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A Guide to the Films in Competition at Cannes


Last year, the most prestigious film festival in the world, much like everything else, was postponed. Then cancelled outright. This year, however, Cannes' comeback is looking strong, as organizers aim to revitalize audiences' love for theatres, whilst pushing for safe and environmentally conscious showings.

But, as always, due to its placement at the beginning of the awards circuit, Cannes' lineup is comprised of many films yet to see much media coverage, and never all together, beyond articles simply listing the nominees. Today, we'll be breaking down the big fish in competition for the Best Film award; the Palme d'Or, at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

The films:

Annette

The hottest ticket seems to be Annette, a musical and writing collaboration with Sparks (the avant-garde pop duo receiving their own documentary this year from Edgar Wright no less), by Cannes darling Leos Carax, probably best known for his extravagant and surreal work of mad genius Holy Motors (nominated for the Palme d'Or in 2012). Beyond the interest in seeing Carax's generous hand take on a musical road mapped by (to put it mildly) oddball purveyors of art pop, the film boasts the star power of Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver as a couple whose baby daughter has a “surprising gift”. With all this behind it, Annette is the flagship for the festival and will be opening the proceedings on July 6.

Flag Day

Flag Day, directed by and starring Sean Penn alongside his daughter Dylan Penn, is a non-fiction crime thriller featuring further familiar faces Josh Brolin and the wonderful Eddie Marsan. A father lives a double life as a counterfeiter, bank robber and con man in order to provide for his daughter. Penn's last film to show at the festival was eviscerated by critics and booed by the audience (although, a great many films have been at Cannes). Perhaps he'll fare better this time, eyes have been on the project since 2019.

Ahed's Knee

Ahed's Knee from Israel, comes from winner of the Golden Bear Nadav Lapid, who has been categorized as making films about forces in powerful opposition. The official synopsis has remained vague, and no trailers have yet been released. An Israeli filmmaker throws himself in the midst of two battles doomed to fail: one against the death of freedom, the other against the death of a mother.

Casablanca Beats

Casablanca Beats, the first Moroccan film to make the official selection for Cannes, celebrates the youth of Sidi Moumen, a slum near Casablanca, who are introduced in the film to hip-hop culture by an elderly professor. Director Nabil Ayouch is best known for the Mektoub: My Love series, the first of which kickstarted international interest in the Moroccan film industry, and he has been hopping from category to category until clinching a nomination for best film this year.

Benedetta

Paul Verhoeven famously directed a number of huge blockbusters; Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct and the disastrous Showgirls, before returning to Europe for more understated and critically acclaimed dramas. His Benedetta, one of the most anticipated films screening at the festival and the first entrant into the artful Nunsploitation genre in ages, follows Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini, a nun, apparently capable of miracles, who enters a love affair with another woman in her 17th century convent. See the trailer for the film, based on a true story below.

La Fracture

The inexhaustible Catherine Corsini, writing in collaboration with Laurette Polmanss (for a third time) and Agnès Feuvre, directs La Fracture. Raf and Julie, a couple straining to keep their relationship afloat, spend the night in a Parisian hospital amidst a large demonstration, along with staff and injured protestors. Their prejudices are confronted through encounters, including with wounded demonstrator Yann, as the hospital is overwhelmed. Corsini, acclaimed feminist auteur with an abiding and exceptional passion for the improvement of cinematic institutions as well as filmmaking itself, has been nominated in two top categories at Cannes before, and though she's headed the jury for the Caméra d'Or prize (given to the best first film from a new director), she's yet to land a win. Securing one may bring her work some more attention abroad, as of yet, little is written about her for English audiences.

Paris, 13th District

Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades in French) is a romantic drama directed by Jacques Audiard, penned by Audiard, Céline Sciamma (whose recent masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire would surely have been the most popular foreign film of 2019, had it not been for the small miracle that was Parasite) and Léa Mysius. New face Lucie Zhang makes her debut, and star of the aforementioned Portrait Noémie Merlant also appears. Audiard's modus is tough to nail down, but he is one of France's most notable auteurs, winning the Palme d'Or in 2015 and making a habit of directing excellent and entertaining films, most recently the terrific western The Sisters Brothers. Although he's proven his abilities on the front of intimate romance before with the tender Rust and Bone. From the short stories Amber Sweet, Killing and Dying and Hawaiian Getaway written by graphic novelist and cartoonist Adrian Tomine, we follow four Parisian youths. “They're friends, sometimes lovers and often both”.

