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Eight things we learned in Cannes

Story highlights

  • Agnes Poirier rounds up the buzz after another Cannes Film Festival
  • Which are potential awards season candidates? What are hot new talents?
  • Where is the smart money heading in the film industry?

1) Cannes, where arts meet politics. By awarding the Palme d'Or to Abdelatiff Kechiche's three hour long Sapphic love story, "Blue is the Warmest Colour," Steven Spielberg, president of the Cannes jury, may not have wanted to make a political point, as he claimed in the post-awards news conference, but the fact is that he did just that. As France became a week ago the ninth European country (and 14th in the world), to legalize same-sex marriage, and at the very moment as a 250,000 strong right-wing march was demonstrating in the streets of Paris against it, the Cannes film festival was awarding the highest accolade in world cinema to a lesbian love story. France's younger generation, as embodied by 18-year-old Adèle, is about to show its elders that love can take many shapes.

2) There is no such thing as bad publicity. He may have waited for the last film in competition to appear on Cannes's Croisette but the arrival of disgraced ex-IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accompanied by his new partner, fired up the hundreds of paparazzi lining the red carpet. We don't know whether the man the French call DSK chose especially to attend "Only Lovers Left Alive," a vampire love story by Jim Jarmusch or whether it was a coincidence. Many of us in Cannes thought, however, that Strauss-Kahn should have instead chosen to attend Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives," a more appropriately named film for the man whose political career ended abruptly in a hotel suite in Manhattan in May 2011.

3) Bad weather. The strong winds and torrential rain that blighted the first week of the festival were responsible for a few memorable cancellations and wet looks. Guests arrived soaked to the party for "The Great Gatsby" at midnight, while many scantily clad women, with a mascara fudged look, caught bronchitis. Later in the week, the musical flash mob planned to celebrate the centenary of Bollywood had to be canceled, and so was the famous yearly pétanque competition organized between stars.

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Chaos at Cannes

4) Television vs. Cinema. Stephen Frears and Steven Soderbergh were showing their latest films, in fact TV dramas, both produced by HBO. The first one about Mohammed Ali's greatest fight against the Supreme Court in the early 1970s over his refusal to serve in Vietnam; and the second, about entertainer legend Liberace, with Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon playing the leading roles. "Behind the Candelabra," Soderbergh's Liberace biopic, was deemed "too gay" by Hollywood studios: a shame as this will bar the formidable duo of actors from being considered for next year's Oscars. "TV is really taking control of a conversation that used to be the exclusive domain of movies," said director Steven Soderbergh at Cannes' news conference, and added "I think it's a second golden age of TV that's happening in the States now."

5) Old is gold. While 80-year-old Kim Novak, 87-year-old Jerry Lewis and 77-year-old Alain Delon were given standing ovations on the red carpet, the market was abuzz with film projects about baby-boomers and aimed at a worldwide senior audience, a large and well-off age-group with time on their hands to fill movie theatres. Among American film projects much talked about: "Look of Love" with Annette Bening and Ed Harris, "And So It Goes" with Michael Douglas, "Life Itself" with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.

6) East is East. Asian investors and producers were ubiquitous on the Croisette this year. With Jia Zangke in competition with a Touch of Sin, and which received the best script award, China was at the forefront. "China is coming on strong not just as a market place for international motion pictures, but coming on strong as a creative force," Steven Spielberg told a press conference.

7) Style is not all. The visually striking film by Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the leading role, was booed by film critics. Shot by Stanley Kubrick's last lighting cameraman, Larry Smith, this tale of ruthless violence is formally superb but its total lack of humanity, or, as some critics have put its "Nazi nihilism," have in the end done a major disservice to its author and the cast as a whole. Ryan Gosling's impassive performance mostly irritated critics who much preferred Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," a story of a man on the cusp of dementia (played by 76-year-old actor Bruce Dern), looked after by his son. It seems that the jury shared film critics' concerns; they indeed rewarded Bruce Dern with the Best Actor Award while Refn left Cannes empty-handed.

8) New rising talents. While paparazzi focused on the stars walking up the red carpet and the films in main competition, sidebar sections offered its harvest of new talents. The Palestinian film "Omar," by Hany Abu Assad, shot in the West Bank, was awarded the jury prize of the Un Certain Regard section. As for the best First Film award, it was given, for the first time ever, to a film from Singapore, "Ilo Ilo," directed by 29-year-old Anthony Chen and selected in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar. In 2007, his short film had already received an award in Cannes.