Cannes Prizes: my reaction

Well done Ken Loach and congratulations on a second Palme d’Or – it is thoroughly deserved and I, Daniel Blake was the only film of the Cannes 2016 Competition that had audiences in tears, because it spoke from and went to the heart.

It is an emotional, emotive film. Perhaps it doesn’t have what the French like to call “le cinema” in its veins, but when you’re trying to explain why society is heading for catastrophe, I don’t think you need to start farting about with flashy shots.

Ken’s cinema is rooted in humanity and the characters played by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are fabulous examples of how to get across didactic points while never letting the characters become mere mouthpieces. These feel like real people, speaking a truth, not delivering a speech, which is why we feel their plight so intensely and closely.

I agree there are a couple of melodramatic plot devices in Ken Loach’s film – the discovery of a letter left on the floor, the girl’s sudden lurch into a desperate new career – but these Dickensian little moments pale into insignificance beside what the film’s greater purpose is, which is to make us listen to what someone is actually saying.

And this was the great fault of many films in Cannes which earned critical praise. “Le cinema” can really put you off, especially the current trend for irony, which is such a witheringly useless attitude and which can draw a curtain of alienation between the film and its audience. Critics do like to chuckle along to a refined POV or a sneeringly ironic tone, such as the one so clumsily employed by Jim Jarmusch in the obnoxiously arch Paterson which everybody except me seemed to love. But Loach has no time nor use for irony, not when people are starving on the streets.

It struck me that Loach’s film was a lot like Leicester’s improbable Premiership title triumph. It wasn’t the prettiest film, nor did it have flourishes or stars. It was unfussy and uncomplicated, yet unwavering and solid, bound together by virtues and principles that may even look a little old-fashioned these days but, my, can these things take you a long way and how efficiently it lands its killer blows.

I, Daniel Blake played early in the festival which is partly why so many forgot to fancy it (so addled with rose and other films are people by the end of Cannes that they can’t remember where their hotel room is let alone what happened last week) but like Leicester it never fell away. I kept telling people it was a masterpiece – I know one when I see one – and they’d turn their nose up and say, “Yeah, well maybe, I mean, I was in bits and tears and all that, but it can’t win the Palme.” Or a couple of French critics would shrug and dismiss it: “c’est pas subtile, sans la moindre finesse…”

One bloke even told me  he thought the movie was “a bit of a Facebook rant” – frankly, he should have his accreditation rescinded, because this is clear, compassionate political cinema of the sort urgently needed, and Loach doesn’t need “finesse” when he’s putting scenes from a food bank up on the screen.

There was another dim question at the post-awards press conference who asked the Jury if they felt odd awarding a film such as I, Daniel Blake the prize when it’s Cannes, and there’s opulence and wealth and yachts around.

The woman who posed the question so awkwardly – we kind of know what she was going for, but she’d phrased it so clumsily – got a brilliantly withering rebuttal from Donald Sutherland who intoned: “No, no, not at all. It’s just an absolutely terrific movie. Films resonate in your heart and soul, it doesn’t matter where you are – you’re in the cinema.”

Elsewhere, I was pleased for Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, although this is her third Jury Prize and she must be looking to bump that up a bit soon. I was amazed Brazil’s Aquarius didn’t get anything, especially for Sonia Braga, but I was equally amazed Xavier Dolan did get the Grand Prix, but I do know he will have many supporters that will always make me think I’m missing something with this film maker.

Cristian Mungiu’s excellent film Graduation got Best Director, which I can’t argue with, although he shared it with Olivier Assayas, whose Personal Shopper was a strange one indeed, but which we will certainly see more of, partly down to the star turn from Kristen Stewart as its centre.

I think most critics were upset that their personal favourite Tony Erdmann got nothing – the three hour German comedy, which I admit I missed, only to see it top the Screen International Jury grid with a record-breaking score. Still, I found no-one nor read anyone who could persuade me this film sounded like a must-see, so I’m thinking it’s one of those critical darlings people were desperate to annoint at the mid-stage of a festival, in search of something new, for the Emperor to wear, so to speak.

All in all, it was a good Cannes, and if there were still some odd films in the Competition (Staying Vertical, The Unknown Girl, Ma Loute, It’s Only the End of the World, and Sean Penn’s The Last Face, which I didn’t see so can’t really comment on, save to say the trailer made me wince) at least they were always different and interesting, with very few coming out boring, other than the Dardenne’s film.

I’m sad to say Jeff Nicholls’ Loving was probably the most disappointing, but I think that’s what it was actually trying to do, downplay to the point of insignificance… not sure that tactic works, certainly didn’t here, and the marketing campaign will have to be very smart to pull it round in time for the Oscars.

Ultimately, Cannes needs to be there. Proper cinema still comes in many forms and guises and distinctive artists need a big platform like the 12 days of Cannes to gain attention and get up there on a big screen, otherwise cinema will have to just feed on a diet of commercially-minded Friday night studio pictures and super heroes.

And, as the Ken Loach film so passionately points out, there aren’t any super heroes in real life – we will have to save ourselves, and cinema, from collapse.

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