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Cannes Festival: Two African films up for Palme d’Or

By Renaud de Rochebrune
Posted on Friday, 18 June 2021 15:31

A scene from the film “Haut et fort” by Nabil Ayouch. Virginie Surdej - Amine Messadi © Virginie Surdej/Amine Messadi

The Cannes Festival, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will take place this year from 6 to 17 July, with two African films in the line-up. It is expected that the world’s largest film festival will be able to proceed almost as normal, thanks to a decline in the number of Covid cases worldwide.

Pierre Lescure and Thierry Frémaux, the event’s top organisers, have just unveiled the official film selection, one that promises to be all the more special as it encompasses almost two years worth of production and films (2,300 films).

Filming has not stopped despite the onslaught of the virus and many films that were scheduled for distribution in 2020 have not yet been released.

Apart from Lingui, les Liens Sacrés and Haut et Fort, no other African feature films have been selected to compete at Cannes, either for Un Certain Regard or other categories.

It is therefore remarkable that two African films are now up for the Palme d’Or, a first in many years. They will be competing alongside works by former winners such as Nanni Moretti, Jacques Audiard and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, as well as major names like Paul Verhoven and Sean Penn.

Lingui, examining the condition of Chad’s women

Chad’s Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who has won several awards in Venice (notably the Grand Special Jury Prize for Daratt in 2006), has already competed in Cannes twice with Un Homme qui Crie in 2010 (Jury Prize) and Grisgris in 2016.

And in 2015, he presented a gripping documentary about the survivors of the dictator Habré’s jails (Hissein Habré, une Tragédie Tchadienne) during a special screening.

He was Chad’s minister of culture between February 2017 and February 2018 before abruptly resigning, following disagreements with the government. Haroun has not directed anything since Une Saison en France, which was released in 2017.

His latest feature film is called Lingui, Les Liens Sacrés and takes place in Chad. It tells the story of two women, Amina and Maria. The first, who is a single mother rejected by her family and society, learns that her 15-year-old daughter has been raped and impregnated. The ordeal is made worse for this practicing Muslim by the fact that her child wants to have an abortion, an act forbidden both by her religion and the law. Haroun uses this story to evoke the situation of women in Chad and throughout Africa.

Haut et Fort, Morocco’s disadvantaged youth

Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch focuses on the country’s youth in Haut et Fort (formerly named Casablanca Beats). This is his first time to compete in this category. It is also the first time that a Moroccan film has been presented at the Palme d’Or since the festival began.

He has already been to the Croisette – the famous Cannes road – on several occasions. Les Chevaux de Dieu and Much Loved  are two of his films that provoked heated debate, and they took part in much less prestigious categories (Un Certain Regard and Quinzaine des Réalisateurs).

According to Ayouch, Haut et Fort can be summed up as follows: “It is the story of a former rapper who arrives in a cultural centre within the Sidi Moumen slum and finds a group of young girls and boys to whom he passes on his passion for hip-hop.”

Through this latest film, Ayouch, who also directed the hugely successful Ali Zaoua, Prince de la Rue (released in 2000), demonstrates his continued commitment to shining a light on the lives of disadvantaged young people. Furthermore, he has stated that Haut et Fort is reminiscent of his own childhood.

The Middle East is well represented

International Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight, both of which take place at the same time as Cannes, have also revealed their film selections, which include some African films. However, apart from Lingui, les Liens Sacrés and Haut et Fort, no other African feature films have been selected to compete at Cannes, either for Un Certain Regard or other categories (out-of-competition films, special screenings and Cannes premieres).

The Middle East, on the other hand, will be relatively well represented on the Croisette with films from Iran (Un Héros by Asghar Faradhi), Turkey (Commitment Hasan by Hasan Semih Kaplanoglu) and Israel (Le Genou d’Ahed by Nadiv Lapid and Il y Eut un Matin, by Eran Kourin). A film from Haiti (Freda by Gessica Généus) and Tunisian/French actor Hafsia Herzi’s second film (Bonne Mère) are also in the running.

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