Bergman's Island

Prolific French writer/director Mia Hansen-Love brings more of her precise insight into relationships (of all kind) in crisis with the film Bergman's Island, set and shot on Ingmar Bergman's private island, where a filmmaking couple has retreated, writing and beginning to “find that the lines between reality and fiction start to blur”. What films about filmmaking are to the Oscars, Fårö island and all things Bergman are to Cannes, so keep your eyes peeled for this highly anticipated film starring Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps.

Compartment No. 6

Compartment No. 6, from Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen, is set in the titular compartment, on a train to Murmansk. Laura, a student, is journeying to see 10,000-year-old cave paintings, but must share her compartment with a boorish Russian miner named Vadim. The drama details Laura's slowly erasing expectations for the trip. Kuosmanen's first professional feature won Un Certain Regard in 2016.

Everything Went Fine

The beloved Emmanuel Bernheim's novel Everything Went Fine has been adapted by another French director of renown, with an astonishing turnover rate for awards contenders of 1 film a year, François Ozon, a collaborator of hers whose experience in the trappings of social and familial drama should make for an excellent pairing on this autobiographical outing. A frail old man, semi-paralyzed, asks his daughter to help end his life.

A Hero

The latest production from two time Best Foreign Language Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, A Hero, will see his return to contemporary Iran, after tackling a Spanish crime drama in 2018. The plot of A Hero, starring Amir Jadidi and Mohsen Tanabandeh, has been thoroughly concealed, though we can wager a guess as to the nature of the film, considering Farhadi's consistent voice thus far. Farhadi's films typically reflect Iran and its strife across class, gender, religion, etc. patently, yet are some of the more popular entries to come out of the awards circuit. His nuanced social realism and tension-filled writing, charged with an understanding for authentic and often reasonable characters, make them a draw for audiences. As could be expected, A Hero is being proclaimed by those involved with the film as one of his seminal works, along with A Separation and The Salesman.

France

France (the French title of which translates to On a Half-clear Morning) is directed by Bruno Dumont, who has twice won the Grand Prix, and was for a time considered the artistic heir to Robert Bresson. Nowadays his *extremely divisive* work has been connected to the recent movement cinéma du corps/New French Extremity, a vein of transgressive films depicting penetration, mutilation, degradation, and fomentation to the condemnation and adoration of critics. Despite this, his last showcased film was a ridiculous heavy metal musical on the childhood of Joan of Arc. The most extensive synopsis yet released seems innocuous enough: “France is both the portrait of a woman, a television journalist, of a country, ours, and of a system, that of the media.” We can probably expect more of Dumont's pessimistic outlook on a morally bankrupt world in despair, and less of his explosively violent work. If its anything like his more visceral films, expect simultaneous walkouts and standing ovations.

Tangerine

Providing another slick A24 film, Sean Baker has made a name for himself with his two most recent features, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhone, and The Florida Project, both about the struggles of people finding themselves as outcasts. His latest, Red Rocket, stars Simon Rex, as Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, even though no one there really wants him back. This will likely be one of the higher profile releases of the festival, big with video essayists and the like.

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch looks to be the most Wes Anderson film Wes Anderson has ever dared to make, with an ensemble of his regulars as a troupe of expatriate journalists, alternating period settings, multiple aspect ratios, beautifully intricate and balanced mise-en-scène, and so on. If you're not sure what “very Wes Anderson” means, have a look at the trailer and you'll know whether or not you're on board very quickly. Though a headlining film, it's not favored to win due to Anderson's penchant for quirk standing out in what is largely a very serious selection. Still, with this, he may outdo The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Restless

Belgian director and Un Certain Regard winner Joachim Lafosse has put out another of his hallmark nuanced character dramas, focusing on psychology. In The Restless, Leïla Bekhti and Damien Bonnard star as a couple who struggle to cope with the man's bipolar disorder following a backslide, whilst raising their child. This pandemic shoot is centered mainly in a single household.

Lingui

Lingui is the latest film directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun (the first feature length film director from Chad and winner of the 2010 jury prize, who has lived in France since the '80s, but whose work is usually set in his birth country). Turning from the civil war material which garnered him the most acclaim of his career thus far, Haroun's newest tells a more private story: In a Muslim household, a single mother discovers her fifteen-year-old daughter is pregnant and seeking an abortion. The two must confront the reality of living under Chad's restrictive anti-abortion laws, as well as the social condemnation surrounding their dilemma.

