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Journalism of Courage

Cannes day 1: Cinema fest opens with Zelensky’s appeal and a zombie comedy

What is the value of an event such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival in today’s world which is struggling with food scarcity, fundamentalism, and death and disaster? The answer is wrapped in the question.

express at cannesThe thing with zombie comedies is that there are only so many ways you can slice and dice them.

Any film which has a character saying ‘this is so boring’, runs the risk of everyone in the audience instantly turning it into a meta descriptor of what they are watching. Especially if it is in an opening film of a top film festival like Cannes, which had a somewhat similar opener in 2019 (Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die’).

‘Coupez!’ (Final Cut), Michel Hazanavicius’ remake of the riotous Japanese zom com ‘One Cut Of The Dead’ (2017), adorned by many more of these zingers, runs the risk of being dubbed an also-ran. But it scrapes past its first 30 minutes, which are really bad, by doubling back on itself, and revealing its true shambolic colours. But, and this is the problem, it takes a long time getting there.

The thing with zombie comedies is that there are only so many ways you can slice and dice them. With his material ready-made, and not having to cast about for the right tone (‘One Cut Of The Dead’ was fast, furious and ferociously funny), Hazanavicius, who won a Best Director Oscar for ‘The Artist’, shouldn’t have taken that long to hit his stride. What we get is a bunch of headless chickens — a hysterical director yelling at an actor having trouble delivering the right emotion, a Krav Maga expert (Hazanavicius regular Berenice Bejo) who doubles up as a make-up artist, and some others running around in random circles — shooting a low-budget flick, being attacked by zombies.

Looks like a perfect schtick for the celebration of bad movies, a genre that can yield riches in the right hands. And in a strange sort of way, a zom com, even if it comes too soon after 2019, must have felt like a perfect opening film: what else have we been but zombies in the last couple of years, buffeted by the pandemic? But questions arise. Why do these characters, clearly French, have Japanese names? Why is projectile vomit still meant to induce laughter? Ditto for tummies which run: there’s literally a guy leaking from his nether end on screen for a considerable length of time. In the best part of the film, the characters who do not have muck painted on their faces, or axes sticking out of their forehead, or buckets of red paint running off their clothes, come into their own. Did I miss something, asks one of these characters, as he returns from a loo break. Uh-huh, says another. Now that’s funny.

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One of the highlights of the opening ceremony was Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address, beamed live from Kyiv. It felt surreal, not so far from this strip of hot-house glitter and curated cinematic delights in the South of France, a country being ravaged by war. How does it feel to be operating under the shadow of such lethal conflict? It is a question which goes farther than just this 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival: what is the value of such an event in today’s world which is struggling with increasing levels of pollution, food scarcity, fundamentalism, and death and disaster, both natural and man-made?

The answer is wrapped in the question. The biggest connector of people is cinema, that most popular art form which has weathered so many storms, vaulted across so many wars, and has emerged even more impactful. This is why movies continue to be made, and film festivals continue to be so relevant. We need a new Chaplin, declared Zelensky, himself a performer in his past life, referring to the director and his great anti-war classic, ‘The Great Dictator’. Of course, we do, as well as more inclusion, more diversity, more differences, as actor and director Rebecca Hall rightly pointed out at the jury press conference.

And now, fittingly, I’m off to catch ‘Tchaikovsky’s Wife’, screening in the Competition section, directed by Kirrill Serebenikov, an outspoken Russian dissident. (The festival has placed a ban on state-sponsored Russian delegations).

First published on: 18-05-2022 at 06:04:32 pm
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