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CANNES 2021 Critics’ Week

Charles Tesson • Artistic Director, Critics’ Week

"Stories seem to unfold out of private, family predicaments"


- The artistic director of Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week comments on his selection for this year’s revival edition, following the various peaks of the stormy pandemic

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

The artistic director of Critics’ Week (whose 60th edition is running from 7 to 15 July as part of the 74th Cannes Film Festival) Charles Tesson explains his selection for 2021 (read our article).

Cineuropa: The selection process was practically spread across two years. Did it change anything about the process?
Charles Tesson
: It did complicate things for the selection committees. It was difficult last year, putting together a selection of films and then not being able to transpose them into a physical Cannes Film Festival, even if we were able to choose movies to screen elsewhere. It was a very lengthy process this year; usually we finish the selection by mid-April. But there were lots of films submitted, although films sets have been impacted by the health crisis in certain parts of the world, such as in Latin America, whose film numbers are lower than usual.

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The competition is mostly European.
We received just as many European films as usual and there were lots of high-quality works. Libertad by the Spanish director Clara Roquet, whom we knew a little bit from her screenwriting for Jaime Rosales, is a beautiful, subtle yet complex film about two girls’ friendship and their growing awareness that life’s choices are largely determined by social status. Small Body by the Italian filmmaker Laura Samani is a period drama, which isn’t an easy thing on paper, about a fascinating subject: the battle fought by a young mother whose stillborn child is refused a religious burial because he hadn’t been baptised. Zero Fucks Given by French directors Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre is a brilliant film starring Adèle Exarchopoulos in the role of an air hostess working for a low-cost airline. As for the majority Swiss production Olga by Elie Grappe, this involves a long-distance dialogue between a mother, who’s a journalist in the Ukraine, covering the events unfolding at Maidan Square, and her 15-year-old daughter, who is exiled in Switzerland and in training with the national gymnastics team.

Two films in competition are set in Africa, just like in 2019. Is this a sign of the growing power of arthouse cinema hailing from that continent?
In 2019, we played host to Morocco with The Unknown Saint [+see also:
film review
film profile
and to Algeria with Abou Leila [+see also:
film review
film profile
. I was aware of Omar El Zohairy’s Feathers project via the CNC’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde fund, but when I saw the film I was blown away, because it’s totally different from anything else that’s come out of North African cinema and Egyptian cinema, in terms of its tone, its register, its aesthetic, its story: it’s a surprising, realist tale. And The Gravedigger’s Wife by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed is a stunning and poetic film which is set in Djibouti, a place we don’t often see in films. More broadly speaking, it will take a little while before we see a real blossoming of African arthouse cinema, but it will happen, because there’s a huge number of young filmmakers taking their first steps. Moreover, we’re seeing the same trend in Southeast Asia, which will be a region to watch in the near future, in terms of projects hailing from Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, etc. We didn’t select any Asian films this year, although we did receive a very high number of Chinese films, for example, but as we had so much choice from all over the world, and given that we’d already selected the extraordinary Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains in 2019, we decided to look towards other continents.

Likewise, just like in 2019, the selection doesn’t include any films of US origin.
There are some good films out there, but it’s a form of cinema that has already been seen, that has already been singled out for its qualities and which doesn’t surprise us in terms of we can expect from American films. There’s a feeling of déjà-vu, that things are at a standstill. That’s not the case with Latin American, despite a more limited offer, as I mentioned earlier, so we chose Amparo by Colombia’s Simón Mesa Soto, which paints an exceptional portrait of a woman in the form of a mother who is fighting to get back her son who was abducted in the street by the army as part of a forced recruitment operation. In fact, there are a lot of films revolving around an against-the-clock situation: either saving someone or resolving a situation. And we’ve also seen a strong tendency among films to get up close to their characters. Stories seem to unfold out of private, family predicaments, exploring situations which reflect our relationship with the world.

Has the plethoric nature of the films on offer, as referred to by Thierry Frémaux, allayed feelings of competition between the different sections of the Croisette and their debut feature films?
We spoke with Thierry Frémaux about this on various occasions, especially with regard to the French titles because we knew that there were a huge number of them, and we didn’t want to leave out any high-quality films. We wanted to find the best-suited showcase for each of them.

The number of feature films screening out of competition is on the rise, and this year’s six are all French productions. Why did you make this choice? Is it an expression of support for the French film industry, which has continued to produce movies despite health-crisis complications?
It’s true that we do usually only have four films. We didn’t set out to offer the sector a helping hand per se, it was more about helping the films, because we knew we had to do something: we couldn’t leave these films out, because they were too good. There are also four films by women directors among them: Robust by Clémence Meyer, A Radiant Girl by Sandrine Kiberlain, A Story of Love and Desire by Leyla Bouzid and Anaïs in Love by Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. If you add Bruno Reidal, Confessions of a Murderer by Vincent Le Port and Softie by Samuel Theis, you’ve got six French works which are all highly diverse, some of which will undoubtedly find their audiences in cinemas following their time in Cannes, while others fit, in some sense, with our editorial line as a film festival.

Seven women directors and seven male directors are set for the showcase across the 13 feature films on the agenda. Was this perfect parity intentional or a coincidence?
It was a coincidence. We didn’t force anything. It happened thanks to one film which we wanted and which we got. This parity is very good, but what we mostly try to do is put together a selection composed of different films. But we also received higher quality films from women directors this year, compared to previous editions.

This is your last edition as Artistic Director of Critics’ Week, a role you’ve held since 2012. Do you feel you’ve achieved what you set out to accomplish?
It’s a learning curve. When you’ve written about film and then you become the artistic director of a festival, a programmer, it’s an entirely different role, but you draw on your experience as a critic. But when it comes to scouting for new talent, trying to find out where things are on the move, unearthing young filmmakers, I love all that. We work for the films of the future. You have to pick potential winners and there’s a real element of risk because you’re the first to do it. Critics’ Week only selects seven films for the competition, which isn’t very many at all, so it involves real choices and a real degree of gambling. It’s important for Cannes to protect the identity of each of its selections, as well as the diversity of their editorial lines and their independence. That’s what will make Cannes stronger.

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(Translated from French)

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