Memoria

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has filmed his first feature outside of Thailand, and in English. Memoria stars Tilda Swinton, and like previous projects from the filmmaker, places itself in a location marked by natural beauty and a destructive past. Weerasethakul is among the most lauded arthouse directors working today, creating art exhibitions and films; in turn challenging and languid experiments in their form. “Joe”, as he has nicknamed himself, sees his work as deeply personal like musings in a diary, and on this project he feels “a personal earthquake, a quiet madness” from the location has drawn him to make the film. Cannes can't get enough of his work; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the final installment in his multi-media art piece Primitive, made up of six reels, each in a different cinematic style, won the Palme d'Or in 2010. It represents, to this point, the peak of his style: visualizations of ineffable emotional states and concepts.

That seems perfectly in line with the given plot for Memoria: Swinton plays an Orchid farmer in Colombia to see her ill sister. She finds herself unable to sleep, interrupted by increasingly loud bangs through the night. Another plot description claims she begins to “think about their appearance”. The century long construction of a tunnel through the Andes mountains also features heavily. Weerasethakul claims it has turned out to be a very simple film, take that as you may. You may fare better expecting this to be a particularly enigmatic addition to the festival, valuable to the Cannes crowd for continuing to tool with the boundaries of transcendental cinema, and the sort of Award winner the Academy wouldn't touch with a long, long stick.

Nitram

Australia makes a showing with Justin Kurzel's Nitram with a screenplay by Shaun Grant, which dramatizes the events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre on Tasmania. Kurzel and Grant previously teamed up for a well-received take on Australian folk hero Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang, a film which played fast and loose with the myth and sort of descended into psychedelic punk rock freefall as its protagonist became more and more unhinged and beloved. Kurzel's work, often examining the identities of infamously violent men, has not put protestors at ease, who feel the shooter (the mass media portrayal of whom has been scrutinized since the incident's initial coverage) should not be sensationalized at all. We have every reason to believe Kurzel will approach the material tactfully, but the film will likely be more frenetic and involving than much of its competition cares to be. Roles are not confirmed, but the underused talent Caleb Landry Jones has been cast and will likely play the severely dysfunctional perpetrator, who killed 35 people in Australia's largest ever mass shooting, motivated in part by a desire for infamy.

Petrov's Flu

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov will not be able to attend the ceremony due to a three-year suspended prison sentence keeping him from leaving the country. Sympathizers argue that the case is politically-motivated, as the government seeks to clamp down on subversive and “untraditional” work, as well as muzzle him for his support of the LGBTQ community. His film, Petrov's Flu, appears to be a bombastic, irreverent caper, chronicling a day in the life of a comic book artist in Russia, post the fall of the USSR. “While suffering from the flu, Petrov is carried by his friend Igor on a long walk, drifting in and out of fantasy and reality”.

The Story of My Wife

Popular 1946 Hungarian novel The Story of My Wife: The Reminiscences of Captain Storr, in which a Hungarian naval captain recalls his unhappy marriage to the first woman who walked into a bar after he accepted a bet, has been adapted by Ildikó Enyedi. The result is a romantic drama revolving around a developing love triangle. A postmodernist whose last film, On Body and Soul, took off in popularity following her prolonged absence, Enyedi has loved the novel since her adolescence, and sees her work on the film as “a love letter to all the wonderfully imperfect men – to the loves of our life, written by a woman director”. Dialogue will largely be in English, in keeping with the language primarily spoken in the shipping industry in the 1920s, a first for Enyedi, though no doubt her gift for deconstructing the impositions men place upon women will translate. No matter who takes home the Palme d'Or, lead Léa Seydoux is the real winner here, prominently featuring in three films in competition (The French Dispatch, starring in La Fracture, and The Story of My Wife).

Three Floors

Notable Palme d'Or winning director Nani Moretti's fifteenth effort and his first adapted from another work, Three Floors, moves the action of the novel from Israel to Italy. It concerns three families living on different floors of their middle-class condominium. Each family has their own dilemmas playing out. The patriarch of the first believes that the elderly husband of the couple across from them has sexually abused his young daughter, whom they babysit. In fact, their neighbor suffers from Alzheimer's. One level up, a neglected housewife must choose whether to harbor her brother-in-law, on the lam from police and creditors, whilst her husband (whom he had a fallen out with) is away. And on the last floor, a judge in her retirement reconnects with her delinquent son, who had a spat with a woman's husband that turned violent.

