ESFS Festival #9 Intro – “Palme d’Or Winners of the Early 1980s”

imagesBy Daniel Barnes

I have a Cannes ritual.

I always wake up early the morning after I arrive, so that I can load up on the continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn. My pockets stuffed with pancakes, I step outside into the morning wind, cutting behind the Chateau Pierre and the Bistro d’Bonjour, and making my way towards the Croisette. The opening night screening doesn’t start for hours, so I dawdle along the boulevard, admiring the gorgeous white-sand beaches and the world-class laser tag pits.  Famished and tired, I hail a horse-drawn chariot to ferry me down the Rue de Baguette, past the Monument de Tom Bosley, to my beloved Chez Beret. In a shaky French accent, I place my usual order – a café au lait, mushroom pudding, Sour Patch Kids, and a bucket of loose change. I notice that the midday sun has dipped below the canopy of sugar pines, so I catch a gondola back to the hotel, conversing with the skipper about escargot and Marie Antoinette and…uh, the Eiffel Tower and…uh…

review_NARAYAMAOK, you’ve got me. Unlike the great Roger Ebert, who vividly described his many Cannes experiences in the book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, I’ve never been to Cannes, I’ve never covered the festival, and I wouldn’t know a Croisette from a Croissan’wich. The only Cannes ritual I’ll be practicing this year will be chowing down on my liver while reading posts and Tweets from critics and cinephiles who are covering the festival for real.

Until I can sucker some deep-pocketed media outlet into subsidizing my trip, curating this ESFS Festival gives me a chance to create my own Cannes experience, which is why scheduled it to run May 13-24, concurrently with the 68th annual gathering in the south of France. It also allows me to explore three world cinema auteurs that I’m relatively unfamiliar with, all of them from different countries. Now that this blog is returning to the monthly festival format, I’m going to use these festivals to fill in some of my auteur blind spots, and almost all of which are non-American directors.  As luck would have it, two of the directors in this festival – Shohei Imamura and Emir Kusturica – are part of a select group of filmmakers that have won the Palme d’Or twice, so hopefully their films will help us to understand the kinds of movies that are valued by Cannes juries.

imagesSo why the early 1980s? No real reason, mostly just a way to put an artificial boundary around the festival. And yet I do hold a certain fascination with the time period. I was born in 1976, but my awareness of a pop culture beyond Indiana Jones and Star Wars didn’t kick in until after Thriller, so the late 1970s/early 1980s was undiscovered country for me for a long time. Discovering early 1980s masterpieces like Blow Out and American Gigolo was instrumental in my post-adolescent development as a cinephile. It still seems like a mysterious time in my imagination, and my knowledge of the era’s world cinema is even more shadowy, a massive blind spot that we begin to chip away at this week.

index We republished Mike Dub’s September 2014 review of Kurosawa’s 1980 Palme d’Or co-winner Kagemusha on Monday as a sort of appetizer.  Dub officially kicks off the festival on Friday with a review of Japanese director Shohei Imamura’s harsh historical drama The Ballad of Narayama. Daniel Barnes reviews German director Wim Wenders’ American-set Paris, Texas on Monday, May 18, and closes the festival on Friday, May 22, with a review of Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s When Father Was Away on Business.

On Tuesday, May 26, Dan and Dub will recap the festival and hand out their own awards, ranking the three films in order of glorious Palme d’Or, so-so Grand Prix, and shameful Un Certain Regard.

Join us for two weeks out of the midday sun, right here on E Street Film Society.

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Film #1: The Ballad of Narayama (1983; Dir.: Shohei Imamura) [review by Mike Dub on Friday, May 15]

Film #2: Paris, Texas (1984; Dir.: Wim Wenders) [review by Daniel Barnes on Monday, May 18]

Film #3: When Father Was Away on Business (1985; Dir.: Emir Kusturica) [review by Daniel Barnes on Friday, May 22]

Dan and Dub’s Festival Wrap-Up: Tuesday, May 26