There was an unusual dearth of really good English- language films in and even out of competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which finished last weekend.
Perhaps the pick of them was Whitney, a sad, but engrossing, documentary about the eventful life and untimely death of singer Whitney Houston.
The film is directed by the Oscar-winning Scottish film-maker Kevin Macdonald, who does a fine job.
Whitney, a documentary about Whitney Houston’s life, will show the singer like never before
But, in truth, its impact is dulled a little by another documentary about Houston by an English director, Nick Broomfield’s Can I Be Me?, which came out only a year ago.
Nonetheless, this one is authorised by the tragic superstar’s family, so Macdonald benefited from much greater access than Broomfield.
Unfortunately, he didn’t quite persuade her close companion and alleged lesbian lover, Robyn Crawford, to open up.
He did, however, tease out the explosive revelation that, as a child, Houston may have been sexually abused by her much older cousin, soul singer Dee Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne Warwick.
That’s the unique selling point of a film that otherwise covers much of the same territory as the last one.
In some ways, it is hampered by the family’s endorsement. I recall Can I Be Me? being freer to suggest that Houston’s mother, Cissy, a backing singer for Aretha Franklin, among others, was corrosively jealous of her celebrated daughter.
Macdonald’s film doesn’t presume to make that assertion about Cissy, who is one of the interviewees.
However, it is nonetheless a fascinating and insightful account of Houston’s life, with loads of amazing archive footage.
Like Amy, the wonderful, but unbearably sad, documentary about singer Amy Winehouse, it serves mainly as a potent and poignant reminder of a truly extraordinary talent and the price exacted for it.
Of the English-language dramas I saw at Cannes, the only one I quite liked was BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s heavy-handed, but undoubtedly passionate, telling of a remarkable true story.
It’s a borderline-satirical account of how a black cop in Seventies Colorado (played by John David Washington, Denzel’s lad), infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white colleague (Adam Driver).
Lee couldn’t resist making some thinly-veiled digs at Donald Trump. With more subtlety and fewer anachronisms, it would have been a better film, but it still bagged the Grand Prix, which, in effect, is the runner-up prize at Cannes.
Jury president Cate Blanchett would deny it, but BlacKkKlansman’s success almost certainly had less to do with its artistic merit than the timeliness of its anti-racism message.
Brian Viner give Italian film Dogman the Palme d’Or at the this year’s 71st Cannes Film Festival
I thought that there were more deserving candidates, such as a really terrific Italian picture called Dogman. In fact, I’d have given it the main award, the Palme d’Or, which instead went to the Japanese-language film Shoplifters.
Dogman is directed by Matteo Garrone, whose last film, 2015’s Tale Of Tales, was a sumptuous fantasy. This is the exact opposite, an unvarnished, slice-of-life drama about a weedy little man called Marcello who runs a dog-shampooing parlour in a terribly down-at-heel Italian town.
Fundamentally a decent fellow, he is utterly in thrall to the appalling town bully, a brute called Simoncino, who is well on his way to destroying Marcello’s life when the 7 st weakling finally hits back.
The little-known Marcello Fonte deservedly won the Best Actor award for his suitably hangdog performance in the title role, but I’d like to have seen a trophy for the film itself. It’s brilliant.
Still, as ever, the Cannes Film Festival has ignited plenty of debate.
Regrettably, this year, it also gave a lavish platform to one of the most distasteful films I have ever seen, the Danish director Lars von Trier’s morally squalid, intellectually pretentious, so-called ‘thriller’ about a serial killer in America in the Seventies.
Called The House That Jack Built, it actually seems to celebrate violence against women, stars Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman and, if ever it reaches UK cinemas, you should avoid it like the plague.