Looking back at old photos of the streets of Cannes, film posters were everywhere. Nowadays the Croisette is dominated by ads touting bikinis and jewellery; the only visual reminder on billboards, hotel facades and shop windows that the cinema carnival is in town is Ingrid Bergman’s floating, smiling face that beams out of the festival’s minimalist official poster.
Otherwise, film posters are hard to find. One or two are taped up in the lobby of the Quinzaine or Debussy cinemas, only to be replaced the next day with new offerings. But if you venture into the Marché du Film – the underground labyrinth of booths and aisles beneath the Grand Palais, where the business of selling and buying cinema is done – there posters still reign. They decorate the bland partitioned walls of the stalls of sales agents and production companies, hoping to catch the eye of investors or theatrical, TV or VOD distributors. These adverts aren’t just for films playing at the festival, but for anything being sold there, be it obscure genre productions with hair-brained, lurid titles and zero hopes of an official Cannes screening, or films from other recent festivals still hoping for a release somewhere in the world.
When selling films is such a big part of the festival, it’s a shame that many of the designs on show aren’t more adventurous. Most are simply slapdash compositions that amount to nothing more than a star’s face under a title. On the well-heeled streets outside, it often seems like more imagination goes into the pleas for tickets to red-carpet evening screenings that hopeful punters craft on paper and hold for hours on end.
Below is a selection of posters for the films chosen for this year’s Cannes programme that should be hung all over the Croisette, and beyond. The winner of my poster Palme d’Or is the design for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour – a mysterious, oneiric photographic montage that not only makes you want to see the Thai director’s film about a woman who cares for a soldier with sleeping sickness, but gives a sense of its visual audacity and its languid, dreamy atmosphere. A close runner-up is the vibrant design for Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights (unearthed by Adrian Curry for his ‘Movie Poster of the Day’ tumblr site), and it’s only appropriate that such a labyrinth of a film has a palimpest for a poster.
An early design for Hou Hsaio-Hsien’s The Assassin is one of the few illustrative images here (perhaps more will emerge with posters designed for specific theatrical releases, since many of these are just teasers). Official artwork is in the works but an alternative photographic design gives little hint of The Assassin being the most visually sublime and inventive film in competition, looking as it does like just another martial arts film with Shu Qi, the titular warrior, in attack mode in the foreground.
Another rather charming illustrative design is a playful ad for Kent Jones’s filmmaker tribute Hitchcock/Truffaut which riffs on Saul Bass and Hitch’s famously portly shilouette. Meanwhile the photographic examples selected here largely use intriguing, atypical poster images (impressionistic landscapes in two designs for Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side), or have a conceptual bent, as in The Lobster’s creepy, absent lovers.
The most provocative offering comes naturally from Gaspar Noé, a director so wise to the power of posters that his film Love has half a dozen already. They aspire to be a more explicit and attention-seeking one-up on Lars von Trier’s orgasm designs for Nymph()maniac – but promise a film that actually rarely shows sex as close up as the poster suggests. The steamy, saturated reds and yellows do relay Love’s sumptuous and luminous palette (it’s shot by Noe’s regular DoP Benoît Debie, who recently made Spring Breakers look so surreal); indeed the film’s restrained cinematography (most sex scenes are filmed overhead) and its diverse soundtrack are high amongst its few interesting and surprising features.
By comparison, the design for Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth aims to provoke but just feels very out of step at a festival where women’s rights were so to the fore, featuring as it does the back of naked lady, her front being ogled by two old men in the background, while we get to stare at her arse.
In contrast to the hierachical structure of the festival, the selection displayed here is entirely democratic, covering all strands from the hallowed Competition to Critics’ Week to short films – just to show that you don’t need a huge budget to create a memorable paper trailer for a film.