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  • Cannes 2018 Report:From the Real to the Imaginary
  • Olivier Barlet (bio)
    Translated by Ambre Llorca

The 71st Cannes Film Festival (8–19 May 2018) gave African cinemas and its diasporas true visibility this year. To go beyond realism to tackle contemporary issues in an intimate way is a dominant feature that is still trying to find itself.

The festival's desire to make room for African and diaspora imagery and experiences and the selection the greatest festival in the world operates (when it is not only focused on "message-driven films") to encourage us each year to put the selected films into perspective to try identifying trends. They were all of good quality this year without any truly establishing itself as a masterpiece. What was probably missing for this to happen was the science of ellipsis and mysteries Asian cinema knows how to develop. This limit probably has something to do with the issue of reality, "the heart and body of films," as Gaston Kaboré described it.

Beyond Realism

There was no realist film in the sense that it would be a raw depiction of the everyday life but they all demonstrated a concern for the integration in social conditioning. Concerned about the violence and exclusions that disrupt their societies, the filmmakers have chosen to defend tolerance toward the marginalized: the lepers in Yomeddine (from Egyptian Abu Bakr Shawky, the only feature film in the official competition), the lesbians in Rafiki, from Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu (Un Certain Regard, immediately banned in Kenya), the single mothers in Sofia, from Moroccan Meryem Benm'Barek (Un Certain Regard), the migrants in French films like Amin, from Philippe Faucon (The Directors' Fortnight) and Libre, from Michel Toesca (Special Screening, Out [End Page 226] of Competition), a documentary about the difficulty to support migrants who try to go from Italy to France along the Mediterranean. However, to move their audience as well as the rest of the world, filmmakers go beyond realism to explore intimacy. This is why in Mon Cher enfant (Weldi, The Directors' Fortnight), Tunisian Mohamed Ben Attia cares about the devastation of a father whose son joins the Jihad in Syria. Or why the South African Etienne Kallos describe in Les Moissonneurs (Un Certain Regard) the confusion the adoption of a deviant child brings to a traditional Afrikaner family. Even Spike Lee in BlacKkKlansman, a biopic about a Black police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in 1978 (Grand Prix Award on the Official Competition list), deliberately places this ancient history as a continuation of the struggles of African Americans and the current fight against Trump's excesses.

With BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee rediscovers the irony and jubilation of his first stories to indeed make an anti-Trump manifesto. Trump actually appears at the end of the film while he hesitates to condemn the acts of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where a car drove into the antiracist crowd of activists. It's the conclusion of an opus that starts with a hyper-racist logorrhea before jumping into the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, Denzel's son), a young guy who, in the 1970s, manages to join the Colorado Springs Police thanks to the first steps of Affirmative action. He is asked to infiltrate a Black Student Union close to the Black Panthers and, confused, he replies to an announcement of the Ku Klux Klan that is looking to recruit, "just to see." After he claimed to "hate negros," he asks another policeman (the ever so great Adam Driver) to be his understudy. A Jewish man and a Black man: the Klan is infiltrated by everything it despises! Ron's activist girlfriend demystifies his delusions: this fraud won't go far. It however allows Spike Lee to highlight the danger American fascist groups represent. This intention is reinforced by the appearance of old Harry Belafonte who recounts the lynching of a Black man in Waco (Texas) in 1916 while the members of the Klan shout in front of Birth of a Nation, by D. W. Griffith, a cult film yet openly racist. This demonstrative choice/decision is added to the parody and energy of...


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