Published On: Tue, May 14th, 2019

Peter Howell: Cinema habit fights Trump-style political ‘angriness and lies,’ says Cannes jury president Gonzalez Inarritu

CANNES, FRANCE—The “communal experience” of watching films in public cinemas must be preserved to help fight the “rage and angriness and lies” spread by fear-mongering politicians like Donald Trump, Cannes jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu says.

In a sobering start Tuesday to the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, the Mexican director, a multiple Oscar winner for The Revenant and Birdman, evoked the rise of fascism in the 1930s that led to the Second World War as he warned of the danger of increasing isolation, ignorance and manipulation in the modern digital world.

Jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, left, and jury member Elle Fanning pose for photographers at the Cannes film fest in southern France on May 14.
Jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, left, and jury member Elle Fanning pose for photographers at the Cannes film fest in southern France on May 14.  (Vianney Le Caer / Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

“Stop these dangerous things that can return us to 1939 — we know how this story ends with that rhetoric,” Inarritu said.

“We think that we are evolving with technology and with social media, but it seems that every tweet is a brick of isolation … and it’s creating a lot of isolation and a lot of paranoia.”

Inarritu was speaking at a press conference to introduce the nine-member international jury, which he leads, that will view 21 competition films over the coming days and award the Palme d’Or and other prizes at festival’s end on May 25.

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Responding to a question about Trump’s plans to wall off Mexico from the U.S. to keep out unwanted newcomers, Inarritu said he has no political power to resist such measures but “as an artist, I can express (opposition) through my work.”

He did just that with Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand), an Oscar-winning VR film he premiered at the 2017 Cannes festival, which offered a shockingly realistic experience of being among a band of migrants in the Sonoran Desert on the U.S.-Mexico border, as they are roughly rounded up by American border-control cops.

Trump and other right-wing politicians around the world prey on xenophobia and the fear of the “other,” Inarritu said.

“These guys are basically ruling with rage and angriness and lies. They are basically stating and writing fiction and making people believe those are real things and facts … People don’t know, so it’s very easy to manipulate.”

A robust culture of public cinema viewing, with people watching films together in their own language to see what’s happening in other parts of the world and in other cultures, can help push back against this negative trend, he said.

Inarritu insisted he has nothing per se against digital devices or streaming (“Netflix is doing a great job”), but it’s essential to also preserve the traditional moviegoing experience, which he and other filmmakers feel is threatened.

“I’m a true believer that to watch is not to see a film. To watch is something, to see is another thing, and to see is not to experience it. Cinema was born to be experienced, the communal experience.”

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He’s preaching to a receptive audience at Cannes, which has been resisting the digital tide. The festival currently bans from competition any film that doesn’t have a theatrical release, which in France brings with it an additional requirement: no online release for three years. Netflix and other streamers are in talks with the festival to see if a compromise can be found for future festivals.

Inarritu has an uncommonly large number of other filmmakers on his Palme panel, including several big names from the festival circuit: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) from Greece, Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) from Poland, Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) from the U.S., Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro) from Italy and Robin Campillo (120 BPM) from France.

The other members of the jury are actress and director Maimouna N’Diaye from Senegal, artist and director Enki Bilal from France, and actress Elle Fanning from the U.S. Fanning, 21, was just 7 when she had a small role in Inarritu’s Palme competition film Babel in 2006, a fact that Inarritu jokingly said makes him feel very old.

He promised that he and the other jury members will faithfully view and consider every one of the 21 films they will be viewing in the days ahead: “It will be a journey, an emotional journey.”

If he had his way, however, they’d watch the films without knowing who the directors are or their gender or nationality because “I think that for the respect of cinema and for the people who made it we should just judge films as films, by the art … not for other things.”

Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic. His accommodation in Cannes has been provided by the Cannes Film Festival.

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Peter Howell: Cinema habit fights Trump-style political ‘angriness and lies,’ says Cannes jury president Gonzalez Inarritu