Never a dull moment in Cannes

2014-05-18 06:00

Cannes – Last year, the Cannes Film Festival was rocked by a daring jewellery heist; this year something less glamorous is causing more drama off-screen than on.

A labour strike by French air traffic controllers caused chaos at the start of the festival this week as attendees flying to the south of France faced serious delays and disruptions because of a walkout by aviation staff.

Added to that, cab drivers angered by the local arrival of ride-sharing service, Uber, have been making it very difficult for those trying to get to, and around, the world’s most prestigious film festival.

Stories of filmmakers having to lie down on the back seats of cabs so that other striking drivers would not see them, have been doing the rounds at this year’s Cannes.

But protests and spats are nothing new for the grande dame of film festivals.

The first one, organised by the French in 1939 as a response to the Venice Film Festival, had to be cancelled after it launched on the day World War 2 broke out. Since its return in 1946, it has become a fertile ground for taboo-breaking films, public spats between directors and critics, and a hearty dose of controversy.

This year’s has been provided by the opening film, Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as the late Grace Kelly. Critics slammed the film on the day that it premiered, calling it royally bad, while Kelly’s children, Prince Albert and Princess Caroline, called it a “farce” and cancelled their usual attendance at the film festival.

Kidman defended the film ahead of the premiere, saying it had “no malice towards the family” but that she “understands their desire to protect the privacy of their mother and father”. She also said: “It’s awkward, but I want them to know the performance was done with love. If they ever did see the film, they would know it was done with an enormous amount of affection for both their parents, and their love story.”

Grace of Monaco has also suffered from a very public spat between the director, Olivier Dahan, and his US distributor, Harvey Weinstein, over the film’s edit. One critic called the row, during which Dahan called Weinstein’s unreleased cut “a pile of s***”, far more entertaining than anything happening on the screen. While Weinstein did not attend the premiere – because of a humanity visit to Syria – his company did finalise a deal to screen the movie in the US.

Even the red carpet for the premiere of How to Train Your Dragon 2 wasn’t free of controversy.

A Ukrainian journalist (the same person who was once slapped by Will Smith after he attempted to kiss the actor on another red carpet) crawled under America Ferrera’s dress. He was later arrested.

The only recognition South Africa has in this year’s official selection line-up is The Salvation, a co-production between South Africa and Denmark.

In the film, which had a gala screening at the festival last night, Danish star Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) takes the law into his own hands. It was shot on a farm about 70km northwest of Joburg, which makes a convincing stand-in for the Wild West.

South Africa hasn’t had a film competing for the festival’s coveted prizes since Skoonheid showed here in 2011.

But the National Film and Video Foundation has brought a batch of local films to show at the market portion of Cannes – from a documentary that scrutinises the myths behind Nelson Mandela to a damning portrait of the role South African politicians had in the Marikana killings.

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