Monday, 27 May 2013


On a day when thousands demonstrated raucously in Paris against the new French law allowing gay marriage, the jury at the Cannes Film Festival awarded its top honour to a coming-of-age film about love between women.

Abdellatif Kechiche
Tunisan-born director Abdellatif Kechiche and his two leading actresses won the Palme d’or on Sunday for “La Vie d’Adèle” (Blue Is The Warmest Colour), an explicit movie about a teenager who falls in love with an older woman.

The film was not the only one screened at Cannes that dealt with a relevant topic, however. Filmmakers from around the world showed their concern for human rights and social issues in a range of films - covering the problems faced by “foreign” domestic workers to the risks run by members of ethnic minorities in the face of “trigger-happy” cops.

Singaporean director Anthony Chen presented a moving drama about a Filipina maid working in his home country. His film “Ilo Ilo” won the Camera d’or, a prize given to the best first feature in any category, and it was a well-deserved win as Chen handled the subject with sensitivity and insight.

The film focuses on the relationship between the maid and the young boy she is hired to mind, and their eventual bonding is set against the problems faced by foreign domestic workers in Singapore, where overwork, suicide and the size of living quarters are just some of the concerns.

Anthony Chen (right)
"For me, humanity is about being flawed and what we do to make things better," Chen told SWAN in an interview. "I could have focused on the horror situations, but I'm not very keen to be up in your face with my film-making because I appreciate subtlety, and I always believe that audiences are more intelligent than you might think they are."

Chen said he was surprised and "moved" by the win because he had feared that his movie would be "dwarfed" by "bigger films with big budgets". The jury, though, appreciated his "delicate" handling of  the film's universal themes that included immigration and poverty.

Agnes Varda, president of the Camera d'or jury, said that members wanted to reward Chen's quiet "quartet" than to give the prize to a noisy orchestra of a movie. 

Another honoured first feature came from 27-year-old African-American director Ryan Coogler, who received the “Avenir Prize” in the Un Certain Regard category, a section of the festival devoted to “different and original” films.

Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” focuses on the last day in the life of a young man and is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot by an “overzealous” police officer in Oakland, California, on New Year’s Day in 2009.

A scene from "Fruitvale Station".
Coogler doesn’t treat Grant as an angel, but he shows how the young man was trying to get his life together before he was cut down. As such, the film is both poignant and thought-provoking.

“If I can get two hours of people’s time, I can affect them more than if they threw a trash can through a window,” Coogler has said, in relation to the riots that followed the killing.

These sentiments evidently struck a chord with the Cannes selectors. Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who chaired the Un Certain Regard jury, said:  “This selection was insistently unsentimental, and still poetic. It was political, highly original, sometimes disturbing, diverse and first of all, very often - unforgettable.”

"The Missing Picture"
The winner of the Un Certain Regard top prize, “The Missing Picture” (l'Image Manquante) by Cambodian director Rithy Panh, also fits this description, dealing with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, from a personal point of view.

The "missing picture” of the title refers to the absence of photos (due to censorship) that might have documented the murders committed during Pol Pot's reign from 1975 to 1979.

Panh lost his parents and sisters as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s actions, and the film is based on his memoir "The Elimination”.  In the movie, the characters are represented by dozens of carved clay figures, to which Vinterberg referred at the prize-giving ceremony.

“Clay figures, extreme beauty, violence … systematic humiliation of the human kind … are just some of the unique images that will follow us for a long time,” he said. 

Apart from the Un Certain Regard prizes and the official competition awards, an often-overlooked accolade was given to Iranian director Asghar Farhadi for “The Past” (Le Passé). This was the prize of the Ecumenical Jury, which comprises Christian filmmakers and other professionals.

A scene from "The Past"
In citing Farhadi's movie, they stated: “How does one take responsibility for past errors? As a thriller, the film shows the life of a stepfamily, where the secrets of each and the complexity of relationships unravel bit by bit. A deep, engaging and dense film that illustrates this verse: ‘The truth shall set you free’ ....” - A.M.