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The 66th Annual Cannes Festival

Cannes is my favourite arena for movie discoveries big and small, and a few days into the 66th annual festival I’m eagerly taking notes of which movies will be worth looking out for in the coming months.

The great thing about Cannes is the refined blend of well-established talent and new names, not discriminated in either direction the size, genre or recognition of a name or project, which results in a wholesome selection of big and small, familiar and new, English-speaking or foreign, all with picked strictly because of their contribution to the art of cinema.

Last year, despite being considered by some as a weak year at Cannes, we found among the selection ‘The Hunt’, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, ‘Amour’, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, ‘Killing Them Softly.and ‘Laurence Anyways’. There are still a handful of acclaimed movies from last year’s festival I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet (‘Rust and Bone’, ‘In Another Country’, ‘Like Someone in Love’), and some which still have yet to be released (‘Mud’). Sufficed to say that if this is the reaping of a weak year at Cannes, a lot of high-quality movie time is guaranteed in any given year.

On to this year’s movies. A few of them are already well-known prior to their festival screenings, such as the long-awaited opening movie, Baz Luhrman’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, starring among others Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, which received all over decent reviews. Another pre-screening favourite is ‘Only God Forgives’, where director Nicholas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling have teamed up again, creating massive anticipation after their last team effort blew the cinematic world away with ‘Drive’. Another movie I’ve already been looking forward to for a while is Steven Soderberg’s ‘Behind the Candelabra’.

Besides the aforementioned, there aren’t many titles I recognised prior to the festival, with the exceptions of ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’, which I’ve heard of because it’s Tom Hiddelston’s newest project, and ‘Inside Llewelyn Davies’ by the Coen brothers, which should also be a given as one to watch. The director behind the hard-hitting ‘A Separation’, Asghar Farhadi, is back with ‘Le Passé’ or ‘The Past’, which is expected to be another intense, lowkey drama. Among the smaller “unknowns” are ‘Fruitvale Station’, which did well at the Sundance Festival, ‘The Selfish Giant’, which is supposedly a modern take on the short story by Oscar Wilde, and the French ‘L’Inconnu Du Lac’ or ‘Strangers by the Lake’, a movie which is sure to divide the audience and which is almost guaranteed not to get screening time in Norwegian cinemas due to its pornographic tendencies, unless Cinemateket steps up to the challenge, as they did with ‘Laurence Anyways’ last year.

So, that’s something to start off with after the first four days of the festival. With a week still remaining, there is bound to be a lot of on-screen goodness yet to come.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Oh boy! What better way to begin the cinematic year than by watching one of the most spectacular movie classics of all time on the big screen, on 70mm film, complete with overture and intermission?

My dad made a valiant attempt at opening my eyes to movie classics as a kid. At a very young age I watched such movies as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939), ‘The Sound of Music’ (1965), ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) and ‘Ben Hur’ (1959) (the two latter leaving me with something of a fascination for a young Charlton Heston in the process, though I don’t think that was among dad’s intentions). Though rewatches at an older age have given me a different watching experience of these movies and shown me how much of the plot details I missed as a kid, being inexperienced and also still learning English and trying my best to keep up with the subtitles, I still remember how fascinated I was by what I perceived of the exciting stories, the exotic sets and the beautiful costumes. Sure, they might have felt a little long-winded at times, with running times commonly surpassing 3 hours, but at the same time there was something about the pace of old movies I learned to appreciate, even back then.

There really is something to the old classics that is hardly ever present anymore – which isn’t to say all older movies are greater than all recent ones, but I do miss how they took their time to create an atmosphere and transfer you into their universe, making you feel you could happily stay there and watch the story unfolding long after the movie is finished.

Anyway, despite my upbringing, for some reason or other there’s still a long list of classics I haven’t seen. They just never seem to get prioritized (though occasionally I get a hangup and watch several within a short space of time). Tonight I’ve had a hard-punching reminder that it’s time to rectify this.

Scenery in Lawrence of Arabia

‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962, directed by David Lean) has been on my radar for years, but has sadly remained in the embarrasingly great classics gap on my movie checklist. I never knew much about the story, which is a big-scale adventure based on the real life of a controversial British military officer, who led Arabic tribes to war against their Turkish oppressors. My main incentive to watch the movie has been its leading performance, Peter O’Toole in the role as T. E. Lawrence, which is considered one of the greatest acting performances of all time.

