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Cannes 2018 Video #3: Women's Protest, Cold War, Ash is Purest White and More

Here is Chaz Ebert's third video dispatch from the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, accompanied by a transcript of the video...

Cannes 2018 with Chaz Ebert, Segment 3 from The Mint on Vimeo.

While Cannes has a long history of political demonstrations interwoven with the Film Festival, in recent years this hasn’t been as much the case. But in the wake of #Times Up and #MeToo, women’s issues are at the forefront of this year’s discourse. And on Saturday evening, the movement staged a rather civilized protest on the red carpet featuring 82 women filmmakers taking a stand. The 82 women represented the 82 films directed by women that had been shown over the 70 year history of the festival. And a speech was given, in French by legendary director Agnès Varda, and in English by this year’s jury president Cate Blanchett.

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Of course, the festival goes on and each evening focuses on the red carpet, and the premiere of those films in competition for the festival’s top prize - the Palme D’Or.

At this point in the competition I think  the two films vying for the big prize are by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, and Chinese director Jia Zhangke, although here, one never knows. So let’s review some of the other films we’ve seen. 

“Yomeddine,” from Egyptian director A.B. Shawky, tells the story of a cured leper who travels the country with an orphan boy named Obama as they both try to trace their family roots.  Along the way they encounter a number of obstacles and a few laughs in this unconventional road trip film. The film is at times heartwarming, sometimes shocking, but it never goes for an easy, manipulative moment. It always feels genuine. The lead character of Beshay is played by a real-life leper name Rady Gamal who had never acted before. His performance is impressive and holds the whole film together.

Also in competition, is the Russian film “Leto” from director Kirill Serebrennikov. Serebrennikov has been unable to attend the festival because he is under house arrest for what many believe are political reasons. His film tells the story of the burgeoning rock-and-roll scene in Russia during the early 1980’s.  t’s ostensibly a bio-pic chronicling the early rise of folk hero Viktor Tsoi. But it focuses much, perhaps even more of its time, on one of Viktor’s friends in another band, Mike and his wife Natasha. The film is mostly shot in beautiful black-and-white and features a lot of great music, as you might expect. However, there is a distinct lack of conflict and thus drama in the film, outside of the occasional “dream sequence” that we are specifically told to camera “didn’t actually happen”.   

Jean-Luc Godard has returned to Cannes. Well actually, he’s kind of phoning it in - literally! The great French master’s latest experimental film, “Image Book” or “Picture Book,” is in competition. But Godard did not attend the festival, and instead conducted the ritual press conference via FaceTime on a small cell phone. He never misses an opportunity to do something differently. The film itself is a mishmash of sound, still images, film and video clips, and lyrical voice over with the occasional explosion thrown in! If you like Godard’s recent work, you’ll probably like this - if you don’t, you won’t.

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Chinese director Jia Zhang Ke’s latest film, “Ash is Purest White,” debuted to an enthusiastic audience. Qiao, played exuberantly by Zhao Tao, gives this film life as the girlfriend of a local mobster named Bin, played by Liao Fan. They are young and carefree, living the highlife with plenty of money in their pocket. But after saving Bin’s life from a rival gang, Qiao ends up going to jail to protect Bin even further. 5 years later, after getting out of prison, Qiao goes on a search for Bin but finds their relationship is no longer the same. Although the film meanders from time to time, in that way it’s a lot like life. And this portrait of a relationship over many years has enough funny, scary, and poignant moments to make it a solid entry in this year’s competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if she takes the Best Actress award.

Examining a relationship over decades is also the theme of “Cold War” from director Pawel Pawlilkowski. In post-war, Soviet controlled Poland, music maestro Wiktor falls in love with a beautiful young singer named Zula  Over the course of decades, they break apart, escape the communist east, return again in Paris and other cities and once again split apart. The passions run deep in both the writing and the outstanding performances. And the music, from traditional Polish folk songs from the mountains, to 50’s era Jazz, is excellent. So far, I think this is the best overall film in the competition.

But we’re just getting started. Many more films are to come including Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman,” Mateo Garrone’s “Dogman,” and David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake.” We’ll bring you reports on those films and much more in our coming reports, so keep checking back at RogerEbert.com/Cannes for all of our video and written reports.

We’ll see you next time.

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