The Cannes Film Festival, back to something akin to full throttle after a year”s hiatus, welcomed cinema luminaries back to the French Riviera on Tuesday evening as its 74th edition kicked off with the screening of Leox Carax’s “Annette”. Four special guests, jury chief Spike Lee, honorary Palme d’Or recipient Jodie Foster, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and Korea’s Bong Joon-ho declared the festival open, each in their own language.
Foster asked the audience in the Theatre Grand Lumiere a rhetorical question: “It”s good to be up and about, isn”t it? The answer was provided by Annette, a salve of sorts for wounds inflicted the world over by a rampaging pandemic.
Frenchman Carax”s first English-language film, a flamboyant opera-rock musical starring two of the world’s most beloved stars Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver as a singer and a stand-up comedian respectively, was greeted with enthusiasm.
The opposing adjectives that critics showered on “Annette” – beautiful and baffling, magnificent and wild – demonstrated that Carax, despite having forayed into a genre that is new to him, has lost none of his ability to surprise, provoke and divide.
India has one film in the Cannes official selection this year – Rahul Jain’s sophomore documentary “Invisible Demons”, a part of the special Cinema for the Climate section. It is a deep dive into Delhi”s worsening struggle with air and water pollution.
The parallel Director’s Fortnight, usually reserved for boundary-pushing genre films, includes Mumbai-based Payal Kapadia”s “A Night of Knowing Nothing”.
The film is far removed textually and tonally from the three Indian entries (”Gangs of Wasseypur”, ”Ugly” and ”Raman Raghav 2.0”, all directed by Anurag Kashyap) that the Quinzaine has programmed in the past decade.
After a year that saw the announcement of a full complement of films but no physical screenings, the festival has a slew of COVID-19 protocols in place, including the requirement of a saliva test every 48 hours.
Moreover, India is on France”s ”red list”, necessitating a weeklong quarantine for film professionals arriving from the subcontinent.
Bangladeshi filmmaker Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s “Rehana” is in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. It is the first-ever Bangladeshi film in the Cannes official selection.
Tareque Masud’s “Matir Moina” (The Clay Bird) is the only film from Bangladesh that screened in Cannes before – in Directors’ Fortnight, 2002.
Rahul Jain’s first documentary feature was the critically acclaimed “Machines” (2016), an austere, unflinching look at the grimly tortuous lives of workers in a textile mill in Gujarat.
“Invisible Demons”, a 70-minute film that examines the grave repercussions of Delhi’s rapid urban expansion and the impact of polluted air and water on the most vulnerable segments of the megacity’s population.
“It is high time that films about the realities of climate change are given a platform,” says Jain, who grew up in Delhi and acquired an MA degree in Aesthetics and Politics from the California Institute of the Arts.
Jain traces the birth of “Invisible Demons” to the time he was a six-year-old boy growing up in Delhi. On his way to school, he would pass the Yamuna. “Is this a nadi (river) or a nullah, I would ask,” the filmmaker recalls. Pollution in Delhi, he says, isn”t just a winter phenomenon. “In the heat wave, my brain shuts down,” he says.
“A Night of Knowing Nothing”, scripted by Kapadia with Himanshu Prajapati and lensed by Laila Aur Satt Geet cinematographer Ranabir Das, is the director”s second film to travel to Cannes.
In 2017, the Film and Television Institute of India Pune alumna was at the world’s premier film festival with a short film “Afternoon Clouds”, competing for the Cinefondation prizes.
“A Night of Knowing Nothing” is described in the film’s synopsis as “an amorphous narrative” that pans out through letters that “a university student writes… to her estranged lover”.
Directors’ Fortnight entries often go on to win the Camera d’Or, Cannes’ prize for the best debut film of a director. Kapadia is one of ten first-time directors in this year’s Fortnight selection.
Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984), Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” (1988), Jafar Panahi’s “The White Balloon” (1995), Naomi Kawase’s Suzaku (1997), Bahman Ghobadi’s A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) and “Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo” (2013) are the among the films that won the Camera d’Or after playing in Directors’ Fortnight.