Cannes 2012: In the glare of the euro crisis
To: The 2012 Cannes Film Festival Leadership
After having just attended your film festival this year (my fifth annual), and given the current economic and political environment that you operate within, here are my thoughts and suggestions about the future of the festival and to make an impassioned plea for you to resist reforms — especially as some may wish to include you in the efforts to bolster confidence in the European film market.
Specifically, in these troubled economic times, you may be pressured to invoke austerity measures like the efforts being proposed and imposed in your neighboring, participating nations. You are an easy target as you represent the elite one percent who seems out of touch with the plight of the other 99 percent — the average movie going public — who are being asked to make significant sacrifices. As people have to make do with less so that they can help restore solvency to and confidence in the euro, many may want to see similar reform measures — or at least some artistic acknowledgement — from the film elite represented by the Cannes Film Festival.
Succumbing to these pressures would be foolhardy and counter-productive, as I am sure you agree.
Nevertheless, in the event that the pressure builds and referenda are proffered, it’s imperative that we make the case for why you should stay the course and how such reform measures would be inadvisable. We are sure you could arrive at these conclusions on your own, but as a service to you (and without any expectation of compensation — after all, we all need to do our part of the larger good), I am providing these thoughts and arguments to help you push back and illuminate the benefits that the Cannes Film Festival — in its current iteration — bring to the table.
Razzing the Razzle-Dazzle
The first movement for reform would likely be targeted at the most visible aspect of the festival: the flashy, opulent, elegant, ostentatious red carpet gala film screenings. You require anyone wishing to access these privileged screenings to receive a special shimmering-silver invitation. Furthermore, you restrict the 99 percenters to the other side of the street whose view is blocked by the throngs of photographers some 10-people deep and stacked on ladders so they can snap a bazillion pictures of the movie stars as they saunter up the red carpet, their every gesture and sequined gem sparkling in the shower of flashbulbs. Providing greater access to this spectacle would serve no purpose other than the psychic pleasure that the 99 percenters would enjoy by getting closer to their favorite star or starlet and the feeling of greater equality. As the 99 percenters are never going to be as famous as the celebrities or as wealthy as the invited guests, it would be cruel to suggest that they are on the same level. The festival is alluring and noteworthy for the very reason that it is exclusive and decadent. Take that away and you no longer have the same festival and its popularity among the elite will decline thus defeating the whole purpose of such a world renowned event.
In the same vein, there may be efforts to require that the festival show films that take into account these troubled economic times, or even suggest solutions or proposals for assistance. But, just because you include films from many nations of the world — especially and predominately European nations — does not mean that you must recognize and help address the economic strife of those nations. No, you can and you must ignore those troubles and focus on the insular aspects of film — the making, marketing and manifestations of it. The festival is not some NGO created to improve the world. This is a business, and that business is about making art, not bread or oil. Leave that to religious and other social organizations that are about helping people with those aspects of their lives. We are here to help people find sustenance in entertainment and beauty. Heck, we may even promote films that show poverty, unemployment, destitution, squalor, malaise, violence, political graft and corruption. But that is just a part of the artistic aspect of our films — the way we make a dramatic or emotional appeal about a character or situation. And if such a depiction can bring out the best in an actor so that he or she can be celebrated for their performance, all the better. In fact, there may even be panhandlers along the streets of Cannes just outside the Palais (the huge theater complex) — people who are clearly in dire need and represent the very people we are depicting in our films. But, we cannot be bothered by these real people. We have a show to put on.
