holloway is a Chicago native steeped in Catholic doctrine (seminary trained), film history, criticism, and the mysteries of film marketing.  He is also acquainted with just about every director who ever made a film in Europe over the past 40 years. Ron now lives in Berlin with his wife, Dorothea Moritz, an actress who also publishes KINO German Film and International Reports.   He travels the film festival circuit from Montreal to Cannes to Istanbul with stops in between. He has written on film for many major publications.  I asked Ron to write this preview of the 61st annual Cannes Festival scheduled to run May 14 through May 25. 

 Every year it’s the same story – a handful of disgruntled critics from prominent newspapers line up before the Cannes press officer, hoping for a sit-down appointment with Christine Aimé, the ruler of things related to the media, and keeper of the press badges.  The critics have one thing in mind, they all want to upgrade their Cannes press accreditation card.

Always gracious, yet forever firm, Christine always asks the same questions: Why did they fail to file their reviews of competition films directly from the Palais des Festivals? Why did they wait to write their reviews until a film premiered in their home cities, sometimes months after the Cannes festival had closed?

If the critic fails to produce a timely review from Cannes, he or she is bumped up from the parquet to the balcony for press screenings in the Lumière and the Debussy.  They are also required to stand in long lines to gain entrance to choice special screenings.  Then there is the shame of having a press badge card with the exclusive rose dot replaced by a get-lucky blue badge.

As a longtime critic for the trade papers – now in my 41st year – I can easily guess why many lazy critics do not file on time from the queen of all film festivals. The parties are too much fun. Besides, news editor back home offer ample space for a review only when the film opens in the critic’s home city. Film advertising is a horn-of-plenty for all media outlets.  By the time a film makes it to London or Kansas City, the reader hardly notices that it premiered at Cannes. 

Christine Aimé doesn’t like reviews to appear months after Cannes. By now she knows all the tricks. She knows what critics write about Cannes films and when they they deliver their reviews to their publics. Christine also knows the best critics on her beat. She will again greet them with a warm smile at the door of the Debussy. 

Last year, when Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a dour Romanian tale set during the last years of the Ceauscescu regime  won Cannes’ top prize, the Golden Palm, critics were surprised. Few expected the award to go to a film about an illegal abortion

Few critics expected the Belgian brothers Jean Pierre and Luc Dardennes to win the Golden Palm in 1999 with their film Rosetta.  Their L’Enfant film won the Palm in 2005. Critics were again surprised. Both of these films presented hardship stories about young people living on the fringe of Belgian society. This year the Dardennes brothers are back with Le Silence de Lorna? Will they win a record-breaking third award?  They could, considering the film’s theme, and an international jury chaired by Sean Penn.

Lorna’s Silence is the story of an Albanian woman who marries a drug addict to obtain Belgian residency. My guess is that it will win a handful of awards, maybe including the Golden Palm.

It will compete with a Turkish entry, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys, the fourth film Ceylan has opened at Cannes. In 1995, he brought his short film Cocoon to Cannes, That picture starred his parents as a  couple in their seventies caught in a trademark tale of family alienation.

 Ceylan returned to Cannes in 2003 with Distant, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actor Award. He was back in 2006 with Climates, which won the Critics Prize. Both are autobiographical in that the main actor – played by himself in Climates – is a lonesome photographer reluctant to abandon his stubborn ways.

This year’s Ceylan entry, Three Monkeys (from the metaphor of the three monkeys who hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil) tells a story  that  underscores how a failure to cover up the truth leads to extravagant lies and tragic consequences. The film is about troubles reluctantly faced by a businessman’s driver. It stars Ebru Ceylan, the director’s wife, and Yavuz Bingol, currently Turkey’s singing idol.

Other Cannes front-runners are Wim Wenders’s The Palermo Shooting (Germany) and Steven Soderbergh’s Che (USA). Both Wenders and Soderbergh have won Golden Palms for, respectively, Paris, Texas (1984) and Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989).

The press corps will jump on Soderbergh’s Che, because it is a film easy and fun to write about. Che is two films in one: Guerrilla and The Argentine which are combined into a four-hour epic on the life and times of Che Guervara.

In an interview in Berlin, Wim Wenders said: “For the first time in 15 years, I have shot a film again in Germany and Europe. And I am particularly pleased to present the film at a festival that has been connected with my work in a special way.”  Wim Wenders has made seven appearance on the Croisette. This year’s entry, The Palermo Shooting,  is a story of a tired middle-aged fashion-photographer, Finn, played by Campino, the lead singer of Die Toten Hosen, a German rock band. This is Campino’s first screen appearance.

The film opens in Düsseldorf (Wim’s birthplace and the homebase of Die Toten Hosen). It ends in the Sicilian capital of Palermo.  In the film, Campino encounters Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper, rock stars Lou Reed and Patti Smith, starlet Milla Jovovich, and several German screen personalities.  Considering Wim’s past triumphs at Cannes, he just might win his third Palme d’Or  this year. 

Two other titles drawing attention are:

Kornel Mundruczo’s Delta (Hungary), which has already won top awards at the Hungarian Film Week in Budapest. Shot in the picturesque Danube delta, Mundruczo draws upon classic motifs in Shakespeare and Euripides to tell the tragic story of siblings seeking shelter in an isolated retreat. The film was five years in the making and had to be interrupted upon the death of lead actor in the middle of shooting.

Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli-French-German coproduction is the first feature-length animated documentary to contend for Golden Palm laurels. Set in west Beirut during the Libanon conflict, Folman’s film takes the viewer on a eye-catching journey into the pop culture of the 1980s. With the civil war again erupting in Lebanon, a current political crises and cinema will once again intersect at Cannes.

If you live in an area where your favorite critic writes from Cannes, and wants to remain in Christine Aimé’s good graces, you should be reading more about these films over the next two weeks.   


About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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