Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Cannes Film Festival 2006: Political delights

The year is 2006, and the month is May. Cinema lovers wait for the Cannes Film Festival, the 59th edition, as it unfolds on the 17th of the month with one big hype. Dan Brown’s racy prose has been transformed into picture by Ron Howard: “The Da Vinci Code” after angering Christians -- who felt that Jesus could never have married Mary Magdalene, sired a daughter and left behind people surviving till this day – disappointed and disillusioned Cannes critics.

But the disenchantment did not last beyond the opening night. Some real gems followed. Here are five of them connected by far-reaching political developments.

Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley ,(won the top Palm  d'Or or Golden Palm Award)  underlines political extremism as an alternative to political dialogue, and in the movie, two brothers carry each of these crosses to the mountain of despair and death. Young Damien (Cillian Murphy) gives up a promising career in medicine to join the Irish Republican Army to fight what Loach portrays as vile British occupation forces.

But when a truce is declared in 1921, followed by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 that created the Free Irish State, Damien’s brother, Teddy, is wiling to accept this accord. He tries convincing Damien that this is the best of the bargain they could have hoped for then. Damien refuses to lay down arms, an act which leads to a tragic confrontation between the two siblings.

Loach allows for plenty of discussions and debates, and these tend to slow down the film. Nevertheless, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” is scripted and shot well enough to retain attention till the end. A certain poetic quality enriches most scenes, and the visual appeal in Loach’s work is strong and an effective vehicle to carry forward the story.

Lou Ye’s Summer Palace” mixes the intimate with the not-so intimate to present the dramatic political developments in China between 1987 and 2001. At the heart of this is beautiful Hong Yu, (Hao Lei), who like thousands of other Chinese students come to grips with the political turmoil of the Tiananmen, where the soldiers tried crushing young spirit.

Yu leaves her village and her boyfriend to join Beijing University, where she meets another student Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong), who becomes the passion of her life.

The movie has explicit sex scenes, and is yet to be passed in China. But running along these extremely bold sexual romps (with even full frontal nudity) is a tender love story that transcends time and turmoil. Indeed, a great Chinese work.


Nanni Moretti was back in Competition with The Caiman”. A satirical look at Italy’s former Prime Minister Berlusconi, this film is less powerful than Moretti’s 2001 Golden Palm winner, “The Son’s Room”.  This could be because Moretti mixes comedy, politics and personal drama in a way that none gives us a sense of fulfillment. We are, in the end, thirsting for more of each one of them. 

Although widely touted as a takeoff on Berlusconi, with first reports suggesting that this could be another Michael Moore saga, given Moretti’s Leftist leanings, “The Caiman” is anything but this. It is quite frankly a study of a movie producer. His failing marriage with a former film actress and his wonderful rapport with his two young kids, whom he hopes can possibly help bridge his relationship with the wife, are what provides the movie with its meaty strength.

Bruno, (Silvio Orlando is excellent here) makes lousy cinema, but there comes a point when he partners with an attractive screenwriter to produce an anti-Berlusconi picture. Obstacled by skepticism, unwillingness for financiers to loan money and his own dilemma about whether he hates the former politician so much as to make a film of this kind, Bruno travels along a roller coaster journey. And, mind you, this journey is thrilling with all the trials and tribulations of movie-making. 

To me, “The Caiman” came out as a subtle comedy (forget the Italian noise and din), with some exceptional performances by Orlando and Moretti himself, who plays Berlusconi.


Adrian Caetano gave us “ Chronicle of a Flight”.  Although the movie’s production note said that it was from Uruguay, the work is set in Argentina. Chronicling one of the darkest chapters of Argentina’s history, Caetano bases his film on a true horror story, which took place in 1977. A core group working for the Fascist Argentine military Government kidnaps a football goalkeeper and detains him in a forbidding old mansion, where he is tortured and humiliated. The footballer faces betrayals and when he finds out that death is imminent, he escapes with three others. 

“Chronicle of a Flight” is compelling drama, where just about every frame, every shot and every sequence emphasise the power of telling a story through well thought out visuals. Helped by excellent performances by virtually unknown actors, the movie highlights a significant message: the artist community is extremely unhappy with the state of the world today. 

In Rachid Bouchareb’s, Days of Glory” (Algeria), the most important thing to strike one is the French attitude towards its colonies during World War II. A group of North African soldiers fighting along the French army in Italy and France face utter discrimination and prejudice. We see a handful of North African or indigenous soldiers capture a French village from German forces in what is their final battle, but it is the French army that rides into the freed territory with a smug look. Again, an African soldier who falls in love with a French woman has his letters to her censored, and he does not even know about it.The film ends with a footnote, which states that the French Government froze the pensions of these North African ex-servicemen, and the issue remains unresolved. 

“Days of Glory” is strong on emotions, with some touching performances by an ensemble of five actors, who were collectively given the Best Actor Award. Though not many movies have been made on North Africa’s contribution to Allied efforts, Bouchareb’s work while appearing to be yet another war film takes a hard look at the French-North African confrontation, indeed a continuing feature in France. It is this aspect that the director focuses, and the battles/skirmishes with the German troops seem more like a background canvas.

This work certainly has the qualities to push it into the classics list, in league with some great war movies, such as “The Von Ryan’s Express”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “The Battle of the Bulge” and the like that documented  -- both powerfully and stylistically – the innumerable World War II chapters. 

(Posted on this website on May 30 2006)