Monday, 27 May 2013


On a day when thousands demonstrated raucously in Paris against the new French law allowing gay marriage, the jury at the Cannes Film Festival awarded its top honour to a coming-of-age film about love between women.

Abdellatif Kechiche
Tunisan-born director Abdellatif Kechiche and his two leading actresses won the Palme d’or on Sunday for “La Vie d’Adèle” (Blue Is The Warmest Colour), an explicit movie about a teenager who falls in love with an older woman.

The film was not the only one screened at Cannes that dealt with a relevant topic, however. Filmmakers from around the world showed their concern for human rights and social issues in a range of films - covering the problems faced by “foreign” domestic workers to the risks run by members of ethnic minorities in the face of “trigger-happy” cops.

Singaporean director Anthony Chen presented a moving drama about a Filipina maid working in his home country. His film “Ilo Ilo” won the Camera d’or, a prize given to the best first feature in any category, and it was a well-deserved win as Chen handled the subject with sensitivity and insight.

The film focuses on the relationship between the maid and the young boy she is hired to mind, and their eventual bonding is set against the problems faced by foreign domestic workers in Singapore, where overwork, suicide and the size of living quarters are just some of the concerns.

Anthony Chen (right)
"For me, humanity is about being flawed and what we do to make things better," Chen told SWAN in an interview. "I could have focused on the horror situations, but I'm not very keen to be up in your face with my film-making because I appreciate subtlety, and I always believe that audiences are more intelligent than you might think they are."

Chen said he was surprised and "moved" by the win because he had feared that his movie would be "dwarfed" by "bigger films with big budgets". The jury, though, appreciated his "delicate" handling of  the film's universal themes that included immigration and poverty.

Agnes Varda, president of the Camera d'or jury, said that members wanted to reward Chen's quiet "quartet" than to give the prize to a noisy orchestra of a movie. 

Another honoured first feature came from 27-year-old African-American director Ryan Coogler, who received the “Avenir Prize” in the Un Certain Regard category, a section of the festival devoted to “different and original” films.

Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” focuses on the last day in the life of a young man and is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by an “overzealous” police officer in Oakland, California, on New Year’s Day in 2009.

A scene from "Fruitvale Station".
Coogler doesn’t treat Grant as an angel, but he shows how the young man was trying to get his life together before he was cut down. As such, the film is both poignant and thought-provoking.

“If I can get two hours of people’s time, I can affect them more than if they threw a trash can through a window,” Coogler has said, in relation to the riots that followed the killing.

These sentiments evidently struck a chord with the Cannes selectors. Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who chaired the Un Certain Regard jury, said:  “This selection was insistently unsentimental, and still poetic. It was political, highly original, sometimes disturbing, diverse and first of all, very often - unforgettable.”

"The Missing Picture"
The winner of the Un Certain Regard top prize, “The Missing Picture” (l'Image Manquante) by Cambodian director Rithy Panh, also fits this description, dealing with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, from a personal point of view.

The "missing picture” of the title refers to the absence of photos (due to censorship) that might have documented the murders committed during Pol Pot's reign from 1975 to 1979.

Panh lost his parents and sisters as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s actions, and the film is based on his memoir "The Elimination”.  In the movie, the characters are represented by dozens of carved clay figures, to which Vinterberg referred at the prize-giving ceremony.

“Clay figures, extreme beauty, violence … systematic humiliation of the human kind … are just some of the unique images that will follow us for a long time,” he said. 

Apart from the Un Certain Regard prizes and the official competition awards, an often-overlooked accolade was given to Iranian director Asghar Farhadi for “The Past” (Le Passé). This was the prize of the Ecumenical Jury, which comprises Christian filmmakers and other professionals.

A scene from "The Past"
In citing Farhadi's movie, they stated: “How does one take responsibility for past errors? As a thriller, the film shows the life of a stepfamily, where the secrets of each and the complexity of relationships unravel bit by bit. A deep, engaging and dense film that illustrates this verse: ‘The truth shall set you free’ ....” - A.M.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


How much of a story can you tell in 15 or 20 minutes? Quite a lot, if the short films shown at the Cannes Film Festival are anything to go by.

The annual festival in the southern French city has expanded its short film categories, welcoming hundreds of short-film directors from around the world. The festival this year “received 3,500 short films, representing productions from no fewer than 132 countries,” according to the selection committee.

A scene from the short film "The Marvelous Girl".
Over the past 12 days, nine films have competed for the Short Film Palme d’or, including the 14-minute Palestinian film “Condom Lead”, the first time that a Palestinian movie has taken part in the Short Films Competition.

The top prize was announced at the festival's closing ceremony on Sunday evening, going to Korean director Moon Byoung-Gon for the 13-minute-long "Safe".

In addition to this contest, Cannes’ Cinéfondation category comprised shorts from various film schools, with 18 chosen from the 1,550 movies submitted by 277 institutions, and special awards going to four.

“Shorts are a liberating form. There is really no limit to what a short can be: an atmosphere, a stab in the dark, a mood, a portrait, a provocation, a whimsy or an event,” said New Zealand director Jane Campion, who headed the Cinéfondation and Short Film Jury this year.

The festival’s Short Film Corner, which has been boosted since 2011, pulsed with youthful energy as young directors presented their films in mini screening rooms in the Palais, the huge festival venue.

Some, supported by government agencies, gave screenings at the Village International, a string of white pavilions on the beach where 54 countries, from South Africa to Canada, showed off the “richness” of their film industries.

Dancer Taylor Gill in Vong's film.
For Johnny Vong, a Canadian director of Chinese-Vietnamese descent who screened his 14-minute film “The Marvelous Girl” during the festival, shorts can even be triggered by artwork.

