It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, this edition of the Festival de Cannes turned out to be a missed opportunity, for media and juries alike to truly take charge of the #TimesUp movement and make of it a lasting course instead of a passing trend. Yes, there were stairs filled with women in pretty dresses, there were hotlines that we could call if we felt threatened or harassed, but ultimately the big prizes went to the big boys. As they have for every edition of the festival, except once, in 1993 when Jane Campion made history as the first and only woman to win the Palme d’Or.
Yet personally, I loved Cannes more than ever this year. I had a soft place to fall, in the form of a wonderful group of friends I spent my free time with, eating dinners we cooked together and drinking our morning coffee back at our cozy apartment with one breathtaking view. I mean, just look at the Disney fireworks for 'SOLO: A Star Wars Story' display viewed from our terrace!
I also finally made it even through my first festival, without losing money. I wrote pieces for The National, about projects and people near and dear to my heart like this interview with filmmaker Nadine Labaki and a lifestyle feature on the DPA Gift Lounge run by the cool Nathalie Dubois Sissoko. Then, I even managed my first piece for FirstPost, on Nandita Das’ beautiful, moving and oh-so-current biopic of ‘Manto’ — the Urdu writer, and figure of contradictions in his native India.
Personally and professionally, I’ve never felt more fulfilled.
But in the final hours of the festival, I felt a pang of worry. I knew that messages were being sugar-coated to fit the narrative and initiatives were announced to please the general public. Yet where was the lasting power of it all? I doubt arrests and further incriminations will lead to equality. Just a larger gap from which women can look -- from even further away -- at where the men are having all the fun, and gaining all the big prizes.
Here are a few highlights and low notes from the Cannes Film Festival.
Nadine Labaki’s ‘Capharnaum’ and the power of one — one good parent.
If you want to read a great interview with Labaki, well, I’ve got three. I’ve been fortunate to fall in love with her films back in the days of ‘Caramel’ and so have followed her ascent to queen of the Arab cinema scene. She is undeniably the one filmmaker from the Arab world who each time reinvents the way she makes movies, foregoing sentimentality for a gutsy message women and men alike can relate to. OK, so maybe not all women and most men…
But I personally related to ‘Capharnaum’ beyond the straight-from-the-headlines theme of refugees trying to survive in the harsh world, and beyond our comfort zone. I found in the story of the child Zain, who sues his parents for their ineffectiveness and inability to care for him, a true hero. A clever voice to say “stop!” to those who put child after child into this world without a place for them, lacking the ability to see them, emotionally and financially, beyond their birth. I remember a friend of my parents who used to say that to have a child one should have to apply for a license, like a driver’s license, and pass a rigorous test to make sure the ability and expertise to bring up a young person into adulthood was there. Otherwise, as with most of our tests in life, for things much less significant than the life of another human being, those wannabe parents would be rejected and could apply again, at a later date, after taking a few choice classes in making children happy.
Amir Naderi and one man's war against the Cannes selfies ban.
To those who may not have heard, Cannes this year imposed a selfies ban for everyone and anyone walking the red carpet. What that actually meant is that the lines of photographers dotting the sides of the red carpet actually ended up being personal photographers to celebrities and influencers who wanted an image to preserve for posterity. And as a result, caused a very glam pedestrian traffic jam up on the way to the infamous stairs.
But one man wasn't going to go with the flow.
I find Iranian auteur Amir Naderi a master and I loved interviewing him in Venice two years ago. Now my admiration of this Maestro has grown even grander after watching him enjoy Cannes like a true superstar. I discovered him one morning inside the Carlton lobby, shooting selfies with Cannes opening film helmer, fellow Iranian Asghar Farhadi. I approached them both and had an interesting chat with Naderi and a very intensely non-existent one with the typically reserved Farhadi -- I hear that's the norm.
Then on a separate afternoon, as I awaited to interview Nandita Das inside the Marriott, again there was Naderi and his camera-phone, this time shooting a sleeping man in an armchair of the lobby. Both moments warmed my heart and reminded me of why it's always too early to grow up.