Titane

Julia Ducournau, THE invigorating breakout talent of France in recent memory, demanded the attention of the film world with her theatrical feature-length film debut Raw, which operated in the trappings of body horror, but unlike most of the tired and grotesque examples of the genre, Raw was fresh, gothic, youthful and marvelously entertaining. Attention swirled around the movie for its graphic violence, following news of at least two Toronto International Film Festival goers fainting during a screening, but the substantive storytelling, stylish visuals and captivating character work was what garnered it mentions as one of the best horror films of the 2010s.

Drive My Car

Drive My Car, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami. Two years after the death of his wife, a theatre director and performer is chauffeured by a quiet woman, whilst in Hiroshima to direct a production for a festival. Between the two lonely characters, secrets are spilled, and the past comes to the fore. Hamaguchi's films are unpretentious takes on dramatic scenarios, filled with probing dialogue, allowing his actors to shine.

Her much anticipated follow-up, Titane, does not necessarily show explicit signs of taking after her body horror roots, but sounds disturbing nonetheless. A report details some plot elements: “The script opens on an airport where custom inspectors pick up a young man with a bruised face. He claims his name to be Adrien Legrand, a child who disappeared ten years ago. For Vincent, his father, this marks the end of a long nightmare and he brings him home. Simultaneously, a series of gruesome murders places the region under pressure. Alexia, model in a car showroom, has all the characteristics of the ideal victim.”

The Worst Person in the World

And finally; Norwegian dramedy The Worst Person in the World, the third installment in Joachim Trier's “Oslo” trilogy, a narratively unconnected series, following Reprise and Oslo, August 31st, probably his two best received pictures. The comic drama concerning modern relationships is apparently about “having all the opportunities in life but still feeling like the worst person in the world”. The plot itself concerns Julie, a woman in a frustratingly one-sided relationship with the older cult graphic novelist Axel, who meets someone her age whilst sneaking into a wedding reception. This plot, it thickens.

All in all, a very strong selection, filled out mostly by Cannes regulars, with some obvious picks, and a few interesting omissions. No Almodóvar, Kore-eda, Campion, Chan-wook, etc. If you've found other articles a little lacking on the details, hopefully this round up was what you were looking for. Now, place your bets.

 
Two Adaptations of the Seagull


Anton Chekhov's The Seagull has remained a mainstay of the classic canon of dramas since 1896, following an eventful and disastrous opening. Its ensemble cast, and complicated, realistically subtle if tortured characters have ensured that it remain an attractive option to playhouses everywhere. As for film adaptations, however, they tend to have more in common with the play's opening night than its rich legacy. Strange, since cinema is such a subjective art form, it would seem a perfect medium to convey the intricacies of each player's inner life, yet there has never been a truly (forgive the pun) soaring adaptation. Good ones, but never amazing.

The Seagull was a departure from traditional dramatic action, far more involved, placing an emphasis on the thing we do most often in life that reveals us; talk. It took some time before it was recognised as the fantastically subversive and subtextual work we understand it to be today, informing, like the rest of Chekhov's work, dramatization and writing to this day. As we all know; complicated plays that aren't appreciated without due time and context make for oh so easy adaptation on screen.

As with any story about inconsolable, broken and miserable people, there are only two ways about it, without falling into ridiculousness. Tragedy or farce. Hamlet or In Bruges. Of course there are shades of one within the other, and that's the nature of the beast when it comes to The Seagull, but a filmmaker must pick a side. A tonal middle ground regarding something of this sort, where emotions run this high, would be absurd.

Two Adaptations of The Seagull

As fate would have it, 2018 saw the release of two of the best adaptations of The Seagull yet, both by filmmakers who come from theatre, one a faithful period set light farce backed by reputable Hollywood talent and the other a small Afrikaans variation set in the modern day, host to our own stars (what Annette Bening and Elizabeth Moss are to Hollywood, Sandra Prinsloo and Rolanda Marais are to... do we have a name for ours yet?). These diverging approaches to the material make for an interesting look into how The Seagull can be adapted well by capturing the humour Chekhov insisted was always there, and yet breeze by like a tepid fart, or adapted well with ferocity, but become somewhat arduous.