Taking inspiration from the painting “Christina’s World” by American artist Andrew Wyeth, Vong’s vibrantly shot film tells the story of a paraplegic girl who longs to dance. But it could also be a fable about the power of imagination over disability, as the story gives rise to various interpretations.

Vong, who worked with a multi-cultural team on the project, says one of his goals is to inspire a mixture of emotion through the compact power of a short film.

“I like people going into the movie, not knowing what it’s about and then coming out with a range of emotions,” he said.

The 14 minutes of film took about eight months to complete, Vong told SWAN, proving that keeping it short doesn’t necessarily mean less work. He hopes to take the film on the road to other festivals, and one can expect to be moved by the cinematography and story, as well as by Hiroto Saito's choreography.

For more information on Vong's film:

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


“Justin, Justin,” screamed scores of photographers in Cannes this week, as they tried to get the attention of gleaming singer-actor Justin Timberlake, who was at the Cannes Film Festival to promote the movie "Inside Llewyn Davis”.

As “Justin” paused, he was caught on camera against the backdrop of drawings by some of the world’s leading cartoonists.

These drawings have been mounted by Cartooning for Peace, a non-profit association invited to the film festival to raise awareness of their work.

French cartoonist Plantu.
Titled “Plantu & Friends, Drawings of Freedom”, the exhibition reflects the group’s aims, which are to “encourage dialogue, promote freedom of expression, and recognize the journalistic work of cartoonists”, said Alice Toulemonde, the association’s spokesperson.

Formed in 2006 by the renowned French cartoonist Plantu and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Cartooning for Peace also seeks to “promote a better understanding and mutual respect between people by using cartoons as a universal language”.

The group currently comprises more than 100 cartoonists who represent 40 nationalities and all of the world’s major religions. During the festival, the irony and humour in the cartoons have brought smiles to participants rushing from screening to screening.

Beyond the flashbulbs, the organizers of the film festival said they wanted to draw attention to threats against freedom of expression as, in the past few years, cartoonists from Syria, Venezuela and several other countries have been in danger because of their work.

Michel Kichka, a leading Israeli cartoonist who was born in Belgium, said that being a member of Cartooning for Peace means knowing more about what is happening in the world.

Kichka: cartoonists promote peace in the face of threats.
“You have to read more than one newspaper and in different languages to know how things are being presented,” he said in an interview in Cannes. “Today you need to know the effect that your work can have, and you have to take into consideration that you can be badly misunderstood, but that doesn't mean you can’t express yourself.”

According to Kichka, someone somewhere “is always going to be upset”, but cartoonists should still have freedom of expression.

“If you don’t upset anyone, you’ve done a bad cartoon because you’ve sterilized yourself too much,” he said.

Kichka’s views were shared by fellow cartoonists Plantu, Willis From Tunis (Nadia Khiari), and Dilem of Algeria, who all travelled to this southern French city for the exhibition of cartoons during the film festival, which runs until May 26.

They also attended a “star-studded” auction of their own and other cartoonists’ original artwork that fetched 75,000 euros on Monday. The auction gained support from Claudia Cardinale, Bérénice Bejo, Agnès b., James Franco, Michel Hazanavicius, Thomas Vinterberg and other members of the film and fashion communities. “Justin” had presumably left the building by then.

A cartoon by Willis From Tunis

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


India is the world’s biggest producer of films, but it has been almost 20 years since the country had a contender for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, one of the most important events in the movie industry.

A poster for  Anurag Kashyap's "Ugly".
Over the next 12 days, however, Cannes will be celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema and honouring both established and emerging directors as a fresh generation of filmmakers enters the spotlight.

“The festival is delighted to celebrate one of the most important countries in the world of cinema, a country with a prestigious history and tradition, one whose current day and creative impulses are a perennial example of vitality,” stated  the festival’s organizers.

Although there is no Indian film among the 20 features selected to compete for the Palme d’or, Anurag Kashyap, the 40-year-old “new kid on the block”, will present his film “Ugly” at the Directors' Fortnight during the festival, which runs from May 15 to 26 in the southern French city.

“Ugly” is a drama about a depressed, alcoholic woman and the dark relationship with her ex-husband when their child is kidnapped. It joins “Dabba” (The Lunchbox), a magic-realism feature by Ritesh Batra, and “Monsoon Shootout”, a police thriller by director Amit Kumar, both of which are up for the Camera d'or, an award given to the best first film presented in any category at Cannes. 

Anurag Kashyap
Indian cinema dates from the end of the late 1800s, but it was in 1913 that Dadasaheb Phalke produced “Raja Harishchandra”, a silent film now considered the country’s first full-length motion picture. The period after World War II saw the “golden age” of “Bollywood” and since then India has produced thousands of movies. 

The main event of Cannes’ India focus will be the gala screening and world premiere of “Bombay Talkies”, an anthology of four short films that tackle social issues in a modern way. Kashyap also collaborated on this project, alongside Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar, all seen as the exciting face of contemporary Indian cinema.

One of the best-known Indian films.
Akhtar, 39, is one of still too-few women directors represented at international film festivals like Cannes (only one female director has ever won the Palme d’or - New Zealander Jane Campion for “The Piano”). But Akhtar can fortunately look to some  famous forebears who helped pave the way: Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) and Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”), for example.

The festival’s artistic director Thierry Frémaux wants Cannes to be a more inclusive scene, and since his appointment in 2001, the event seems to be getting more diversified. The Short Film jury this year is headed by Campion and includes Indian actress Nandita Das and Ethiopian director Maji-da Abdi.

“Cannes must be open to new ideas, while remaining faithful to its past. Diversity can only enrich it,” Frémaux has said. During his stint, Cannes has welcomed two other guest countries – Egypt in 2011 and Brazil last year.