Finally Cannes has woken up to the power of the poster. The festival of old knew how to do it: just look at the delightful playful designs conjured by Jean Michel Folon’s paintbrush in the late 1970s. But for the last few decades it’s been the glamorous stars of cinema past watching over us mere mortals on the Croisette. Often, they are actresses, twirling and smiling and generally on brand with Cannes’ emphasis on glitz, and illustrative of its general attitude towards women as objects of desire only.
This year though the ‘poster girl’ is the recently departed Agnès Varda. A director! And a woman! The lurid, Photoshop-101 background aside, the image of Varda standing on top of cinematographer Louis Stein while filming her first feature La Pointe Courte (1954) is a dynamic and unusual choice.
It signals that the festival has, at long last, clocked that it needs to change. Does this change go deeper than a clever and overdue rebranding exercise? Only the number of female-directed films in future editions of the festival will tell. You hope that they can improve on the four films directed by women (out of 19) in competition this year. The fact that that’s a joint record for the festival (tying with the ‘slow progress’ achieved in 2011) says it all.
When it comes to the films in the festival marketing themselves, it’s the genre films that are winning this year. Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die eschews its starry cast to grab us with a zombie hand. Poster fiend Nicolas Winding Refn shows up the cinema-bound competition entries with his neon skull memento mori for his Amazon series Too Old to Die Young.
The poster for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is the most curious tease of them all, though: five characters stare out at us. One clutches a wine glass. Another a boulder. Each has their eyes redacted and there’s what looks like a corpse’s legs in the foreground. Not your average family drama.
Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake has a moody poster that expertly conveys the use of chiaroscuro in this rain-drenched gangster noir.
Elsewhere there are lacklustre efforts with many competition films taking a makeshift minimalist approach, plonking uninspired typography over stills. It’s a shame as festival teaser posters have the chance to be more adventurous. (Let’s hope the films themselves have more to offer.)
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood poster is disappointingly bland, but a retro poster for a film (Operazione Dyn-o-Mite!) within the film shows more tender cinephile design affection we would expect from Tarantino (who surely must have himself a kick-ass poster collection). It’s been suggested that the title of the fake 70s film borrows from the low-budget motorcycle action thriller, Dixie Dynamite (1976), starring Warren Oates, the Italian title for which was Operazione Motocross.
- Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood first look: Tarantino’s barefoot elegy to an era at sundown is his ripest delight
Often, the rule is the ‘smaller’ the film, the louder it has to shout, and this year is no exception. Kudos to the graphic experiments going on in the sidebars and films out of competition, particularly the avian-inspired design for Let it Be Law (Que Sea Ley) – a documentary about the fight to legalise abortion in Argentina.
It’s no surprise though that the most imaginative designs are for the short films by emerging directors that get the least attention at the festival. Just look at the painterly touches on the design for Finnish short All Inclusive, the hallucinogenic blur of faces for Chloë Sevigny’s White Echo or the upside-down still that makes you look twice at Wiam Al Jafari’s refugee-camp-set drama Ambience, and it’s like breath of fresh air in a fusty room. Here’s hoping they work their magic.
Below is a selection of the best of the rest from this year’s feature and short film offerings.