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Cannes openers set sombre tone

Latest update : 2008-05-16

The Cannes Film Festival opened with "Blindness" and "Waltz with Bashir," two difficult films laden with political content. Read more about the two heavyweights.

Click here to see Cannes events as they unfold, as told by Our Man in Cannes, FRANCE 24's Arnab Banerjee.



Cannes opening film fails to please

The highly discerning Cannes audience gave a cold reception to Blindness, the film adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning José Saramago's novel.

A world where metaphorical blindness becomes a contagious disease, and those affected are confined like in a concentration camp. A world where social values deteriorate to barbarism, and human instincts reveal their animal nature. A modern holocaust where the human being shows himself at his very worst, and carnage, rape and merciless robbery are justifiable means of existence.

Such must have been the effect that Brazilian director Fernando Mereilles intended to create in his cinematic adaptation of Blindness, a novel by Nobel Prize winning José Saramago.

However, as the Cannes film festival's opening film this year, the ambitious film left the spectator greatly disppointed. Indeed, the metaphor of blindess and the character of the samaritan doctor and his saintly wife recall Albert Camus's study of human decadence in his novelette La Peste (The Plague). But thematical licence aside, Blindness depends excessively on overstylised cinematography and celebrity status (Julianne Moore and Gael Garcia Bernal)

Mereilles, director of City of God and The Constant Gardener, seems to think that a Hollywood-like mise en scène combined with digitally transformed photography is all it takes to make appreciable cinema.

Thankfully, the Cannes audience proved him wrong. The press screening was met with sullen non-applause. And all that one could say at the end of the screening was "The book must be a masterpiece"



A landmark in film history

The Cannes audience gave an indulgent go-ahead to Israeli director Ari Folman, who presented Waltz with Bashir, the world's very first animated documentary feature.

Whatever the diverse reactions to Ari Folman's first entry in Cannes, the Israeli director has created a landmark in cinema history. The "animated documentary" is born.

Therein lies the paradox. How can a documentary, whose essence is cinematographic reality, fuse with animation, a genre that depends on the imaginary?

Folman unites the two in a manner yet unseen. Real characters, real experiences, real memories - but depicted through animated characters

Folman narrates his quest to recall forgotten memories of the Lebanon war in the 1980s. In doing so, not only does he create a genre that is uncomfortably indefinable, but presents a facet of the Israeli army rarely seen on the silver screen - a misguided confusion. Trigger-happy Israeli youngsters shoot the enemy like in a video game, scarcely realising the purpose of their mission.

Folman, in particular, raises the existential issue of memory. Does the mind alter the past? Do we remember what we would like to?

These unanswered questions leave the spectator deeply contemplative, especially during the final images where  animation gives way to real, stark footage of the war.

It is too early to say whether Folman's majestic effort will win him the Golden Palm. But it would be really surprising if he walks away empty-handed. The special jury prize (Prix du Jury) seems more than fitting...



Date created : 2008-05-16