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CANNES 2019 Critics’ Week

Charles Tesson • Artistic Director, Cannes' Critics' Week

"If we’re already familiar with the filmmakers on online platforms, it’s because movie theatres and festivals have put in all the groundwork"

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- Charles Tesson, Artistic Director of Cannes’ Critics’ Week, talks to us about this year’s selection of films

Charles Tesson • Artistic Director, Cannes' Critics' Week
(© Aurélie Lamachère)

Charles Tesson, Artistic Director of Critics’ Week (the 58th edition of which will run from 15 to 23 May as part of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival), explains the reasoning behind (read our article).

Cineuropa: How did the selection process go? Did you get the films that you wanted?
Charles Tesson:
As in every year and in every selection, there are films that you want and that you get, those that you want but which you don’t get, and films which others want but which we get. The important thing is that there are quality offerings for everyone, and we will be presenting eight first films out of the 11 feature films we have selected. I always try to ensure we have a majority of first, full-length films. For second feature films, I prioritise works which are really quite different from the first feature films put forward by their directors, because we have to feel that a step forward has been taken in terms of ambition, the subject, the mise en scène… I also aim, wherever possible, for these second feature films to be discovered for the very first time in Cannes, in the event where these directors’ first feature films were unveiled at other festivals. This is the case for Vivarium [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lorcan Finnegan
film profile
]
, by Lorcan Finnegan, whose first feature film was presented in Toronto and for A White, White Day [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile
]
by Hlynur Pálmason, the devastating new film from a director who was first discovered in Locarno.

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For some years, international auteur cinema has been exploring different genres. Is this the case for your 2019 selection?
In Critics’ Week, there are too few spaces to work on a case by case basis; it’s more a case of films which stand out for their qualities. What’s different this year is that we have an animated film, I Lost My Body [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jérémy Clapin
film profile
]
by Jérémy Clapin, which isn’t only in competition, it’s also French, whereas French films in competition are usually live-action fiction films. It’s a strong choice, and a clear signal that we’re sending, because it’s a stunning film. We also have a film that could be described as fantastical or bizarre - in the form of Vivarium - that we’ve chosen for the competition, as we did with It Follows, because these are strong films and we want the jury to judge them as such. But the guiding line of the competition is that we should see a different type of film every day. We’re not promoting any one cinematic landscape: minimalist films, slow cinema, hand-held camera films, etc. We’re not interested in closed-off films which declare their allegiance to one type of cinema before they’re even successful. I prefer films which chart their own course; strong propositions. 

Cinema from the Maghreb has really made an entrance in this year’s competition. Is it a New Wave or just a passing fashion?
Outside of the films selected, there’s a whole new generation of young, North African filmmakers who are really making their presence felt. Not only do they have their own, fresh perspective on their countries, they also have their own particular way of making films, which breaks with the tradition of a certain realism, either folkloric or classical, in the reconstruction of stories. They’re unique propositions. And it’s not just one type of cinematography, one aesthetic school of thought, or one movement, because we’re talking about different countries with very different film histories. You can’t compare The Unknown Saint [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
by the Moroccan Alaa Eddine Aljem - which is a fable with a lot of humour and a very distinctive tone - to Abou Leila [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
by the Algerian Amin Sidi Boumedine, which is an ambitious, political western and an exploration of madness in times of war.

What can you say about the rest of Europe? Only France, Ireland and Iceland are represented in your selection…
2018 was a very strong year for Europe in Critics’ Week. But it changes. This year, there were a few Italian films, for example, but none of them blew us away. We also try not to automatically look towards countries which tend to be well represented, and make an effort to support lesser seen, emerging territories, as is the case with Costa Rica this year. We saw some good Iranian, Israeli and Italian films, but they don’t change the way we look at these forms of filmmaking.

Why did you choose to open Critics’ Week with Franco Lolli’s Litigante [+see also:
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trailer
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]
?
We see a lot of first-time directors whose debut films are singled out and whose second films are then allocated greater resources, resulting in films which feel overproduced, as if they’re trying too hard to be selected for competitions, and which strut their stuff a little too much, aesthetically speaking. Film is like football: we identify promising youngsters and the big clubs buy them up at high cost; some of them are up to the challenge, but others are very quickly forgotten, either because they weren’t worth the initial investment or because people tried to move too fast with them. We really enjoyed Gente de bien [+see also:
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trailer
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]
by Franco Lolli, and I think Litigante is an extremely powerful film; it’s beautiful, moving. It’s a form of cinema in the same vein as Pialat in terms of the accuracy of the characters and the dialogue; it plumbs the depths of human nature; it’s a film which strikes to the core and which doesn’t go in for any showy kind of formalism; on the contrary, its mise en scène fits in around the characters. It almost goes against the usual way of doing things.

What can you tell us about the two first feature films by French female directors, which are set be unveiled in special screenings?
Heroes Don’t Die [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Aude Léa Rapin
film profile
]
by Aude Léa Rapin is a film which was very complicated to finance and which takes the viewer to another land, as most of the action takes place in Bosnia. It’s a film which breaks away from the well-trodden paths usually taken by Franco-French films, in terms of territoriality and mentality, as well as substance. It’s a surprising, disconcerting work and a unique perspective on war, because the character believes he’s the reincarnation of someone who died during the struggles which took place in Former Yugoslavia. In fact, what’s really striking is that Aude Léa Rapin and the director of Abou Leila have both chosen to look back over 1990s wars which destroyed the Balkans and Algeria respectively. 

As for You Deserve A Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hafsia Herzi
film profile
]
by Hafsia Herzi, it’s a film that wasn’t on anyone’s radar and which she presented to me at the beginning of March, telling me that she’d filmed it in three weeks with some friends and with no real budget to speak of. It’s a very personal film, both touching and endearing; it’s a love story which explores the difficulties involved in breaking up with a narcissistic pervert. It has something of a post-New Wave feel to it; it has its own tone, which is very simple, but which feels right. 

You didn’t select any films financed by online platforms. Why is that?
There were some put forward to us, but we didn’t take them into consideration. There are no written rules, but for me it’s a matter of principle. I saw Native Son at Sundance, for example, and I thought it was magnificent, but it was an HBO work so it couldn’t be included. This is because there are plenty of films from all over the world which actually need festivals, which spend time in cinemas and which draw real benefit from the scouting work carried out by distributers and operators, who take the films on, bring filmmakers to their events and create a real buzz around their work. If we’re already familiar with the filmmakers on online platforms, it’s because movie theatres and festivals have put in all the groundwork. This “prospecting” is essential in my mind, even for films which don’t do well, because the critics talk about them and because festivals and cinemas give them hallowed status as films that have been selected by directors. It is all this work which allows filmmaker to continue and to evolve. Obviously, if the films we show are then bought by an online platform, that’s outside of our control.

(Translated from French)

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