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The LIFF team’s Cannes 2016 highlights

This year’s Cannes proved to be one of the very best years with a competition line up full of contrastingly rewarding films, a few of them extraordinary. I can’t remember a year when the jury’s award decisions were so at odds with the critical consensus or the buzz in the film queues, but we thought some of the criticisms were exaggerated and their main error was one of omission (see below). Not many of them in the UK release schedule a few already have UK distributors and we hope to be able to bring some of them to Leeds in November.

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American Honey
Dir. Andrea Arnold, UK/USA (UK Distributor: Universal Pictures)
Andrea Arnold follows Wuthering Heights, which opened LIFF in 2011, with her first feature made in the US, which won the jury prize at Cannes. American Honey is an eccentric road movie following a hard partying magazine sales crew through the hinterlands of the Midwest, a territory rarely depicted by Hollywood. Wavering in its narrative clarity at time, the film is nonetheless consistently original and maintains Arnold’s idiosyncratic drift and style with fantastic cinematography by Robbie Ryan.

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Aquarius
Dir. Kleber Mendonca Filho, France/Brazil (UK Distributor: tbc)
An intelligent and emotive drama from Brazil featuring a brilliant performance by Sonia Braga as Clara, a retired music critic who has lived a long, eventful life in a seaside apartment in Recife. She vows not to leave until she dies but a bitter conflict escalates with the developers who buy up all the neighbouring apartments.

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Cinema Novo
Dir. Eryk Rocha, Brazil (UK Distributor: tbc)
An unusually cinematic film history documentary assembled entirely from archive footage, both of clips from key films of the Brazilian new wave and interviews with its articulate and iconoclastic progenitors like Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Leon Hirszman and Glauber Rocha (whose son directed the film).

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Clash (Eshtebak)
Dir. Mohamed Diab, Egypt (UK Distributor: tbc)
A contrived but compelling, high concept drama set entirely in the back of a police truck during demonstrations in Egypt following the removal of president Mohamed Morsi from power in 2013. Pro and anti-Muslim Brotherhood characters are forced to co-operate in an enclosed space teasing out the competing allegiances and contradictions of the conflict.

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Dogs (Câini)
Dir. Bogdan Mirica, France/Romania (UK Distributor: tbc)
An intriguing and atmospheric debut with terrific cinematography, Dogs is a slow-burning psychodrama melding the distinctive hyper-realist style of the Romanian new wave with the sensibilities of a pitch black neo-noir. A young man from Bucharest goes out into the styx near the Ukrainian border when he inherits a house from his grandfather, who it turns out was a powerful underground crime boss. Although it wobbles in its last act, the film includes one of the most memorable scenes of this year’s Cannes involving a world weary local police chief who finds an unidentified severed foot.

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Elle
Dir. Paul Verhoeven, France (UK Distributor: tbc)
Ageing Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven makes a welcome return with Elle featuring a fabulous performance by the inimitable Isabelle Huppert. She plays the CEO of a Software Company who is attacked in her home and raped by an unknown assailant but refuses to let it intrude on her well-ordered life. Though obviously an exploitation film, it constantly defies the lazy stereotypes of typical genre cinema, more of a comedy than a thriller, it’s consistently thought provoking as it is entertaining.

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Gimme Danger
Dir. Jim Jarmusch, USA (UK Distributor: tbc)
One of the very few rockumentaries with some justification for the claim for its subject as the greatest rock and roll band of all time, Jim Jarmusch’s tribute to The Stooges is long overdue. Although it suffers for a lack of archive footage of the band at their peak in the late 60s/early 70s, Jarmusch eschews eulogies from typical industry talking heads for an intensive interview with James ‘Iggy Pop’ Osterberg, sole survivor of the original line-up, which will be fascinating to fans and might attract a few new recruits.

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Graduation (Bacalaureat)
Dir. Cristian Mungiu, Romania/France/Belgium (UK Distributor: Artificial Eye)
Cristian Mungiu, winner of the Palme d’Or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, returns with Graduation, which shared the director’s prize at Cannes this year. Although the Romanian thematic formula of moral corruption and bureaucracy is now well established, Graduation’s tale of a father going to ever greater lengths to ensure his daughter’s scholarship makes a compelling, morally complex drama with sensitive performances all round.

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Hymyilevä mies)
Dir. Juho Kuosmanen, Finland/Germany/Sweden (UK Distributor: tbc)
Both a sporting and romantic drama that overcomes the tired conventions of both genres, Olli Maki is a modest but marvellously warm and engaging film — winner of the main prize in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes. Nicely shot in black and white 16mm and set in Finland in the early 60s, the film has a quietly persuasive period authenticity and a touching, unsentimental investment in its characters. Olli Maki is a successful boxer from a small village who gets a shot at the world championship with a visiting American star boxer in the lights of Helsinki. But he is distracted from his intense training programme when he falls in love with Raija. Director Juho Kuosmanen’s first film, The Painting Sellers screened in LIFF in 2010.