The prim and proper period adaptation, The Seagull, is an all-round solid effort. Nothing crazy, but a showcase for the massively talented cast. Elizabeth Moss and Annette Benning, being each on the opposite end of the misery to vanity spectrum, are absolutely perfect. Moss is on the verge of tears for almost the entire film, it would seem, and that sort of 22-year-old woe-is-me act is both funny when it needs to be (she wears black in mourning; “for (her) life”, and upsetting when we confront the pain of unrequited, and inexplicable love. Benning, with an utter disregard for the trouble around her, is the most blatantly comedic aspect. Saoirse Ronan as Nina is great when playing up the naïve actress to be, but embodies the trouble the film has with the tortured side of things in that, yes, she is believably hurt by the end of the film, but I don't see jaded. The same can be said for much of the film, not as jaded as is called for. Konstantin, here played by the handsome Billy Howle, comes across in no way as the emotionally-stunted, frightened, and overly eager mother's boy from the play. Rather he comes across as a sensitive, but tortured soul, sometimes something like a Mr. Darcy. On the whole, it's a film more at ease than I think can be justified by the conclusions the story draws. Maybe the filmmakers sensed this; they made the choice to play a scene from the dramatic fourth act as the opening, to colour what was to follow.

Our own South African take, modernized and retooled for a '90s era Afrikaans setting by perhaps one of only a handful of auteurs from SA; Christian Olwagen, only makes time for the darkest of humour. Olwagen's is a ruthless take on the material, having his actors push to the absolute to convey what is obvious from everything the characters say and do; they are damaged goods. With his characteristic long takes, following characters as they march across spaces, framing them to fill the wide screen marked, avoiding editing at all costs, he just about films his stage adaptation, rendering the camera as basically an impartial witness. With these prolonged takes, and a lack of music, tension is brought to the foreground. Realism, sexuality, trauma, uncomfortable neurosis, all dialled up. Konstant is more embarrassing, Nina more desperate, Irene the absolute epitome of the egomaniac starlet (in Sandra Prinsloo's best performance), and so on. All this means that this is a refreshing and exciting take on the material, but it does suffer a weighty flaw: it becomes laborious to finish. This is a demanding and distressing watch, riding hostility and discomfort for hours on end. For a play once touted for doing away with melodrama in favour of naturalism, the material can absolutely lean towards dramatic, and it can do so for a little too long, a little too strongly. Die Seemeeu is still the adaptation to beat though, it would survive on the strength of its cast alone, so familiar with their roles that they've reached a new state of spontaneity in their performances.

So there we have it, not a bad year for Chekhov movies, though there's a chance that The Seagull is destined to remain best seen in person, on stage. Either that or the perfect adaptation lies somewhere in between these two; dark, but funny, dramatic, but reigned-in, in a word: nuanced.

 
There's Something About Lily


Lily James has thoroughly annexed her corner of the space for young movie stars, and there's very little chance she'll be slowing down any time soon. She has the mark of a star, and if she manages to keep up the string of good choices she's been able to make for years now, we can only expect to see her become a household name.

Lily's mother was an actress, and having attended a few performing arts schools, and clinching management shortly thereafter, she seemed poised to do well from the start. Her work on stage and in TV, as a key player in Downton Abbey, for instance, gives us some early insight into her draw, but let's face it, she's a movie star, and that's what we'll be looking at here. What is Lily James to the movies, and what will she be?

Well, following some solid work and minor roles, her big break tells us a great deal about the quality James gives off; she was launched to stardom after being cast as the lead in Disney reboot Cinderella. A Disney princess is a few things. Stunningly beautiful, but in a full-cheeked, youthful way (less sculpted). Likeable, with an obviously kind soul and innocent demeanor. And a joy, practically an inspiration to everyone around her (save for the villains). It was great casting. Lily James has the graceful beauty of movie legends like Ingrid Bergman, capable of convincing an audience that a character could fall in love with her or be swayed simply because of her presence, no further explanation required. She is immediately pure-hearted, with beaming doe eyes, which in turn seem so vulnerable when they widen in childlike fright, or well up with tears. James is cast so consistently because she arrests us into caring for her character with such ease. And, after marking herself out as such a valuable asset, she experienced an unbelievably quick ascent to several major subsequent productions.

