Eftihia Stefanidi returns from the 64th Cannes Film Festival – one of the most successful in years – and reports on the films that glowed in the dark during two weeks of unlimited screenings, pouring chilled rosé,  and sleepless nights. So, without further ado to follow is the first part of this enthralling three-part review…


Woody Allen’s ‘Out of Competition’ opening film Midnight in Paris, with its light-hearted tribute to the Parisian spirit, could not even slightly prepare us for what we were about to witness at the first screenings of the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Politely described as ‘unsettling’ – the first films thrown on the critics’ table explored a wide range of themes on child abuse for all tastes:  paedophilia, violence, parental abandonment, kidnapping, evil adolescence – you name it.

Lynne Ramsay bravely paved the way with We Need to Talk About Kevin, a slick drama staring flawless Tilda Swinton, playing a mother who struggles to cope with her vicious son, Kevin, and the aftermath of his actions. Tackling the intriguing subject of evilness in children, the question is left to linger as to how much of Kevin’s condition is a result of parental negligence or simply pure chance. Striking looking new comer Ezra Miller (Kevin) employs an abundance of ‘evil looks’ on the verge of being ludicrous and John C. Reilly compliments as the one-dimensional father figure. Still those flaws are in fact minor, and what stands out is an unusual and intelligent story told with intricate flashbacks, managing to keep you on your toes wondering where Kevin’s vice comes from.

Even if Ramsay’s style is much her own, one could not help but think of school violence champ Gus Van Sant who would have more likely made a film like this rather than Restless, his latest version of young Shakespearean love (screened at Cannes’ sidebar Un Certain Regard). The American director gives his take on a dark romantic tale, in which boy falls for girl dying from cancer. With Restless, Van Sant follows the new-age romantic comedy laws, in which couples – apart from subtly gorgeous – must be extraordinary unusual and interesting, some very niche habits being the triggers for their attraction (in this case: regular funeral attendances, book reading on birds and a Japanese kamikaze pilot ghost from WWII as ‘best friend’). This is not the actual problem though – after all, we are talking about cinema, a place where we have agreed on being fooled by the amorous drama of hopeless love. But in Restless, the conventions fail to transgress, for the idealised romance has neither a foundation to support the couple’s bond, nor any subversive rhythm that could impose it soundly. Gus Van Sant is a favourite, but what I’m guessing is that he might be more inspired when he is not in love.

Poliss by Maïwenn Le Besco (which, to the surprise of many, received the Jury Price Award) redefined the child abuse topic, dealing directly with all its possible manifestations. An ensemble of police officers in action during their daily grind at the Child Protection Unit, the film studies their working ethos, as well as their intertwined private lives. Arguably an unnecessary role on her behalf, Maïwenn casts her self as the mute and introvert photographer that documents the Unit before she sparks some romance with one of the officers. Comprised mainly by a number of hardcore interviews with potential paedophiles and traumatised children, the applied documentary realism and TV-series mise-en-scène makes Poliss exhilarating and exasperating at the same time. Collided together, the film’s episodic and over-dramatic scenes make one long cinema – verité saga of comradeship, with some brief bursts of acting excellence that shine through.

One might assume we would be holding a PhD on the child matter by now, but things got even more nasty and scratchy with Michael, a first feature by Markus Schleinzer.  A casting director by profession (see Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon, to name but a few), Schleinzer picks the most apt and disturbing face to play Michael, a 35-year-old ordinary man with an ordinary job, who keeps his secrets locked in his basement. There resides a 10-year-old boy, tolerating occasional physical abuse by his kidnapper, but also taking part in the usual ‘family’ rituals. There is a certain mood created in the film that keeps you gripped within its mystery, as Michael’s expressionless face reveals neither pleasure nor remorse. However, the inscrutability of his intentions makes it an uncomfortable viewing, its impenetrability resulting to unsolved moral dilemmas and a suspenseful finale open for interpretation.

Code Blue

Code Blue

Following a successful de-sensitisation on violence, no fear did I feel when I consented to enter the screening of Code Blue, as part of the Director’s Fortnight, which came with the warning: “some scenes of the film might hurt the audiences’ feelings”. An austere and lonely nurse softens when caressing people that are in the threshold of dying, but failing to interact with her environment allows her perversely suppressed temperament to arise. The film soon turns into an ‘experiment’ as the clinically empty interiors host a few decadently appalling sexual acts. In a way, Polish director Urszula Antoniak is more interested in the spectacle and the mood that cinema can provoke than mere story-telling. Not for the faint-hearted, Code Blue is as art-house as it gets, so be prepared for some distorted, but physiologically nuanced 85 minutes that might feel as an eternity.


Words & Holga Images by Eftihia Stefanidi