01 July, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
With the American economy in the crapper and the dollar at near record lows, a trip to the Cannes Film Festival has become an inexpensive indulgence, even for the media professionals who “must” be there. For the general public, who may be curious about who goes on along the famed shores of the Riviera, the difficulty of being part of the Cannes action is doubly difficult. Well, for the past month, Cannes has been made affordable and surprisingly accessible, with the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Directors’ Fortnight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek.
The “Quinzaine des Realisateurs” as it is known in France, emerged in the volatile year of 1968, when student, worker and film activists actually closed down the Festival, as part of the general uprising known as the “May events”. The Festival, which had been the very definition of elitism, needed a good pummeling, and one of the results of its trauma was the creation of a section at the event that would be shielded from the commercial pressure and paparazzi insanity and concentrate strictly on the auteur and his/her oeuvre (which the French still romantically call the “seventh art”). The Directors’ Fortnight became a haven for art appreciation, administered by the French directors’ guild and building a reputation for artistic integrity and independence.
For the past month, as New York suffers through its hottest June in half a century, the Brooklyn Academy of Music has offered (air conditioned) refuge with a survey of some of the extraordinary international films that had their first unveilings in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. The Directors’ Fortnight at 40 was mounted in collaboration with La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, Unifrance, the French Cultural Services, and co-presented with FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française). This series combined past and current international selections from the 40-year history of the prestigious showcase.
The series opened on June 13 with a week-long run of Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (Céline et Julie vont en bateau) (1974), starring Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, and Dominique Labourier, in a recently stuck print courtesy of BFI. Following that rare week-long run, the series kicked off in earnest with a “who’s who” of international cinema superstars. First off, was German iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was represented by his most accessible and intriguing film, Fox and His Friends (Faustrecht der Freiheit) (1975). Next on were a pair of black-and-white films about the post-punk British music scene, Radio On by Christopher Petit (1979 and featuring Sting in his first role) and, one of this year’s arthouse hits, Control by Anton Corbijn, a wildly inventive biopic of Ian Curtis, the doomed lead singer of Joy Division.
A rare film in the series was Adhen (Dernier Maquis), the U.S. premiere of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s latest work. The Algerian-born French filmmaker is the writer-director of such well-recognized films as Bled Number One (2006), winner of the Award of Youth at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as Wesh Wesh, qu’est ce qui se passe? (2001), winner of the Wolfgang Staudte Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Adhen, an Algerian-French co-production, set in contemporary France is about a Muslim entrepreneur who decides to open a mosque at his garage, but picks an imam that creates major controversy. Directors’ Fortnight Artistic Director Olivier Père and the director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche were present at the screening.
Other key European films in the program included Morvern Callar (2002) the second feature film by Lynne Ramsay, starring Samantha Morton; La France (2007), by critic-turned-director Serge Bozon, which stars Pascal Greggory and Sylvie Testud; Before I Forget (Avant que j’oublie) (2007), in which the director Jacques Noulot plays an HIV-positive ex-hustler; Change of Address (Changement d’adresse, 2006), a sophisticated comedy by Emmanuel Mouret; On Fire (Ça brûle, 2006), a coming-of-age by Claire Simon; and the arthouse hit The Heartbeat Detector (La Question Humaine, 2007) by Nicolas Klotz, starring Mathieu Amalric as a psychologist in the human resources department of a Parisian petrochemical corporation. The series ends this week with Béla Tarr’s hypnotic Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister Harmóniák, 2000).
One of the highlights of the series was the North American Premiere of the documentary 40x15, a compilation film of the 40 year history of the Directors Fortnight, directed by longtime Festival programmer Olivier Jahan. The film, which had its world premiere during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, offers amazing archival footage starting with its beginnings in the volatile atmosphere after May ’68. The film features interviews with such diverse personalities as Pierre-Henri Deleau (former Quinzaine director), Costa-Gavras, Werner Herzog, and the current Quinzaine director Olivier Père, who attended the special screening.
Forty years of showcasing quality and risky cinema is a rare accomplishment in this day and age. With the traditional distribution channels narrowing as the industry shifts into new media mode, many of the films so lauded at the Directors Fortnight will find a hard time to find a theatrical distributor in the U.S. and Canada. This gave the showcase at BAM a special significance…..it could be the only time that New Yorkers can even see the films on the big screen, before they head into the small screen worlds of television and dvd. The opportunity to see so many current (and classic) films was a great summer treat and a reminder that a vital international cinema is deserving of greater exposure and public awareness. Happy birthday, Quinzaine……..