Cannes round-up: War, revolution, love, death ...and Liverpool

Cannes was long on big themes and short on levity but there were some gems, not least a hymn to home by Terence Davies

We knew this year's Cannes would be heavyweight – but who knew it would be heavyweight like this? "Leaden" is perhaps too damning a word; let's settle for "earnest". There's been a steady flow of high-quality films in competition, but a heart-numbing lack of joy, levity or just plain surprise. Bizarrely, this year the critics are in polite agreement about just about everything; that perennial headline "Cannes row sets the Croisette aflame" is one that, for once, you won't be reading.

However, the competition did contain one head-scratcher and one passably ludicrous clunker. The head-scratcher was The Headless Woman, by Argentina's Lucrecia Martel, who made the superb The Holy Girl. Her new film is a puzzler of hypnotic opacity about a woman who accidentally runs over a dog, and possibly a person too, but she's not sure, and neither am I. My notes on this film basically consist of a field of question marks, but there's certainly something going on here. But I'll pass comment on what till I've seen it again: frankly, I can't wait.

The dud – which raised gales of boos at the press screening – was Frontier of Dawn by the French veteran Philippe Garrel, a farrago of love, death and romantic posturing, which ought to win the director's son, heartthrob Louis Garrel, some sort of special award for Best Sulking, or perhaps Stormiest Brow.

It's not been a good year for the US big-shots. Clint Eastwood's 1920s-set Changeling was a torpid period piece. Angelina Jolie, in a shameless bid for Oscar-night prestige, plays a single mother whose young son mysteriously disappears. When the corrupt LAPD try to palm her off with another boy, she rebels and runs foul of the powers that be. Self-important, over-designed and veering awkwardly into killer-chiller territory, Changeling was as pallid as its sepia colour scheme.

The other American monolith was Che, Steven Soderbergh's portrait of the revolutionary hero – a diptych screened here in a single, punishing, four-and-a-half-hour session (some of Fidel Castro's speeches are shorter). Che was not quite the ordeal one dreaded: with Benicio del Toro as a soft-spoken, affable Guevara, this was in no way the bloated hagiography that, say, Oliver Stone might have given us. Instead, it was a measured, fastidious attempt to evoke the procedures of guerrilla warfare – Soderbergh's attempt to emulate that ne plus ultra of political war film, The Battle of Algiers. Part one covers Guevara's part in the Cuban Revolution, while the considerably more challenging Part Two traces his catastrophic attempt to achieve revolution in Bolivia – a year-long episode that at moments felt as if Soderbergh had shot it in real time.

You have to admire Soderbergh's courage in making one of the most uncommercial, and politically contrary films ever attempted by a Hollywood director. Che is an admirable achievement but an altogether quixotic one, that I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying.

At time of writing, the competition still has a few more films to go, but one of the best so far is Adoration, by Canada's Atom Egoyan. After coming unstuck in recent years, Egoyan is back on vintage form with a complex multi-strander about a high-school student who spins a story about having a terrorist father. Challenging and intricately worked, Adoration interweaves themes of identity, self-deception, bigotry, internet culture and post-9/11 anxiety. It's a lot to take on, but the mix brings out the best in this genuinely cerebral director, who here gives us more intellectual grist than just about anything in competition.

This festival's big surprise has been a sudden renaissance in British art cinema, its centrepiece being the long-overdue return of neglected maestro Terence Davies. His Of Time and the City, shown out of competition, was a tender poetic essay about Davies's native Liverpool, with archive footage set against the director's voice-over tissue of memories, confessions and acerbic humour.

This is not the Liverpool you're used to: when Merseybeat happens, Davies admits he never liked the Beatles, and plays us some classical music instead. It's a true auteur film, 100 per cent personal, and trumpets the return of one of the UK screen's true individuals.

As for new discoveries, the film that absolutely grabbed me by the throat was Johnny Mad Dog, by the French director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. It's a brutally aggressive drama about a detachment of child soldiers, leaving a trail of carnage in an African war zone that could be (but isn't necessarily) Liberia, where the film was shot.

Brutal in style as well as content, the film casts children and adolescents who have actually lived through the horrors depicted. This undeniably leaves Sauvaire open to the charge of exploitation, but his intense, unnerving film finds an arresting way to say something new about the horrors of war.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz