Over a century after its inception, we still struggle providing an authoritative definition of “cinema”. One possible description I’d like to offer is the extraction of our subconscious desires unspooled before an audience at twenty-four frames a second. Few filmmakers have undertaken this specific approach with as much visual panache and audacity as Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish aesthete whose newest film Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria) is informed both by his prior filmography as well as the ideological, cultural and sexual touchstones of his own life. Yet the modern maestro of melodrama has produced a mellow, melancholy movie that eschews his signature Sirkian bursts of emotion to introspectively lift back the curtain on the stage of his cinematic universe.
It didn’t take very long for me to hit my hump day. After failing to get to bed before 1:00 in the morning, I knew that trying to catch the latest Pedro Almodóvar film only a few hours later would be my undoing. So I slept in and made my way back into the cloudy city of Cannes, now properly swarming with festival-goers and latecomers who had collected their accreditation and were in a hurry to orient themselves to what screenings they could catch. If the grim, gray weather caused all of us to quicken our pace, then any hope for comfort in the films I ended up catching would remain unmet. If anything, both of these films, though not without their moments of levity, contended with deeply serious subject matters concerning that which threatens to keep us as a species isolated from one another. From Algeria to Japan, cultural and social morays were questioned, the former by one who lived there and the latter by an outsider, to fascinating effect.
As I lumbered out of bed at 6:00 in the morning into an overcast day on the croisette on my second day of the festival, I had little idea what the cumulative effect the films I were to watch had in store for me. All four of the following movies were marked by elements of memory, history, and even dreams. All four of these wildly different films, which spanned from musical biopic to personal documentary, traversed this spectrum of the subjective to ponder questions regarding the function of art, history, and politics, often toward the edges of the phantasmagorical.
“It’s like Disneyland.”
That’s what my colleague said as we pulled up in front of the Palais des Festivals. It’s his first year of visiting the largest congregation of the international film community, and I can see where he’s coming from. For nearly two weeks, representatives of the industry mingle with filmmakers from around the globe, both veterans and aspiring newcomers alike, in a frenzied spectacle that makes Comic-con look like an afternoon siesta. Navigating this circus can be daunting, if not downright overwhelming. But the thrill of Cannes is in the anticipation for films which can surprise us all, for better or for worse, and it was precisely this aura which my colleagues and I entered our first films of this year’s festival. Over the next ten days, I will be relaying some of the films I have seen and the events I’ve witnessed at this strange paradox of stress and joy that can only come from Cannes.
The longest, and heaviest of the short film nominees are usually the documentaries, and this year is no exception. With many pushing up to 40 minutes, they operate as almost mini-features, with compelling subject material and a multitude of captivating characters. They range from intimate to sprawling, from inside a hospital room, to out on the Mediterranean Sea. Their subjects deal with racism, immigration, illness, death, and community.