Charles Tesson • Delegate General, Critics’ Week
"We have to maintain a presence in order for these films to establish themselves and to get things back up and running as quickly as possible"
- Delegate general Charles Tesson traces the development of the Cannes 2020 Critics’ Week Label and discusses the feature films gracing his selection
Cineuropa: When and why did you decide to award labels to films in this 2020 Critics’ Week Outside the Walls event?
Charles Tesson: On 16 April, when we and the other parallel sections announced the cancellation of physical events in Cannes. We were finalising our selection and we immediately stated that this did not mean that we would stop everything and abandon the films. We had an ideal list on paper, and we called the films’ spokespeople, their producers and, where relevant, international sales agents and distributors, to find out whether they wanted our support outside the walls. It all became a bit clearer once we’d realised that those who were most interested in our Label were French films listed in the catalogues of distributors who knew they would need to release these works before other films arrived on the market for 2021. These discussions took time because, to begin with, many films were set to be postponed to 2021, and because no-one really knew when festivals would be able to start back up again under normal conditions. Should they accept the Label, try their luck at other festivals, such as Sundance or Berlin, or stake their bets on Cannes once again in 2021? Regardless, the Label slowly took shape, and it changed its form once again when we received an offer from the Angoulême Festival for a carte blanche section for French films.
How understanding were you of producers’ and sales agents’ hesitancy to accept the Label?
We gave them time, from the end of April to the end of May. They were undecided; initially, some of them wanted to postpone until 2021, then they said that there would be a backlog and that they’d rather take up the offer of a Label. The first unknown was the date that festivals would resume under normal conditions, which will no doubt take place around the time of Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin; we’re not entirely sure about the conditions which Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian will unspool within. Because what sales agents really want in a big festival is the presence of the international press, the presence of buyers and the presence of programmers from other festivals. The other great unknown, which is yet to be resolved, and which is why making a choice was a real gamble, is the resumption of film shoots. When and how will halted film shoots start back up again? Will shoots planned for the autumn really be able to take place? Will these new films be ready for Cannes next year or will they arrive later? In the latter case, delaying this year’s films to 2021 would help with continuity, given that the chain of production will have been interrupted for several months. All of these factors fed into their decision, and that’s why it took a lot of time.
A word or two on your chosen British film, After Love [+see also:
interview: Aleem Khan
film profile] by Aleem Khan?
It’s a film which, in some respects, hails from the English school of gritty realism. Though this is a more highly controlled, classic form of film which plays on an almost melodramatic tone. It’s the story of an English woman who has married a Pakistani man and subsequently converted to Islam (she wears the veil, she’s changed her first name) and who, upon his death, discovers he had another life with another woman; another woman whom she will see as some sort of mirror of her own life, of a life she could have had, but didn’t. It’s beautiful, very moving and very well told, with an excellent actress and a wonderful study of life choices and how a life can suddenly crumble and capsize.
From Pakistan we move west, to the Skies of Lebanon by Chloé Mazlo.
This is a brave, poetic and inventive film. The character played by Alba Rohrwacher lives in Switzerland, leaves to become a baby-sitter in Beirut and falls in love with a Lebanese man. Ultimately, she lives in exile and finds herself contending with the first Lebanese war (against Syria, from 1975 to 1977) in the company of her husband whose family can only think of one thing: going into exile. The story is told through the prism of this woman’s sensitivity, and her romanticism brings to mind the heroines penned by Duras or Akerman. Above all, it’s a film of formal and poetic inventiveness which uses claymation to blend an almost retro, exotic, picture-postcard background dimension with something of the puppet theatre world, because it’s all filmed in a house which is, to some degree, the theatre of Lebanon and of the nation.
Your selection includes another female director: Anna Cazenave Cambet with Gold for Dogs.
This isn’t a conformist or a self-righteous film. We follow in the footsteps of a naïve teenage girl who’s hungry for love and sex. It’s a disconcerting, unpredictable film; a coming of age tale, of sorts, about a young woman who, in her desire to be the object of others’ lust, discovers who she is and builds her identity. It’s a brilliant film with an incredible actress, Tallulah Cassavetti, in the lead role.
And the sci-fi film The Swarm [+see also:
film profile] by Just Philippot?
Sometimes, when we try to graft different elements together, it ends in catastrophe. But in this instance, it’s precisely this melding which makes the film so interesting. The director uses all the canons of the horror film genre, of animal invasion, its proliferation and the threats and dangers it poses. The film is honest: it promises locusts, and locusts is what we get. But what I also like is the context which we’re seeing in a lot of films today: that of the rural, agricultural world. It covers “fashionable” subjects such as organic farming, the food of the future, meat and bone meals, etc. But there’s also a whole other focus on workaholism and the race towards overproduction, which is almost a secondary terror in itself, and the mix of the two works very well.
We’re also in the countryside with Beasts [+see also:
film profile] by Naël Marandin.
Yes, but in a different way. Here too, there are two subjects at play, but it’s more along the lines of agricultural policy and sexual harassment, blackmail. It’s about a young farming couple working on a unique, modern project - and so the question of how we can approach farming differently today – which is in need of political and economic support. This particular aspect is associated with the idea of ascendancy. It’s a brilliantly well-written film and very well acted, with the wonderful Diane Rouxel playing the lead.
It’s a tantalising selection, but I imagine it’s upsetting not to be able to organise the usual version of Critics’ Week?
It’s true, it’s very hard to come to terms with the loss of this year’s Cannes-based event. It’s only now it’s not taking place that we truly understand the contribution it makes. On this occasion, it will all unspool at various points in time depending on the awarding of labels, the sales process, the dates when the international press can access the films and talk about them, and the relationship with the public. Usually, in Cannes, everything is concentrated into one, single event unfolding at the same time and in the same place with word of mouth playing a huge part. On this occasion, the chosen films won’t move forwards in the same way. But, in the current climate, where we need to get cinemas open again and remind the public of their love of film - especially for works which require support, such as first films and young auteur cinema - we have to maintain a presence in order for these films to establish themselves and to get things back up and running as quickly as possible: it’s essential.
(Translated from French)
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