2014 has obviously been a great year for movies so far, and it’s always pleasing to see when award shows are curated in such a way that they represent a range of filmmaking. This year’s Cannes Film Festival was that kind of award ceremony.
This year marked Jean-Luc Godard’s first-ever Cannes victory. The legendary director was one of the most influential players in the “French New Wave” filmmaking movement which began in the fifties. He’s produced countless art house classics over the years, including Breathless (1960), Contempt (1963), and La Chinoise (1967). But never before had he received the recognition he deserved at Cannes.
Godard’s film, Goodbye to Language, was shot in 3-D and, in many ways, feels like a true return to form for Godard: the pompous literary allusions we’ve come to expect, the occasional feeling of aimlessness that is partially the product of the characters’ ennui and partially also a product of Godard’s largely improvisational approach to filmmaking. Like his classic Contempt, the film revolves around the dissolution of a romantic relationship. The viewer is awkwardly brought along for the ride in a way that is distinctly French New Wave.
But the other thing that’s fascinating is that it’s Godard’s 39th feature, and the only one in his fifty year career to garner an award like this – but the award wasn’t his alone. His film won in a tie for the Jury Prize alongside Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. Dolan is a fascinating contemporary Canadian filmmaker (only 25 years old), whose film Mommy tells the story of a mother’s struggle to care for her volatile son.
Another major cult figure to receive his long-overdue praise from Cannes was David Cronenberg (who is also Canadian). Although Cronenberg has long since been highly regarded by cult film fans, thanks to his “body horror” films like The Brood (1979) and
The Fly (1986),which is still a popular “on demand” viewing option through the DTV website, and his numerous films that are still shown on the midnight movie circuit. He had even nabbed a Lifetime Achievement award from the British Film Institute in 2011, but never before has one of his films received this level of recognition from a Cannes Jury.
Cronenberg’s entry was Maps to the Stars, a surprising tonal departure for the horror guru which resulted in a Best Actress award for Julianne Moore. The film is a biting satire on the rampant opportunism and narcissism in Hollywood that is told largely through the lens of a Hollywood psychiatrist, and Julianne Moore stars as Havana Segrand, an actress whose stardom is fading. Segrand is eager to star in a remake of a sixties classic which featured her mother — perhaps a nod to Liza Minnelli, or any other young actress who may feel that their careers will be forever eclipsed by the accomplishments of their parents.
Finally, one of the most delightful (and shocking) surprises this year came from Steve Carrell, who starred in the film Foxcatcher. Incidentally, this was also the film which for which Bennett Miller received best director. The film tells the true story of John Du Pont (portrayed by Steve Carrell) a mentally unstable millionaire and philanthropist who founded a wrestling gym, and ultimately murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz. Carrell is a highly respected comedic actor, and it’s a real treat to see him embodying a character so markedly different from the affable, ineffective goofball on The Office.
The festival offered a nice mix of older, established filmmakers who had never received recognition at Cannes, with talented newcomers. To borrow a phrase from A.O. Scott (who has said this about previous Oscar years) the event offered a nice “snapshot” of what filmmaking was this past year.