Cannes 2011: Pater/Hanezu – review

The Strauss-Kahn factor propels a political drama, while a new Japanese offering is in harmony with nature

For me, in the oddest way, Cannes 2011 has made history. In the 13 years I have been coming here, the festival has always been a closed world. No one is interested in anything but the movies. I have never seen any delegate reading the newspapers, just the trade press published here in special festival editions.

This year, that changed. There is one fascinating, appalling non-cinema subject that people have been talking about endlessly. This came home to me when I saw a knot of people gathered saucer-eyed around one of the TVs positioned around the Festival Palais. Generally, these show Cannes press conferences or the rolling chatshow on the festival's dedicated channel. Not this time. The TVs were showing live coverage of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the 62-year-old IMF chief and French socialist presidential candidate who has been charged in New York with the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

The line taken generally is that Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty, but also an uneasy sense that this sort of legal sensation could never have happened in France, where attitudes to sexual politics and powerful men are quite different.

The case gave an interesting flavour to Alain Cavalier's Pater, which satirises the patriarchal system of political power, and power generally, in France. The film, which is showing in competition, is a stripped-down, low-budget two-hander, shot on high-definition video – the sort of piece that might work as well, or better, as a stage play. Cavalier plays a version of himself, starting work on a movie in which he will play the president of the republic. Rugged French star Vincent Lindon also plays a version of himself, getting ready to play a politician who will be prime minister.

The two men have a close, almost father-son bond: their bantering conversations sketch out both their fictional and actual relationships. The older character is keenly, almost resentfully aware that this man may supplant him, and run for president himself. This conflict runs in parallel with Cavalier's feeling that the younger generation, represented by Lindon, is going to ease him out of the spotlight.

It is a very verbose film – yet with interesting things to say. These men, with their distinguished white or receding hair and their expensive dark suits, are the law in France. Perhaps they and their self-satisfied sort are the law all over the world. They are endlessly tolerant of each other's peccadillos; they are addicted to their own importance; and they adore promoting the spectacle of this importance. Movies and movie celebrity are akin to this.

Naomi Kawase's Hanezu is a very different work: a beautifully made, quietist and contemplative work that, like her 2007 movie The Mourning Forest, has a passionate reverence for nature, combined with a delicately romantic and even subtly erotic love story. The movie is set in Japan's Asuka region, the site of its first capital. The title means a certain shade of red, which is featured in the movie's design, set off by the lush greenery of the landscape.

A man and a woman fall in love, an affair complicated by an existing relationship. A pregnancy ensues, and it is the occasion for each to reconsider their relationship with their own parents, their memory of their grandparents and their place in the great historical, generational and archaeological scheme of Japan iteself. It is a gentle, beautiful-looking film.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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