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I, Daniel Blake
Dir. Ken Loach, UK (UK Distributor: E One)
It was quite a surprise that Ken Loach won his second Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake. Undoubtedly a humane and powerful film and one of his best in recent years, it wasn’t the most original or cinematic film in the competition. Still, it’s nice to see him achieve such recognition in his 80th year and the film’s subject is urgent and timely. Daniel Blake is a Geordie carpenter, forced into the benefits system for the first time in late middle age due to ill health. He befriends a young single mum in a similar situation and they form an alliance in trying circumstances.

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Julieta
Dir. Pedro Almodovar, Spain (UK Distributor: Fox — August release)
Pedro Almodovar returns to his trademark femme-centric melodrama in the stylish and seductive Julieta featuring twin performances by Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte as the eponymous heroine in different stages of her life as she tries to hold her family together after a fatal accident. Although the storylines are larger than life, the character drama is sensitive enough to create a real emotional resonance.

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Mimosas
Dir. Oliver Laxe, Spain/Morocco/France/Qatar (UK Distributor: tbc)
The main winner of the Critics’ Week section in Cannes, Mimosas is a supremely original and enigmatic drama, directed by Belgian filmmaker Oliver Laxe but made in Morocco. The story follows three misfits as they undertake a physical and spiritual journey to accompany a dying Sheikh to his home village across the Atlas Mountains. Despite the contemporary setting, the film resembles a cult western with superbly atmospheric cinematography and soundtrack, sometimes drifting into hallucinatory, dreamlike sequences.

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Neruda
Dir. Pablo Larrain, Chile/Spain/France/Argentina (UK Distributor: Network Releasing)
Pablo Larrain’s follow up to No and The Club, both of which screened in previous editions of LIFF, Neruda follows the famous Chilean Poet and Communist Party Senator Pablo Neruda in the late 40s as he is forced to go on the run. Marred by structural flaws, the film is still vivid and captivating at times and deserves credit for trying to do something different from the standard biopic.

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Paterson
Dir. Jim Jarmusch, USA (UK Distributor: tbc)
A good year for Jim Jarmusch fans as Cannes premiered both his new documentary on The Stooges, Gimme Danger and Paterson, his best new feature for some time. Paterson stars Adam Driver, a galaxy away from his recent turn in the new Star Wars film, delivering a beautifully understated performance as a bus driver who writes poetry. Jarmusch creates a zen-like rhythm following the ordinary rituals of Paterson’s daily routines and his gentle encounters with friends and acquaintances, mirroring the creative approach of the Imagist poets like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens.

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The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)
Dir. Michael Dudok de Wit, France/Japan (UK Distributor: Studiocanal)
A charming and dialogue free animation with universal appeal from Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is also notable as the first co-production outside Japan by the legendary Studio Ghibli. The film begins atmospherically as a man is shipwrecked on a deserted island, gradually becoming a more dreamlike allegory as he encounters a strange turtle which changes his life.

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Risk
Dir. Laura Poitras, USA (UK Distributor: tbc)
In Risk, Laura Poitras does for Julian Assange and Wikileaks what she did for Edward Snowden in her previous film Citizenfour. Not quite as effective as its predecessor because the subject is more complex and drawn out, but it offers the same intimacy and immediacy which often makes riveting viewing. The film starts in Norfolk during Cablegate in 2010 and profiles several members of the Wikileaks team up to Assange’s confinement in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition two years later.

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The Salesman (Forushande)
Dir. Asghar Farhadi, Iran/France (UK Distributor: Artificial Eye)
Surprise winner of both screenplay and actor prizes at Cannes, The Salesman is the latest from Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation. Another labyrinthine moral drama escalating from an awkward social incident, the film builds to a powerful climax, this time involving a married couple who are both acting in a local production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

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Sieranevada
Dir. Cristi Puiu, Romania/France (UK Distributor: tbc)
Cristi Puiu, director of The Death of Mr Lazarescu, finds new cinematic ground right under our noses in an intense and claustrophobic, dysfunctional family drama filmed almost entirely in a cramped apartment building. Lary is a doctor who spends a Saturday with relatives on the anniversary his father’s death. The family members banter and bicker as the camera swings from dining room to kitchen to bedroom, encompassing a series of mini crises and reconciliations and an intimacy and verisimilitude unusual in any film.

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Toni Erdmann
Dir. Marian Ade, Germany (UK Distributor: Soda Pictures)
The buzz film of the festival with record breaking rave reviews and queues down the street to get into the screenings, most people were shocked when it didn’t win anything. It’s a comedy drama which is constantly surprising and rewarding, an intricate and convincing depiction of an awkward father-daughter relationship, full of wit and wisdom and a couple of scenes that will make you laugh until you cry. Ageing Winfried is a bit of a practical joker and he doesn’t get to see much of his serious, career-obsessed daughter Ines, so he comes up with an unusual plan to get more involved in her life. Non-evasive plot summaries would be a spoiler — you have to go and see the film.

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