Left: Oliver Hermanus, Skoonheid (Beauty), 2011, color film in 35 mm. Right: Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre, 2011, color film in 35 mm, 93 minutes.


L’AFFAIRE DSK continues to dominate the news: The cover of today’s Libération features a grim-faced Strauss-Kahn gazing downward with the simple headline “K.O.”; the right-wing Nice-Matin also has a photo of the embattled IMF chief on its cover next to the words “En prison,” though more prominent placement is given to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie—“Le couple glamour du Festival”—on the red carpet.

Of course, sometimes the movies themselves remind the four thousand film journalists assembled here that topics weightier than Terrence Malick exist. Unspooling at 8:30 this morning, Aki Kaurismäki’s Competition title Le Havre, a droll yet compassionate look at the perils faced by illegal immigrants, has been one of the most warmly received films by the tetchy press corps so far. In the Finnish director’s second film set in France after La Vie de Bohème (1992), former artist Marcel (André Wilms), now working as a shoe shiner in the port town of the title, shelters and provides safe passage for Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young refugee from Gabon hoping to be reunited with his mother in London. Kaurismäki’s wry take on immigration—an especially thorny subject in France—moved one journo to talk back to the screen. When a character solicits the opinion of a Vietnamese friend of Marcel’s, he responds, “Hard to say, for I don’t exist”; one row behind me, I heard someone, thrilled to have his own views validated, proudly rejoinder, “Voilà.”

My opinion was too aggressively sought out by an unknown publicist who grabbed my arm as I stumbled out of the Salle Debussy—my eyes adjusting, molelike, to the Côte d’Azur sun—after watching Oliver Hermanus’s Beauty, playing in Un Certain Regard. An overcooked, protracted tale of a married, self-loathing, dangerous top, the twenty-eight-year-old South African director’s sophomore effort is vying for the second “Queer Palm” (the inaugural award went to Gregg Araki’s Kaboom last year); the QP jury will, according to its translated press release, “watch all the movies dealing with the gay, lesbian, bi, trans, intersex, and queer topics and disturbing the genders’ established codes.” But the jury no longer has a lavender watering hole to host its awards ceremony: The legendary Cannes boîte Zanzibar, Europe’s oldest gay bar, closed earlier this year, torn down to make way for something less likely to disturb the genders’ established codes: an ice cream shop.

Melissa Anderson