Seeing the world through child's eyes is what separates the maestros from the norm.
Jafar Panahi's '3 Faces' and a warning about the girl who cried "wolf!"
From one great Iranian auteur to another. One of this year's most anticipated titles in Cannes belonged to banned-from-traveling-outside-Iran, celebrated filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who managed to once again break up his own view of cinema and come up something spellbindingly new for his fans.
If at first Panahi's work appears to talk about women's education in Iran and how a girl must be ready to do just about anything to go to the school she wishes to attend -- presented in shades of Panahi's own homage to Kiarostami's 'Ten' -- once I let the film simmer within me, I found a different message. Within this road trip movie with a twist, featuring Panahi literally in the driving seat, I found a cautionary tale about manipulating the truth to suit one's own narrative and once again, Panahi made an exceptional film within a film. Plus, and that's where the breaking the mold aspect of his filmmaking comes in, at the end of this one, unlike with 'Taxi' and previous ones, there are credits. Actual credits featuring the stars -- including the film's two exceptional actresses I got to meet with in Cannes, and one of them, Behnaz Jafari is simply divine -- and Mr. Panahi himself.
It could be that the film ends well -- it's not that I'm shying away from spoilers but it's all actually up to personal interpretation -- but for me, the road has already been made crooked and un-travelable by the girl's desperate act.
There, how much did I give away with that? Absolutely nothing and that's how I like it.
I miss the great film festivals of the Middle East.
I'll admit that coming to the Cannes Film Festival this year felt like going to a great party where the best host would not be present. Throughout my years on the Croisette, I've always called the UAE Pavilion home, a good place to see friends, catch up on work while sitting overlooking the water, because of their undeniably wondrous and strategic position. Two years ago, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival was cancelled shortly before Cannes, bringing most of us who knew and loved it to tears, and this year, on April 18th, the Dubai International Film Festival publicly announced its plans to schedule the event every two year -- while privately the organization behind the scenes was dissolved and word on the street was this marked "The End".
So where does Arab cinema go now? It's such a perfect time for its themes and messages, people crave to know more about a region they only hear about on the news, and now want to explore through their human cinema and personal stories. European filmmakers are turning to the Middle East for inspiration. In fact, Cannes never had so much Arab cinema on display and even CNN's Inside the Middle East decided to film their entire show there during the festival, highlighting the importance of the region's presence in the event. Yet here are the two grandest organization in the MENA region, and their supporting bodies, completely absent from the scene. It's both a disaster and a grave disappointment.
Personally, it's not just about missing the DIFF luncheon at the Carlton, or their cocktail parties meant to connect local industries with the media and filmmakers. I miss the culture that cinema in the UAE inspired, a culture that Saudi Arabia -- with their newly announced plans to create a cinematic infrastructure in the Kingdom -- will never be able to equal or replicate. Because, quite simply, the Emirates are grand example of the power achieved when we all work together to create what we dream, and that's not something that is easy to do.
Or even dream.
And I'll say it one more time, Italian cinema made me proud in Cannes!
I cannot end this last of my Diaries for 2018 without one more "whoop whoop!" for the Italian team. There were older master, like Marco Bellocchio who presented his short 'La Lotta' at the Directors' Fortnight. Also at the Fortnight's sidebar were works by Gianni Zanasi, who premiered in Cannes 'Troppo Grazia' (Lucia's Grace) starring the perfect Alba Rohrwacher and 'La strada dei Samouni' a documentary on Gaza by Stefano Savona.
In Un Certain Regard, Valeria Golino presented her directorial effort, 'Euforia', while in Competition Matteo Garrone brought his dark fairy tale 'Dogman' and Alba's sister Alice Rohrwacher unveiled her stunning 'Lazzaro Felice' (Happy as Lazzaro). If there ever was a sense of Italian cinema being reborn and celebrated anew, this year marked its epicenter. At the grandest festival in the world.
So while Mattarella and the other Italian politicians figure out what they want to do for the country, to make it better... I'll be at the movies!
I better make it a triple bill.