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‘Love’ sweeps Directors’ Fortnight ‘Leviathan’ leads Russian invasion

LOS ANGELES, May 24, (Agencies): First-time director Thomas Cailley’s “Love at First Fight” (“Les Combattants”) was named the best film at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section, organizers announced on Friday. The comedy won the section’s Art Cinema Award, its SACD Prize for French-language films and its Europa Cinemas Label honor for European entries, making it the first film to sweep all three categories.
It also won the separate FIPRESCI award, given by the international critics’ association, for the best film in any independent section at the festival. Directors’ Fortnight is an independent section that runs concurrently with the Cannes Film Festival. This year’s lineup consisted of 17 films, including John Boorman’s “Queen and Country,” Frederick Wiseman’s “National Gallery,” Diego Lerman’s “Refugiado” and two Sundance favorites, Jim Mickle’s “Cold in July” and Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash.”

Meanwhile, amid unrest in eastern Ukraine and a return to Cold War-like politics, a powerful satire that depicts local corruption in Vladimir Putin’s Russia has stormed the Cannes Film Festival. Andrei Zviaguintsev’s “Leviathan” premiered Friday in Cannes after earning some of the best reviews of the festival for its tale of a Job-like family man stripped of his seaside home by the crooked mayor of a small North Russia town. He’s offered less than a fifth of its value, harassed by local authorities and given mere lip service by the courts. In the mayor’s office, a portrait of Putin looms overhead. But while some wished to label “Leviathan” an artistically crafted indictment of contemporary Russia, director Zviaguintsev disputed such a reading.

He said he was initially inspired by a story about a Colorado man who went on a rampage after being evicted. “This story could have taken place anywhere in the world,” said Zviaguintsev. “But for me there is nothing closer to my heart than Russia.” Producer Alexandre Rodnianski pointed out that approximately 35 percent of the film was financed by the state through the Ministry of Culture and the Russian Cinema Fund. But Zviaguintsev acknowledged that the Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, didn’t like the film after recently seeing it. Rodnianski said he hopes to release the film in Russia in September.

“We’ll see how it will be received in Russia,” said the producer. “Definitely we expect this movie to be challenging.” Only one Russian film has ever won Cannes’ top honor, the Palme d’Or, for which “Leviathan” is considered a contender. The festival’s awards will be handed out Saturday night. The lone Russian director to win the Palme d’Or was Mikhail Kalatozov for 1958’s “The Cranes Are Flying.” During the decades of the USSR, Russian relations with the Cannes Film Festival were often strained, as Soviet delegates sought to ensure that only films showing the country in a positive light played at the festival.
In his memoir “Citizen Cannes,” Cannes president Gilles Jacob wrote of Russian masterpieces like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andre Rublev”: “The authorities never wanted to give them to us.” Tarkovsky’s films often premiered in Cannes, despite Soviet objections.
The 50-year-old Zviaguintsev (who has often been compared to Tarkovsky) is one of Russia’s most acclaimed filmmakers. “Leviathan” is his fourth film; his first, “The Return,” won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2003.

“Leviathan” is the sole Russian film in competition for the Palme d’Or in Cannes, but there are other movies at the festival that relate heavily to Russia.
Gabe Polsky’s hockey documentary “Red Army” depicts the grueling Soviet program to build elite hockey players, many of whom later left for the National Hockey League in the US Sergei Loznitsa’s “Maiden” documents the uprising in Ukraine and the protests that toppled Viktor Yanukovych. (Presidential elections are to be held Sunday in Ukraine.) Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Search” depicts the Second Chechen War, portraying the Russian army as a grim killing machine.
When asked about what statement he was making about Russia, Hazanavicius hesitated to answer and then said he was interested in telling a humanistic story about individuals in wartime.

Zviaguintsev, too, didn’t want to characterize his film as political. “In all counties of the world all around the Earth, the problem of liberty is important. It’s the duty of everyone to combat the state,” he said. “Either you don’t talk about the problem or you address it in an honest and frank manner.” The threat of censorship wasn’t unfathomable to Zviaguintsev, who argued against legislation scheduled to soon go into effect in Russia that would restrict films from including profane language. Still, he said he’s resolved to keep making films in his native country. “For the time being, everything is absolutely fine,” he said of the Russian reaction to “Leviathan.” ‘’The film has been made. The film is there.” In another development when Salma Hayek walked the Cannes Film Festival red carpet holding up the sign “Bring Back Our Girls,” the cast of “The Expendables” followed suit the next night — even if some of them didn’t know what the slogan was about.

“I remember Victor (Ortiz) was like, ‘What were those signs?’ and I had to fill him in,’” actor Kellan Lutz of his co-star.
Ortiz, Hayek and others helped spread the message, a plea for the return of nearly 300 girls kidnapped in Nigeria by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, by using one of the most famous media events in the world. The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign has become a hashtag on Twitter and championed by luminaries including US First Lady Michelle Obama.
Still, it wasn’t the only social message at Cannes this year. The actors and director of the Turkish film “Winter Sleep” held up signs reading “Soma,” referring to the recent Turkish mining tragedy that killed 301 miners.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Angelina Jolie, known for her activism, worried that stars promoting the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign could backfire.
“We need to not turn the Boko Haram into superstars that get more attention for doing something so horrible,” she said. “We need to go after them, arrest and they need to face justice.
“Because at the end of the day, the bigger picture is this kind of horror happens around the world. Women are facing this kind of abuse, so are men and boys. And the answer cannot be simply one situation and that will solve it.”
“I would beg the media, for all of us, to not treat things one at a time,” she added.
Other stars were supportive of using the Cannes stage to promote something more serious than films.
“It’s a great place. Wherever you can let people know that’s wrong, you can’t do that,” said actor Chris Tucker.

Actor Viggo Mortensen, who held up a flag of his soccer team at his Cannes photo call for the movie “Jauja,” had no problem with other celebrities doing the same for something weightier. “I have no problem speaking out when it seems appropriate or called for — I’ve done it before,” he said. Hayek held up the sign as she walked the red carpet for her animated film “The Prophet.” She said it was not out of character. “I was always involved in women’s rights before I was a celebrity,” she said. “But of course (the premiere) was a good opportunity to use it to continue to put pressure on the governments so that they bring back our girls.” Lutz said the “Expendables” cast were handed the signs before they walked the carpet but he was already supportive of the campaign. “To do it on one of the most watched locations and spots where people in the films are just walking up, and it’s just such an iconic location ... it impacts so much,” he said.


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