Since the movie’s recent re-release onto Blu-ray, my determination to watch it has been reinforced. So when Cinemateket (House of Film) put this movie on the program for this year’s 70 mm festival, I didn’t have to think twice: the time had finally come.

‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is magnificent, absolutely magnificent. Every set, every picture is breathtaking. Not a single scene feels redundant, which isn’t a given for a movie of an intimidating running time of 3 hours and 40 minutes. The story is as engaging as it is unbelievable. The suspense, encouraged by great, dramatic music typical for movies of that time, is present throughout. I can’t believe how lucky I was to get the chance to watch it on a big screen!

Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia

And let’s not forget (as if it were possible) Peter O’Toole, Lawrence himself. He is, essentially, this movie. The character is a lot more complex than I had expected, this British officer chasing after a greater purpose, never quite seeming to find it even when he thinks he has, turning increasingly megalomaniacal and almost losing himself altogether. O’Toole masters every aspect: the awkward, clumsy castout, the enthusiastic and determined optimist, the brave adventurer, the fierce leader, the warmonger, the delusional megalomaniac. The role demands almost every character trait and human emotion conceivable, and he delivers them all with total conviction. And it really is this that makes the movie: it’s Lawrence’s unsettling development, his constant unpredictability, that really drives the movie forward.

Seeing Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi in the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy) as an Arabic prince is also delightful, though the strongest performance after O’Toole’s is easily that of Omar Sharif, playing Lawrence’s righthand man, Sherif Ali. Sharif also plays the title role in ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (1965, also directed by David Lean), one of the other classics showing during the festival, and another I haven’t yet seen, so now there’s another incentive to catch that one as well.

Other movies showing at the 70 mm festival, which lasts until 17th January, include ‘The Sound of Music’ (1965), ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) and ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1956).

What a busy and exciting week it has been so far! In between job interviews, therapy and contract meetings (I finally have a new job!), I have been to some really enjoyable cultural events, and more are yet to come. I’ve been to Det Norske Teatret to see the musical ‘Evita‘ performed by my two favourite stage actors; been to a lovely wine-tasting evening with a group of expats from several different countries, and to the cinema to see ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild‘ at long last. As if that wasn’t enough, Oslo International Film Festival (OIFF) kicked off yesterday, so the next few days should hold several great experiences too.

I was very happy to finally see ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild‘, the sensational movie that has, to use an exceptionally well-fitting expression, taken the world by storm this year. It first premiered at the Sundance festival in January, and I’ve wanted to see it ever since it received standing ovations and raving reviews at the Cannes festival in May. It’s been out in the cinemas for three weeks, but I’ve been on the fence because my flatmates expressed a wish to come along to see it. In the end I decided three weeks of waiting for them to get organised was my limit, and made a spontaneous decision to watch it mid-afternoon yesterday (which really is the best time of day to be at the cinema, because there’s usually not many people around).

It is very difficult movie to write about, but this Rolling Stone review sums things up pretty well; still, you have to watch it to get the big deal. And you really should watch it!

Six years old Quvenzhané Wallis in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’.

 

As for the rest of the week, Oslo International Film Festival (OIFF) is on, so there will be a few more cinema visits. So far I have tickets to ‘Side by Side‘ and ‘Laurence Anyways‘. The first is a documentary about film creation and features a couple of my favourite directors; the latter is a seemingly intense and untraditional love story about a transsexual and her lover.

I was planning on seeing ‘Seven Psychopaths‘, which is on my list for anticipated December releases (which incidentally I will publish at the end of the month), but as it will be shown at the cinema after the festival anyway, I thought I might prioritise the films that will (probably) only be shown this week. The same goes for ‘Pieta‘ and ‘Amour‘, even though the latter won’t be released before Christmas and I am very, very eager to see it.

The remaining movies at the the festival are less known to me, so I’m going to look them up and decide which might be worth catching. So far I’ve got an eye on ‘Codebreaker‘, ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day‘, ‘Spring Breakers‘ and ‘Red Sorghum‘. If you’ve happened to see either of them and can recommend it, please let me know.

It’s a good week to be a culture junkie!

21-25. Nov: Oslo Film Festival 2012