Tales from Cannes 2017 – Part 4: The Square, City of Ghosts and More

IFI Head of Cinema Programming David O’Mahony continues his tour of Cannes 2017. Read on for his latest update.

Day 4 (Saturday 20th May 2017) 

The morning’s competition entry was 120 Beats Per Minute, directed by Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys, IFI French Film Festival 2014).

Set in the 90s at the height of France’s AIDS epidemic, the film follows the grassroots Act Up campaign of agitation against a Pharmaceutical company that refuses to reveal its findings on potentially successful new drugs.

Against this backdrop the HIV positive Sean, one of the groups’ founders, begins a tentative romance with quiet newcomer Nathan, who has tested negative.  It’s a compelling, moving and quietly angry entry which should garner awards chatter.

Mathew Heinman’s devastating City of Ghosts was a worthy successor to his excellent 2015 documentary Cartel Land, which saw the crusading filmmaker go deep into Mexican drug cartel territory to secure candid interviews.

This time he is embedded with members of the Syrian citizen journalism group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, who smuggle covert reports out of the ISIS controlled city. It’s a tough watch and deliberately so.

Abel Ferrara’s Alive in France was a scrappy look at a concert featuring musicians who have worked with the director throughout his career, presented to coincide with his retrospective in Toulouse.

Rotoscoping animation is employed to winning effect in director Ali Soozandeh’s Tehran Taboo, an unsparing glimpse behind the city’s conservative facade. The stories of two women and a male musician intertwine as each tries to navigate the hypocrisy and repression of the regime.

My final screening of the day – Ruben Ostland’s The Square – was my first red carpet gala extravaganza of Cannes 2017, and a glitzy affair it was, not for me mind but for those associated with the film and the glittering VIPs deposited at the foot of the famous red steps from shiny title sponsor cars.

The wearing of a tuxedo might seem inordinately fancy by any normal standards but it swiftly becomes very ordinary when surrounded by thousands of other similarly attired gentlemen all of whom look more comfortable than me. There is an inherent absurdity to being dressed as such whilst standing for hours on end in in a holding area tantamount to a cattle crush, but on the plus side Elizabeth Moss, the film’s star floated by me, close enough to touch.

The film itself was an intoxicating stew of pungent satire and surreal comedy, though it could be accused of being indulgently overlong and scattershot in its approach. A ferocious takedown of the contemporary art world the film contains one extended sequence involving a performance artist mimicking an ape that is unquestionably brilliant.

Check back soon for more updates from Cannes 2017.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


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