Normally at this time of year, my colleagues and I would be at Cannes Film Festival with thousands of other delegates, talking about upcoming new films to shoot in London and the UK, talking to cinema programmers, curators, exhibitors, distributors and sales companies — but this year is of course like no other.
This will be the first time in 33 years that I haven’t been part of that global celebration of cinema, so to reflect on the importance of Cannes — with the fervent hope that it returns in 2021 bigger and better — I wanted to look back on those 33 years and share five movies that had a really important effect on me both personally and professionally, and to tell some stories about the films and the filmmakers.
I really hope these short introductions will spur you on to find out more about these filmmakers, and watch these movies. They’re worth it.
Here’s to Cannes!
Adrian Wootton OBE
Chief Executive of Film London and the British Film Commission
1. Wings of Desire (1987) — dir. Wim Wenders
I had the pleasure of seeing this at my second Cannes, in 1987, when it went on to win Wenders the Best Director Award. It is, for me, one of his greatest movies. It is both an incredibly haunting hymn to Berlin, and an incredible love story — it’s such an enchanting movie, and one which was burnt into my cinema memory bank forever. That first viewing has always been one of my most profound cinematic moments.
I staged a retrospective of his work in 1994 at BFI Southbank, and had the great pleasure of interviewing Wim on stage.
I urge you to discover, or rediscover, Wings of Desire — and simply revel in a great filmmaker making great cinema.
Watch:BFI Player (included with subscription)
2. Pulp Fiction (1994) — dir. Quentin Tarantino
The Palme d’Or winner from 1994. I’d become personal friends with Quentin after seeing his previous film, Reservoir Dogs, at a Cannes midnight screening in 1992, and spending time together — so I was aware he was making Pulp Fiction, and was incredibly excited to see it. It didn’t disappoint. It’s an extraordinary, epic, time-shifting gangster film, full of rock ’n’ roll references, incredible performances and incredible dialogue.
I was running a crime and thriller festival called Shots in the Dark at the time, and was desperate to show the film. We came up with the idea of a surprise film — and the upshot was we had pretty much the first paying audience for Pulp Fiction anywhere in the world.
Mark Cosgrove, cinema curator at Bristol Watershed, reflects on some of those early experiences, and my championing of Reservoir Dogs, HERE.
If you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction, it is still an absolute joy — and if you’re watching it again, I’m sure you don’t need any more encouragement from me!
Watch:BFI Player (£3.50 HD rental)
3. The Son’s Room (2001) — dir. Nanni Moretti
Moretti was — and is — one of the great Italian filmmakers, and The Son’s Room had a profound impact on his career, going on to win the Palme d’Or in 2001. Moretti had been known for films like Dear Diary — comic, satirical, politically astute movies — but this was a step in a completely different direction. The Son’s Room is an incredibly moving, highly impressive melodrama about a family devastated by grief, finding a way to live again.
When I saw the film in 2001, I was programmer at the BFI London Film Festival, and was desperate to bring it to the UK. I met Moretti, and he accepted, beginning a long relationship in which I showcased his films and interviewed him on stage. In fact, the interview I did with him in 2001 is still available to view on the Guardian website (HERE).
The Son’s Room is unfortunately rather hard to find in the UK at the moment, but certainly track it down on DVD if you can. In the meantime, I suggest starting with his latest, Mia Madre, which screened at Cannes in 2015, and working your way backwards.
Watch Mia Madre:Amazon Prime(£3.49 rental)
4. Mr. Turner (2014) — dir. Mike Leigh
One of my very favourite of Mike Leigh’s films. Timothy Spall gives the most extraordinary performance playing Turner, and the way in which Mike uses the incredible real life locations, some of which Film London helped him with, including The National Trust’s Petworth House, gives the film real authenticity in its evocation of the period.
I feel a real affinity with Mike. I’ve showcased many of his films over the years at London Film Festival, hosted dozens of Q&As, and Film London was even involved in a collaboration with New York Film Festival on his 2008 film Happy Go Lucky — I interviewed him on stage in about working in London, and our real life filming locations.
We have a long-term and close connection, which was why it was so wonderful to see him produce one of his greatest works with Mr. Turner — which I think should have won more awards, both at Cannes and elsewhere.
Watch:BFI Player(£3.50 rental)
5. The Traitor (2019) — dir. Marco Bellocchio
Marco Bellocchio is the great Italian maestro of cinema, a director whose work is not as well-known as it should be. His latest film, The Traitor, was premiered at Cannes in 2019 as part of the official competition.
The first of his films I recall seeing at Cannes was The Prince of Homburg in 1997. I brought it and many of his subsequent films to London Film Festival over the years, developing a relationship with Bellocchio that led to my staging of the first ever retrospective of his work in the UK at BFI Southbank in 2018.
The Traitor is an incredible gangster odyssey, a masterpiece telling the story of the first Camorra chieftain to give the state evidence and allow so many people to be prosecuted. It is one of his greatest films, made in his eightieth year, and has just won six David di Donatello Awards (Italy’s national film awards) including Best Film.
I’m delighted to say it will be released later this year by Modern Films — in the meantime try and grab a copy of another of his wonderful films: The Wedding Director, My Mother’s Smile, Good Morning Night — and prepare yourself for the wonder that is The Traitor.