Cannes 2010 awards reaction: big stories, or the bigger picture?

This year’s Cannes mounted a fine survey of the art of modern cinema.


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Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Let’s get one thing straight: despite what you might hear elsewhere, this year’s Cannes was not a disappointment for everyone, at least not if you love a wide variety of what the cinema can do. While it’s true that there was no standout competition film of the hallmark quality, say, of last year’s The White Ribbon and The Prophet, or the previous year’s The Class, the overall standard was, for me, as high as those years.

Much of the mainstream media’s tepid response was forged in the moment a selection so light on Hollywood stars and/or potential causes célèbre was made. These people are paid not to see much beyond Hollywood.

The exquisite, if elusive, Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has become an obvious focus for this dissatisfaction. But it was one of five films which could equally well have borne the distinction: Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men, Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry and Ukrainian newcomer Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy.

That Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man, Mathieu Amalric’s On Tour (of which I am a bigger admirer than most), Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law and Kiarostami’s Certified Copy were not quite winning material doesn’t mean they’re not fine films; it mean that the competition was set at a high level, if not quite the highest. Indeed, in terms of genre films, Im Sang-soo’s remake of the Korean classic The Housemaid was itself a pretty distinguished exercise in Hitchcockian grand guignol. If I had such a good time, it’s perhaps because I am not plagued by people insisting I look for some notion of ‘the big story’. In any case, it was there all along: right now the art of the cinema couldn’t be healthier.

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