Why the Cannes Film Festival Should Matter to You

ALTAs a movie fan, I love summer. It’s the season when Hollywood puts every dollar they’ve got on screen in extravagant, often-ludicrous blockbusters, realizing fantastical worlds that, before, we could only close our eyes and imagine. Every weekend is another bombastic mega-budgeted event, and while quality ranges from “brilliant” to “evidence of the end of days,” each one plays its part in the dynamic of the summer stretch.

The four month run is the perfect lead up to the awards season, when the studios pull back and pay their respects to the dramatic, unleashing a wave of prestige pictures that prioritize high art and great performances over popcorn-munching action sequences. The Oscars are like a second Christmas for me, and I look forward to the annual race of who could take home Hollywood’s top prizes by year end. Cinematic greatness as competition — while others root for their favorite sports team, I have Best Actors and Actress to champion.

At the end of the day, I have to admit to myself that these two annual waves of movies barely scratch the surface of “the year in film.” The international scene, independently financed films that only play a few theaters in the U.S., even movies that find major release stateside but go under-appreciated by the award season machine — hundreds of films emerge each year only to slide under the radar of the average movie-goer. That’s why I count on the Cannes Film Festival, a gateway to the movies that aren’t on anyone’s radar. Mostly, because no one has seen them until they debut at the prestigious French fest.

Standing on the fringe of a film festival rather than diving into it on one’s own can be a seemingly pointless experience. “If I’m not there, why do I care?” is a reasonable question. But like the fest-goers, Cannes can be a moment of discovery and a celebration of the finer voices in moviemaking for the people who stayed home (the perk of not attending Cannes: no lines, no chaos, no soaking wet clothes due to torrential downpour!). ALTSuddenly, amongst the alien invasions of Battleship and Men in Black 3, the rave reviews are all for the latest from Oscar-nominated German filmmaker Michael Haneke’s devastating dissection of old age, Amor, or Marion Cotillard’s knockout performance as a disabled gymnast struggling with love in Rust and Bone. If the latest Marvel superhero movie or mega-budget sci-fi is the ying, the Cannes film slate is the yang. They’re not incompetition, but rather, one helps complicate and appreciate the other.

Cannes is about the best of the best, bold, creative efforts from filmmakers old and new. This year, it’s best exampled by the legendary David Cronenberg and his son, Brandon. The former sports Cosmopolis, the trippy road movie across New York City starring Robert Pattinson, while young Cronenberg debuts his first feature: Antiviral, a horror satire infecting celebrity culture. And with tween heartthrobs like Pattinson teaming with known auteurs, Cannes offers a proving ground where expectations can be shattered. Zac Efron, Kristen Stewart and older actors like Matthew McConaughey flock to Cannes ready to stand by their challenging roles and pit them against a demanding audience. Keep eyes on Cannes and see entire careers fortified with one night of films.

While breakouts and star-driven movies can trek all the way to Oscar night (as last year’s The Artist did after Jean Dujardin picked up the Best Actor award), Cannes’ real gems can be found with a little digging. Scope out the list of movies playing in festival and a little Google searching later, you’ll find raves for movies like Mattero Garrone’s Gomorrah follow-up Reality, The Celebration director’s The Hunt and Cristian Mungiu’s film Beyond the Hills (Mungiu won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, for his highly acclaimed 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days). Unlike the rest of the world, that devours American film by the boatload, films from overseas rarely find large audiences in the U.S.. Cannes spoonfeeds us the great ones.

My mother often tells me they don’t make movies for her anymore. They do, of course, she’s just not looking hard enough. Sifting through Cannes coverage from across the globe is worth it for the adventurous pop culturalist. And there’s a gateway for everyone: Cannes is the center of high fashion, the apex of ludicrous party behavior and the shrine for which cineastes bow to the greats of filmdom. Cannes isn’t just a fancy film fest for Hollywood bigwigs, it’s an opportunity for anyone with a passion for movies to indulge upon.

Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches


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[Photo Credit: Cannes Film Festival]