Cannes Diary: What a good year for neuroses

CANNES ON its 51st birthday is afflicted by a sense of morning after in the wake of last year's monumental half- century bender. The festival's very poster, butterfly-shaped shards of celluloid flapping through the sky, looks like something advertising a horror flick called Invasion of the Killer Bats - which would be light relief compared to some of the actual fare on view. Drug and alcohol abuse, madness, concentration camps, Stalinist purges: these are the subjects with which film-makers have seen fit to entertain us. Paedophilia and sodomy are the topics of choice (the latter even figures in Ingmar Bergman's new telefilm, In the Presence of a Clown) and there is a whole slew of movies about the end-of-millennium apocalypse. Fortunately - and this must reveal something about the current zeitgeist - a number of them are comedies.

The most bizarre is undoubtedly The Idiots, the new film from Lars Von Trier, the iconoclastic director of Breaking the Waves, about a commune of sane people who go round pretending to be mad. The film opens on a note of mocking, sometimes infantile humour as they stage various stunts to antagonise the surrounding community and fend off attempts to sell the house where the cult is based. But it takes a darker turn when some Down's Syndrome people visit, the group begins to fragment and some of the faux idiots become genuinely unhinged. Von Trier's scant regard for political correctness, plus a high penis count and an explicit shot of penetrative sex are just some of the reasons why The Idiots looks headed for a rough ride commercially. But this provocative, disturbing and unpredictable piece confirms its director as among the modern cinema's few true originals.

The Idiots is one of the first fruits of Dogma 95, a group of four Danish directors who have declared war on bourgeois cinema (whatever that means) and drawn up a back-to-basics manifesto in which they pledge to shoot only with a hand-held camera, natural light and direct sound, and without special effects or elaborate props. Absurdly prescriptive as this sounds, it appears to work, since the only two films produced under its aegis are both in competition in Cannes. The other is Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration, about a spectacularly dysfunctional family gathering to fete their patriarch's 60th birthday. A bombshell is dropped when the eldest son rises for an after-dinner speech and, after a couple of congratulatory platitudes, reveals that he and his twin sister, who has recently committed suicide, were sexually abused by their father. An unsettling tone of black farce is established as the other guests attempt frantically to restore a mood of jollity.

In this film, however, the rough-edged Dogma 95 look is like a visual gimmick grafted on to what's essentially a routine yarn about a haunted family struggling to exorcise its demons.

The overall standard of entries is, by general agreement, strong - higher, certainly, than in previous years. But awards are an acutely political affair, a complex system of checks and balances, of apportioning favours evenly between America, France and the rest of the world, and of playing off art against Mammon. In 1997 the choice spoils were shared by Iran and Japan (Taste of Cherry and The Eel; neither has opened yet in Britain), and so one would expect this time to see Hollywood at the gates, but the US films in the official selections are a motley lot. The advertising campaign for Godzilla, the closing film, stands as some kind of touchstone for the unimpressive studio presence: "Bigger than the Carlton [Cannes's premier hotel]", is all it can find to commend its monster. "Size Does Matter." It was probably inevitable that some of the scuzzier market films would start flagging themselves as "Bigger than Godzilla". The biggest disappointment was Terry Gilliam's delirious version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an adaptation of Hunter S Thompson's novel which follows a drug-addled odyssey through the dark backwaters of Nixonian America. Complete with bald pate, Johnny Depp offers a hypnotic impersonation of Thompson, but the film is a chronically chaotic and indulgent suite of surreal vignettes which shed little light on the motives behind his descent into delirium, and appear to take the character's rampant misogyny at face value.

Of the US indies, the best-liked has been Hal Hartley's Henry Fool, a corrosive piece about a reclusive dustman who becomes a celebrity author overnight when his scatological poem is posted on the Internet. And, in the Directors' Fortnight, one film has made a real splash: Happiness, by Todd Solondz, the director of Welcome to the Dollhouse. His new effort is another excruciatingly comic excursion into suburban misery, sexual deviance and the increasingly elaborate ways people find to torture each other.

There is no real consensus on the competition leaders. The Italian actor- director Roberto Benigni has fielded the sentimental tale, Life Is Beautiful - yet another comedy - of a father who, incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp, tries to pretend to his little son that they are, in fact, there on holiday. Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe - the highest profile picture among a conspicuously thin line-up of British entrants - has met with almost universal approval. It's a romantic comedy - a rare beast in the Loach oeuvre - about the shy and tentative love which grows between Joe, a recovering alcoholic, and a social worker, a relationship endangered where local mobsters blackmail Joe's best friend. It's a tender, beautifully judged film which reprises many of the director's abiding themes. And since Loach's last film in Cannes, Land and Freedom, won no prizes at all, despite being critically lauded, it seems unlikely he will leave again empty-handed.

The 'IoS' is holding a free screening of 'Taste of Cherry' (PG). See Going Out, page 11.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits