Cannes: Ultra-Violence Peppers Competition Selection

 

Before the pageantry got into full swing Wednesday at the opening-night screening of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, the A-list festival crowd in the Grand Lumiere was subjected to a jolt: scenes of shockingly graphic violence.

As per tradition on the Croisette, a trailer showcasing the year’s official selection preceded the main screening, but according to several attendees — who asked not to be named — this year’s promo reel was spiked with ultra-violence and elicited as many gasps as smiles of anticipation.

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First came a scene from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, showing Ryan Gosling smashing a glass in the face of a bargoer. Later was an explosive sequence of execution-style shootings from Johnnie To’s Blind Detective. Wrapping up the promo reel with a bang: Forest Whitaker getting stabbed through the ear and pinned to a wall in a choice segment from Jerome Salle’s closing film Zulu.

The Cannes higher-ups were quick to distance themselves from the trailer Thursday. Asked to comment, organizers said festival director Thierry Fremaux “deplored” the impression the trailer gave that this year’s lineup is excessively violent, saying it does not reflect the spirit of the selection. Laurent Rivoire, deputy director of the festival film department, said the trailer was “done in a hurry due to some very late deliveries” by Canal+, which produced the opening ceremony. The films’ production companies themselves provided the clips.

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Cannes has never been shy about scheduling the artfully bloody and brutal — festival favorites Quentin Tarantino and Lars von Trier come to mind — but this year’s lineup does seem to offer more than the usual allotment of onscreen viciousness. Early reviews of Amat Escalante’s Heli noted its torture sequences, including one scene that involves a male character having his private parts set on fire. Japanese genre master Takashi Miike promises plenty of bloodshed in his competition entry Shield of Straw. And even Chinese director Jia Zhangke, known for his slow-paced social realism, appears to have indulged his dark side in A Taste of Sin, the online trailer for which surfaced this week, hinting at a bloody stabbing and shooting.

Pushing the envelope furthest is Atrocity Exhibition, showing in the Short Film corner, which its director Ebadur Rahman has described as “Cannes’ first snuff film.” Says Rahman: “Cannes has been showing fake ‘extreme content’ for ages: Any film by Tarantino, Takeshi Miike, or Kim Ki Duk is at least as violent as mine. What’s different about Atrocity Exhibition is, I didn’t fake it.” Asked whether viewers might have to look away during screenings, Rahman says: “I would hope so.”

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While the sales potential for Atrocity always was going to be minimal, the abundance of blood in the official selection could present marketing challenges. When it comes to selling internationally, violence can be a mixed blessing, say veteran buyers. Broadcast regulations in Europe mean films with graphic violence can only be shown after 11 pm, reducing their commercial potential. “For video sales it can actually be a positive, the bloodier the better,” says Dirk Schweizer, managing director of German distributor Splendid Films. “But for TV it’s different. Anything that has an FSK 16 [R rating equivalent] or worse is almost impossible to sell to television unless you have huge stars attached.”

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