Cannes 2014: Five lessons from this year’s film festival

Steve Carell at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
(Vittorio Zunino Celotto)

The Cannes Film Festival can seem very far away, geographically and spiritually, from the mecca of U.S. entertainment. But don’t let the distance fool you: The gathering offers a clear barometer of where film is headed, both more immediately with periods such as award season and more generally with global trends. Here are five nuggets gleaned from this year’s gathering on the Croisette.

Expanding worlds: France, Spain and much of Europe dominated global cinema for a long time, and still turn out some of the most impressive work around. But the Earth continues to flatten.

Belgian naturalists the Dardenne brothers had seen five straight movies win prizes at Cannes, but their new film came away empty-handed. Meanwhile, Michel Hazanavicius saw weak reviews for his “Artist” follow-up “The Search.”

Taking its place? Well, the Palme d’Or instead went to a Turkish film, the honor of buzziest out-of-competition movie belonged to an Australian picture (“The Rover”) and one of the most beloved competition titles was “Timbuktu,” from a little-known Mauritanian director.


Epitomizing the trend: Spain’s Pedro Almodovar didn’t bring a new movie to Cannes. But one of the most fun and well-liked competition titles, “Wild Tales,” came from his protege -- in Argentina.

Elders and upstarts: There was something symbolic -- perhaps even intentionally so -- in the Jane Campion-led competition panel giving its shared Jury prize to Xavier Dolan and Jean-Luc Godard, at 25 and 83, the youngest and oldest filmmakers in the competition.

The move underscored the festival’s, and world cinema’s, willingness to pay deference to its 20th century elders but also suggested that it is willing, in an era when some of those elders have become more, well, elderly, to look for new talent.

Cannes and global cinema still has a dues-paying aspect -- Dolan had to bring three previous movies to Cannes before being given a competition slot -- but pay them and deliver the goods and you’ll be recognized.

Reinventors: With so many Hollywood stars taking the global auteur route, it’s become increasingly common for award season, and even the Oscar podium, to offer a big actor reinvention story (see: Matthew McConaughey and Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Dallas Buyers Club”).

The trend may have reached a new peak this year in “Foxcatcher,” which saw comic actor Steve Carell remade as a hauntingly creepy billionaire and Channing Tatum as a surprisingly dramatic Olympic wrestler in Bennett Miller’s new tour de force. Both performers figure to be factors this Oscar season.

Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, cast herself in a new light with her role in Olivier Assayas’ Euro-set actor drama “Sils Maria;” the French director said he believes that it showcases “all the places” Stewart is capable of reaching as a performer. And her “Twilight” costar Robert Pattinson gave the performance of his career in “The Rover.”

Plus there’s the trend’s offshoot -- the workaday actor who plays the part of a lifetime and makes us wonder where he’s been all these years.


Look for Timothy Spall as the British artist JMW Turner to do just that this season, the middle-aged Brit likely garnering accolades and very possibly an Oscar best actor nomination for his turn in Mike Leigh “Turner.” He’s a droll personality too, which always helps.

Canadians: Robin Williams once said living in Canada is like occupying a loft apartment above a really great party. But this year’s Cannes saw the Canadians crash that fete.

David Cronenberg had one of the most talked-about movies of the festival with Hollywood commentary “Maps to the Stars,” while Dolan announced the arrival of French-Canadian cinema as a force to be reckoned with in his explosive mother-son dramedy “Mommy.”

Our hockey-loving brethren might want to lay a little less claim to Ryan Gosling, though -- his directorial debut “Lost River” fanned on its shot for Lynchian point-scoring.


And Atom Egoyan’s latest, the moody but at times contrived “The Captive,” had some wondering what happened to all the love we once had for “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter.”

Graceful Monaco: Harvey Weinstein, the ultimate Cannes creature, came out looking pretty good from the “Grace of Monaco” debacle that threatened to drag him down along with a lot of other people.

The opening-night movie, directed by Olivier Dahan and starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, was the subject of months of pre-screening squabbling over the proper cut and tone. When it finally debuted, audiences greeted it coolly, and then some, resisting its melodrama and at times emotionally incoherent sequencing.

But Weinstein, who chose not to show up as he, um, toured Syrian refugee camps in Jordan instead, came out a winner. He had decried that version as he prepared his own. He’s now well-positioned to bring out the new cut (with some nominal input from Dahan) in the U.S. -- branded, implicitly, as the “movie that’s much better than what you saw in Cannes.”


Still, Weinstein didn’t emerge with buzz for any big titles at the festival, and an upfront presentation touting movies on his fall slate saw a number of shrugged shoulders in the room. Whether this will be a Harvey-centric year, like 2011 or 2012, or a Harvey-lite year, like 2013, remains a question coming out of Cannes.