From showing support for politically targeted Iranian filmmakers, to celebrating Egyptian film, this year's Cannes Film Festival is about much more than celebrity
A preview of what's to come at Cannes
No film festival seems to pass these days without some symbolic gesture made in support of Jafar Panahi, the Iranian filmmaker whose arrest and sentencing became a cause célèbre that sent ripples around the globe. This year's Cannes Film Festival, which begins tomorrow, will be no exception.
At Cannes last year Juliet Binoche cried during a press conference when it was confirmed that Panahi would not be allowed to travel to the festival to take his place on the jury. Late on Saturday night, Thierry Frémaux, the festival's general delegate, announced a surprising late addition to this year's official Cannes programme, new work by Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, who was also sentenced at the same time. The pair are currently appealing against a sentence of six years in jail and a 20-year employment ban, so the two new films that have been sent to Cannes in clandestine conditions come as a great surprise.
The following details have been revealed about the two films. The first to play will be Rasoulof's Good Bye, a drama telling the story of a young lawyer in Tehran in search of a visa to leave the country, echoing the actions of the director who himself tried to leave Iran in the winter of 2010.
One of the last films to play at the 12-day festival is This Is Not a Movie by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. The title, inspired by the paintings of the Belgian surrealist René Magritte, is an ironic rebuke to the sentence demand that he not make a film or give an interview for 20 years. It documents how Panahi waited for months for the verdict of his court appeal. The synopsis also states that by following a day in the life of Panahi the documentary provides an overview of the current situation of Iranian cinema.
Frémaux released a statement saying: "Mohammad Rasoulof's film and the conditions under which it was made, Jafar Panahi's 'diary' of the days of his life as an artist not allowed to work, are by their very existence a resistance to the legal action which affects them. That they send them to Cannes, at the same time, the same year, when they face the same fate, is an act of courage along with an incredible artistic message. Cannes is the international institution which protects them. Film professionals the world over will gather on the Croisette and unite, we are sure, in a sort of self-evident fellowship."
Another Cannes premiere sure to attract global attention is a documentary by the British comedian Keith Allen titled Unlawful Killing. It's about the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales and will show at the festival's international film market to an exclusive audience of distributors and journalists.
Mohammed al Fayed, the Egyptian former owner of Harrods whose son Dodi also died in the Paris car crash alongside Diana, has committed funds to the project. Al Fayed has always insisted and told the public inquest into the deaths that he believes Dodi and his girlfriend Diana were murdered by the British establishment, including the then prime minister Tony Blair, because of fears about a possible future king of England (Prince William) having a Muslim stepfather. The cameras follow the story of the inquest into Diana's death that took place in 2007, and which concluded that the deaths were a result of "unlawful killing through negligent driving".
Although the publicists for the film have insisted that this is a Keith Allen rather than an Al Fayed project, the owner of Fulham football club will be in Cannes to talk about the film. Allen has spent the past three years making the movie and also gathered information by covertly attending the inquest alongside journalists reporting on the case for the mainstream media.
Already speculation is rife about what the film will contain. According to a spokesman for the movie, it shows a "cover up" after Diana's death and reveals how vital evidence was hidden from public scrutiny. Unlawful Killing will also purportedly contain private tape recordings of Diana talking about herself as a problem for the British royal family.
The big question is whether the film proves to be as controversial as the statue of the late Michael Jackson that Al Fayed recently had installed at Craven Cottage, home of Fulham football club. He stated at the time that any fans who didn't like the statute could "go to hell and support Chelsea". It's expected that Al Fayed will be making similarly cantankerous statements on the Croisette.
Controversies aside, the chances are that most onlookers will be more concerned with spotting the glitterati on the red carpet. Brad Pitt will be there to support the world premiere of Terrence Malick's long awaited The Tree of Life. Angelina Jolie is expected to attend in support of animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 and Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz are sailing in to support the screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
The Malick film also stars Sean Penn, who has two films playing in competition, the second featuring his performance as an ageing Irish rock star in Paulo Sorrentino's This Must Be the Place.
Woody Allen will be in attendance with Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson, the stars of the opening night film, Midnight in Paris; the controversial Mel Gibson will be in town to support the opening of The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster; and Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan will walk the carpet to the screening of Drive. With Robert De Niro as the president of the jury, it promises to be a Hollywood extravaganza.
Also walking down the red carpet will be Nadine Labaki, the star and director of Caramel. She has a new film, Where Do We Go Now, that tells the tale of a group of women who are trying to stop relations between their menfolk, Christian and Muslim, simmering over into violence.
The 64th edition of the festival also introduces some innovations. One of which is that from now on, Cannes will be welcoming a guest country each year. The first country to be so honoured is Egypt. Events planned for May 18 include a celebration of the late, great Yousef Chahine. There will be a screening of 18 Jours, which contains a selection of short films from 10 filmmakers about the demonstrations in Egypt in January.
The Cannes Classics section will show a screening of a new copy of the 1968 classic The Postman (Al Bostagui) by Hussein Kamal as well and the Cinema on the Plage will show La Cri d'une Fourmi (The Scream of an Ant) by Samuel Abdel Aziz.
Also screening will be a documentary on the Tunisian uprising Plus Jamais Peur (No More Fear) directed by Mourad Ben Cheikh.
Tomorrow night's opening ceremony will also feature the awarding of the Honorary Palme, a new annual award given to an authoritative filmmaker who has never won the Palme d'Or. This year it will go to Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, who directed De Niro in the 1976 film 1900. It's a fine way to start what will be a hectic 12 days for the film world.
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