If anyone had told me that Canada would have three films competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, I’d have asked them what brand of maple-scented weed they were smoking.
Even more so if they’d said we’d be leading the Americans by 3-2, like a close score in a gold medal Olympic hockey game.
But that was then and this is “wow.”
On Thursday, Cannes selectors announced they’ve chosen a record three films by Canuck directors — David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Atom Egoyan’s The Captive and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy — to contend against 15 other films for the Palme at the 67th annual celebration of cinema on the French Riviera, May 15-25.
The Americans have close to a record low participation in this year’s Palme race, with just two films in the hunt: Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher and Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman.
This is a truly historic and significant occasion for Canada. Our national film industry has long made an impression around the world, but it’s always been under the shadow of our neighbours to the south. A spring world premiere at Cannes, followed by a fall domestic premiere at TIFF, provides the kind of prestige and serious attention that filmmakers live for.
And there’s more Canuck content among the films in the Cannes Official Selection, announced at a press conference Thursday in Paris by festival director Thierry Frémaux and members of his programming team.
Ryan Gosling, the Ontario-born actor, will make his directorial debut with Lost River (formerly titled How to Catch a Monster) in the Un Certain Regard sidebar program, which has its own set of awards.
Canadians normally must settle for a single slot amongst the highly competitive and worldwide Palme competition, and sometimes not even that — there was no Canuck challenger in last year’s contest. We’ve never won the Palme for a feature film (although we have five times for short films), and the closest we’ve come to the top prize was the second-place Grand Prix du Jury that Egoyan took in 1997 for The Sweet Hereafter.
“This year’s Cannes festival is truly a monumental occasion for Canadian filmmakers,” said Carolle Brabant, the executive director of Telefilm Canada.
“This is the strongest presence we’ve ever had, and a true testament to the exceptional vision and tremendous artistry of our country’s filmmakers. Canadians should feel very proud.”
She’s right, but Toronto’s Cronenberg and Egoyan and Montreal’s Dolan know they’re going to need more than patriotic fervour to sustain them in Cannes, where they’ll be judged by a panel led by New Zealand director Jane Campion, the only female director to win the Palme, for The Piano in 1993.
They’ll be facing formidable competition from such global auteurs as Jean-Luc Godard (Goodbye to Language), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), Ken Loach (Jimmy’s Hall), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep), Naomi Kawase (Still the Water), Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), Michel Hazanavicius (The Search), Bertrand Bonello (Saint Laurent) and the Dardenne Bros. (Two Days, One Night) for the film prize considered second only to the Best Picture Oscar for prestige.
The odds of Palme success are already being calculated, by British film critic Neil Young (not that Neil Young) on his Jigsaw Lounge blog.
It’s an annual tradition by Young, and he’s currently got Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a perennial Cannes favourite, leading with 3/1 odds of taking the Palme with Winter Sleep, a drama that reportedly runs a whopping 196 minutes. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviafan is next at 11/2 odds, followed by Abderramahne Sissako’s Timbuktu at 6/1.
Cronenberg’s dark Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars is fourth with respectable 9/1 odds, tied with Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. Dolan’s generational conflict Mommy is near the middle of the pack at 25/1, but Egoyan’s kidnapped child drama The Captive is dead last at 40/1.
Egoyan won’t be happy to see that, but he and Cronenberg have been to Cannes many times, long enough to know that the front runners at the start of the fest rarely remain there when the prizes are being handed out. This time last year, few people were guessing that Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color would go on to win the Palme in a jury headed by Hollywood titan Steven Spielberg.
Anybody could win this year, including Montreal wunderkind Dolan, 25, his fourth film to premiere at Cannes. It stars Suzanne Clément, who played opposite Dolan in J'ai tué ma mere (I Killed My Mother), Dolan’s 2009 debut that won him multiple prizes after it premiered in the Director’s Fortnight, another Cannes sidebar program.
Dolan was reportedly so annoyed that his 2012 film Laurence Anyways didn’t make that year’s Palme competition, he took last year’s Tom at the Farm to the Venice Film Festival instead.
He had the most succinct reaction Thursday of any of the Palme nominees, Canadian or otherwise, when the competition slate was announced.
“Érection,” Dolan cheekily tweeted to a friend, after receiving congratulations for the nomination.
All this, and a red carpet, too? Details are scarce on the content of the films at Cannes 2014, most of which are still being edited. But the talent set to march up the steps of the Palais des Festivals includes Twilight lovers (and real world ex-lovers) Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Channing Tatum, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, John Cusack, Annette Bening, Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank and many more.
It’s a great contest so far, and it may expand by two or more films before the fest begins, because there are typically 20-22 films in the Palme competition and right now there are just 18.
Incredibly, there’s another major Canadian possibility for Cannes: Denys Arcand’s Toronto-set La règne de la beauté (An Eye for Beauty), which had figured amongst the speculation for the Palme d’Or contest.
Arcand, a regular Cannes participant, wasn’t included amongst Thursday’s announcement, but he could still turn up as a late add.
You really would have to be smoking something to think he might become the fourth Canuck in this year’s Palme tourney. But not long ago three Canadian Palme contenders seemed like a crazy idea, eh?