IT BOASTS A RARE ACTING performance from Milos Forman, features its stars breaking out into song, and shifts from swinging 1960s Paris to 21st-century London. Its lead actress, French icon Catherine Deneuve, will also be making a much-anticipated appearance at its official red-carpet unveiling, tomorrow night in Cannes.
Christophe Honoré's music-infused Les Bien-Aimés (Beloved) – about the life and loves of a mother, Madeleine (Catherine Deneuve and Ludivine Sagnier, pictured above), and her daughter, Vera (Chiara Mastroianni) couldn't be a more apt finale for this year's Cannes: the most dramatic in the festival's 64-year history.
It began 10 days ago, with Woody Allen's joyous return to form, Midnight in Paris, quickly followed by Julia Leigh's controversial debut, Sleeping Beauty. Once again, the event's key highlights – including its highly charged press calls – could be viewed live online. For the 4000 journalists at Cannes from around the world, it was yet another sign that the world's biggest film festival was well-and-truly back on form, after the bleak, GFC-soured times of 2009. Many here are hailing it as the best Cannes yet.
Landmark events came thick and fast. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life may have divided critics with its epic, sprawling vision, but Cannes was immediately won over by the presence of its lead, Brad Pitt. The world's biggest movie star created such a buzz at the film's world premiere, it seemed nothing could eclipse it.
Famously, controversy raged just as loudly. Keith Allen's damning view of the inquest into Princess Diana's death, Unlawful Killing, was greeted with scorn and outrage at its press call, while Jodie Foster's The Beaver failed to rehabilitate its fallen star, Mel Gibson. Then, on the eve of the world coming to an end – or so Christian doomsday 'prophet' Harold Camping had claimed – some ill-advised quips from a previous Palme d'Or winner sent the media into hyperdrive.
Nevermind that Lars von Trier's latest film, Melancholia, happened to present a view on the apocalypse that seems far more credible than Camping's omen dubbed 'The Rapture' (we're still here, today, when he said we wouldn't be). Or that its star, Kirsten Dunst, is nude for much of the film's second half. (Or that Penelope Cruz was originally cast, but dropped out to do Pirates 4, of all things.) Headlines were solely fixed on one thing only: Lars von Trier and that horrible trainwreck of a press conference, which shot Cannes back into the headlines as it neared its send-off.
"I was an idiot," Von Trier reflected yesterday, during our interview in the medieval town of Mougins, which lies just outside of Cannes. "I was actually in a good mood, thinking, 'Mmm, this is going well', then I moved into a curve that I didn't really expect, that I couldn't get out of. My biggest mistake was thinking I was actually talking to a few people back home, when I was in fact talking to the world."
He added: "I have full respect for what they have done [relating to the Cannes decision to ban him, effectively immediately]. I'm not allowed closer to the Palais more than 100 metres, apparently. For how long, I don't know. I have been very naughty. I have great love for them [the organisers]. What I would miss most is being in contact with these people. I've benefitted so much from the Cannes Film Festival."
Von Trier's film is still in the running for the Palme d'Or, and is due to be released in a number of key territories later in the year. The grand prize at Cannes, though, is likely to be won by The Artist: Michael Hazanavicius' silent ode to 1920s Hollywood (pictured, above), which has captivated critics since its late inclusion in competition. The winner will be announced tomorrow, Sunday night local time.
For me, this year's Cannes has showcased a wonderfully dynamic range of bold, new filmmakers alongside the welcome return of established greats. Among my personal favourites: Lynne Ramsay's beautifully crafted We Need to Talk About Kevin; Pedro Almodovar's wickedly funny La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In); Nicolas Winding Refn's tour-de-force Drive; Jeff Nichols' poetic Take Shelter (which topped this year's Critics' Week awards); and Justin Kurzel's gripping debut, Snowtown (which won a Special Distinction).
For Australia, Snowtown is one of several key titles that have screened, in what has been the country's most significant presence at Cannes in years. Both Sleeping Beauty and Toomelah are in competition, as is The Square's Nash Edgerton with his short film Bear. Mad Bastards, The Tunnel and Blame are among those that have screened to market.
Among the hundreds of trade types enjoying brisk business here is Shivani Pandya, MD of the Dubai International Film Festival. She's been busily locking in a wide range of initiatives that have been cemented here at Cannes. The feeling for the region as a film hub is very good indeed. "We've had a very good time here," she told me today. "We've been really firming up relationships with key partners, ahead of our 8th Annual Film Festival this December. Obviously it's too early to reveal too much about this year's event, but I couldn't be happier with how it's all gone at Cannes."
Indeed, as Cannes prepares to salute this year's finest, there's a palpable sense of a job very well done. Colleagues have been singing the praises of this year's festival: its program, its organisation, its staff, its services. For a forward-thinking event enjoying better health than ever in this, its 64th year, one couldn't have asked for more. Just one last item of business remains before we all head home: the awards – including the Palme d'Or.