Next, reformers may turn their gaze to the festival’s film selection and voting process. We can hear the complaints now: An internal cabal decides which films are selected for the competitions and a handpicked jury of just nine members from the film industry itself or from other limited high-class callings (like fashion) decide the winners of just seven awards. In short, the reformers might argue that these processes must be opened up — democratized — just as other nations of the world are looking into doing the same thing regarding the secret and cloistered world of debt financing and other national fiscal matters. Keeping these sorts of activities in the dark behind the curtain, they would argue, is how we got into this euro crisis and international fiscal mess in the first place. Making such reforms in the real world is hampered when the festival continues give these sorts of elite practices legitimacy and cache. So, they must be changed. This all sounds so reasonable and innocent, but making such changes would strike at the heart of the festival and what makes it so unique. If the festival’s film selection process were to be opened up, there may be pressures to include more Hollywood blockbusters because they are popular and can draw more attention. It would also fall prey to the studio bosses whose shameless huckstering results in their product receiving more accolades and attention than other, more worthy fair. These sorts of changes must be resisted. The festival is about promoting obscure films and filmmakers — artistic works that would otherwise be overlooked or ignored. These filmmakers (auteurs if you will) get a reputation at the festival for creating a certain kind of film (usually one that lacks special effects, bombastic musical soundtracks, aliens, superheroes, zombies, vampires, car chases, gun or laser battles) that appeals to the elite echelon of the festival organization. Their films are the ones selected and thus eligible for the awards and acclaim. Without this process, we would have a vote of the 99 percenters and we would fail to support the filmmakers who seemingly make films only for the Cannes Film Festival audience. The festival needs to nurture its special international talent and audience.
Given this, the reformers may then wonder about jobs and the economy in that they would advocate the festival play its part in helping to promote jobs in the film industry and stimulate the economy by making bigger, more expensive films like they do in Hollywood instead of the obscure and exceedingly small films that it promotes, showcases and champions. It’s not surprising that such claims should be emphatically rejoined. The festival does its part for the economy and indeed promotes jobs; that is, employment for esoteric filmmakers who could never get a job in Hollywood or at the big studios. These filmmakers make movies like Amour (about an elderly French couple living in a Paris apartment as the wife’s health and mental state slowly and painfully degrades and the husband [who is also becoming enfeebled] refuses to put her in a hospital or hospice and instead takes care of her even as she is bedridden and incoherent), and Beyond the Hills (about two orphan girls in Romania one of whom devotes her life to God in a convent while the other one [troubled and in love with the other] comes to visit and gets increasingly belligerent with the nuns and priest as she wants her former orphan companion to go away with her and the nuns and priest respond by trying to perform an exorcism on her with tragic results). The realistic tone and unflinching detail of these films would never make it through the Hollywood development process, which would demand that they be shortened, include more edits to create excitement and accommodate attention spans, require happy endings, options for sequels, etc. These festival films need to be made so as to keep these filmmakers employed and festival-goers contented. The Cannes Film Festival is the one of the last places (indeed, the most prestigious places) to provide a venue for these films (arthouse theaters are not enough and are too back alley anyway). And, as a further counter argument, the festival does show an occasional Hollywood and American produced film. This just helps to reflect on the differences and make the case for the allure and specialness — and higher quality — of its obscure selections.
Escape from Escapism
The retort of the reformers would then be that the festival should help the situation by giving people entertainment that allows them escape from their current woes. The populous needs films that take them to alien worlds, or display feats of heroism, or vanquish monsters and bad guys to give them a respite — however brief — from their everyday malaise. The festival should thereby stop showing us the hard-bitten reality of suffering, struggle and strife in the real world. But that’s the sort of help that should come from American international aid in the form of Hollywood pap. Hollywood will keep exporting this filmic product for the foreseeable future. We, on the other hand, are a distinguished film festival. We are the standard bearers of culture and taste. Once this crisis is over, you will be glad we held firm to our principles.
In conclusion, the festival is fine just the way it is. To continue as is will not exacerbate the euro or international financial crisis or any other current trouble occurring around the globe. The festival knows what’s best for its future and the future of film generally. If the viewing public could only see that, it would know that the festival has gotten too big to fail and keeping it as is will ultimately benefit the medium and everyone who loves film — especially us elitist, snobbish, jaded critics.
Doug Young is our veteran film critic with five trips to the Cannes Film Festival now under his belt. He himself is an award-winning writer. His columns have won top honors in Colorado’s Better Newspaper Contests over the years.