All the best films at Cannes this year were about human goodness. The best of all, Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra, was among the greatest works that cinema has producedby Mark Cousins / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
This year was my 16th Cannes film festival and the seventh selflessly reporting on it for Prospect. Once again it was good for the mind—I saw great films—but bad for the body: I came back sun-roasted, alcohol-pickled and two kilos heavier. If you’ve ever considered going to Cannes, do so only if your mind matters more to you than your body.
Since 2002, the festival’s two big themes have been American violence and the beauty of Asian cinema. This year the American films were again mostly violent and the Asian movies mostly beautiful. However, for the first time I can remember, the best films were all about human goodness. The Palme d’Or went to Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which everybody seemed to think was brilliant but bleak. It is indeed brilliant—but not, I’d argue, that bleak. Set in the grim half-light of Romanian communism, the film’s defining moment comes when a young woman agrees to a sleazy abortionist’s demand for sex in exchange for terminating the pregnancy of her friend. Her act is complex, generous and ennobling; it gives the film its originality and hope.
Two such ennobling acts are at the heart of The Edge of Heaven, by the German-Turkish director Fatih Akin. In it, a Turkish professor at Hamburg University (and how often do we see a Turk play a professor of anything in a film?) returns to Turkey in order to find a young Kurdish woman whose mother, his father’s lover, has died. As the intricate plot unfolds and doubles back on itself, we learn that the Kurdish woman had a German girlfriend who has been accidentally killed, leading the girlfriend’s mother to travel from Germany to Turkey, where the shooting took place. Independently, the professor and the mother both decide to help this young Kurdish woman, to whom they are only tangentially linked. Eventually, professor and mother meet. Neither knows that their separate quests are so intimately connected. Their scenes together—two decent, cautious people, a Turk and a German, taking risks for the sake of someone neither of them knows—are some of the best I have ever seen in a movie about the relationship between two countries.
For my money, however, the best film of the festival was Alexandra, by Alexander Sokurov, the director of Russian Ark. Alexandra, an 80-year-old grandmother,…