Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 16 News List

2006 Cannes films loaded with social commentary

This year's Cannes Film Festival focused on themes of immigration and injustice, with top prizes going to provocative directors and films


Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh arrive at the Palais des Festivals yesterday.


If movies reflect the concerns of their time and the Cannes film festival accurately reflects what is on the minds of the world's film makers, then the world is now concerned with immigration, social injustice and political oppression.

Of the 20 films selected to compete for the Palme d'Or for best film at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, only four were not concerned to any extent with these issues.

More serious, perhaps, was the fact that comedy was used as an important device in only three of the 20 films, and one of them concerned murder and sexual abuse (Pedro Almodovar's Volver), one had as a main character a despicably unscrupulous loan shark (A Friend of the Family, by Paolo Sorrentino) and the third was about the end of the world (Richard Kelly's Southland Tales).

No fewer than five of the movies in competition for this year's Palme d'Or used the issue of immigration, with Sorrentino making perhaps the most unexpected take on the theme.

A bold and very black comedy about the sleaziest, most cynical of usurers, A Friend of the Family opens with the arrival of a young, impoverished Romanian woman in the Italian city where the story takes place, and ends with her leaving the country bedecked in jewels and wrapped in an expensive fur coat.

As her bus pulls out of the station, she waves gaily to three Asian immigrants huddling forlornly on a bench. The implication of the closing image was clear: the world makes whores and usurers of us all and if you want to succeed you must lose all your scruples.

The issue of immigration takes a far more central place in Paolo Costa's Colossal Youth, which deals with Cape Verdean immigrants living in a rundown housing project in a suburb of the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

Rachid Bouchareb's Indigenes (Days of Glory) would win the prize for the most topical movie of the festival, if one were given, since its subject -- the 130,000 African volunteers who left their homelands to help liberate France from Nazi occupation in World War II -- touches directly or indirectly on the most sensitive issues in today's France: illegal immigration, racism and discrimination.

Immigration is also an issue in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel, starring Brad Pitt, where it serves as a metaphor for the borders people erect in their heads.

Political oppression of the past, present and future informs at least five of the movies that vied for the Palme d'Or: Pan's Labyrinth by Mexico's Guillermo del Toro, Israel's Adrian Caetano's Buenos Aires 1977, Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Lou Ye's Summer Palace, and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales.

The importance of the issue was underscored by Loach's being awarded the Palme d'Or for best film.

One is tempted to include Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette in this group, since its subject is the self-indulgent queen of France whose extravagant lifestyle (which the film suggests was the result of sexual frustration, insecurity and boredom) and indifference contributed to her subjects' inhumane living condition.

And one might also include Nanni Moretti's The Caiman, which wrapped a fierce critique of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's alleged abuse of power around a touching domestic drama.

This year's festival-goers also managed to witness a bit of modern political harassment in the controversy surrounding Summer Palace, which was screened at Cannes without the requisite approval by Chinese government censors.

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