There's Something About Lily James

Baby Driver, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Darkest Hour, these were huge roles, but the productions all played on the same ‘good-naturedness' James brings time and time again. In Baby Driver, the romance is downplayed in the plot, but suffice it to say: the girl is Lily James, of course the getaway driving protagonist falls in love and drifts closer to the goodness within him personified by her. In the sequel to Mamma Mia, a plain of reality so very divorced from cruelty and malice, she was the answer to: Who could play a young Donna, lifting the prequel sections of the film, telling a story we already know the end to, from going through the motions to effortless charm? And unlike some Pierce Brosnan shaped holes of key and rhythm, Lily James had infectious timing and spirit. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies she was at least able to kick some ass and serve as a role model to young girls, one who is independent and strong-willed, but still a young woman of her time, frustrated with herself for caring about silly romances and what a rude man thinks of her. Altogether, still cast because little girls would see themselves in her. Similarly, in Darkest Hour she is Elizabeth Layton, the chipper, go-getter foil to the curmudgeonly Winston Churchill, the only woman allowed in the map room. Once again, she's the in, the (relative) outsider getting to see the real Churchill behind the legend, as the audience is.

But on that note, you may be sensing a crushing familiarity between most of her roles. And you wouldn't be alone, James herself has expressed frustration with being typecast: “I've just had this feeling that I can't get rid of recently—and sometimes what you think is right for you is total nonsense anyway—that I've wanted to step away from playing characters that feel quite honest and open," she said. "There's a goodness to them that I want to get away from."

We should be excited by this prospect. How many times has an actress had the ability to step outside of her designated box, to stunning results? The industry liked to play a puerile game, drawing a line between the prestigious, reputable actors of note, the Viola Davis', Frances McDormands, et al., and the ‘movie stars' (who shall remain nameless). The line blurs more and more each day. The biggest name right now is probably Anya Taylor Joy, a massive talent who hops from practically independent productions like Thoroughbreds to world-gripping Netflix mini-series like The Queen's Gambit. And, if she has any say in it, this way lies Lily James.

Working with Ben Wheatly, she enters Rebecca the archetypal Lily James character, and through 83 year old spoilers, leaves a conniving but dutiful accomplice. Then a pivot back, as the neglected and bookish Peggy Piggot in The Dig, again for Netflix. These weren't quite the resounding success she was looking for, but that may well be fast approaching. James has jumped ship to Hulu, who've cast her, as you certainly already know considering this is the biggest casting news in some time, as Pamela Anderson in the upcoming limited series Pam and Tommy. If you aren't aware of who Pamela Anderson is, maybe stick around for the show, but it should be said Pamela would be new territory for James.

There's already some controversy surrounding the series, and James specifically; Pamela Anderson is, per a friend of hers, not happy with the attitude the script is approaching her and her relationship to Tommy Lee with, and hilariously isn't pleased with the choice of Lily James to embody her, because Anderson doesn't know who she is. Regardless, it's a fantastic opportunity for James to expand the scope of her talents, and the likeness is uncanny to say the least. We can only hope the show delivers.

 
This is NOT Toshiro Mifune


Today we're going to take a quick look at what is either a small and inconsequential mistake or a grave injustice, depending on how fond you are of Toshiro Mifune. Japan's greatest actor, and in the running for the best to ever work on screen, Mifune is a cultural icon, a titan of world-cinema and has rightfully achieved his status as a symbol for the broader trend of great Japanese films from the '50s and '60s, held in high esteem by critics, filmmakers and audiences. Specifically, many coffee table books collecting blurbs and recommendations from the history of film will choose Seven Samurai, with possibly Mifune's greatest performance, as the standard-bearer for a huge swath of celebrated works, inevitably cut to make room for more recognisable Hollywood classics. These reference books do have to sell, of course. So turn to movie number 272 of the 2020 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and you'll see a nice two-page spread reserved for Seven Samurai. One side with the poster and a contribution discussing the film, and the other a big shot of Mifune in Seven Samurai, adorned in a kimono and gruff beard, brandishing his sword, ready for battle. The only problem is: that's not Toshiro Mifune.

This is NOT Toshiro Mifune - click to see original

The image is of another of Japan's top actors; Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai is in fact in Seven Samurai, in his very first on-screen appearance, though he only very briefly walks past the camera. You might be able to make the case that the two actors look somewhat similar, sometimes, but the real question is whether the image of Nakadai used in the book resembles Toshiro Mifune made up as his character Kikuchiyo, from the film. No, Kikuchiyo is a young buffoon, it would ruin his characterization for him to appear with such a stately beard. Instead he has thin, sharp and expressive facial hair. Their kimonos also appear onscreen as black and the other white, respectively, and for a great deal of Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo doesn't wear a kimono at all, but battle armour, a key plot point since this was lifted from dead samurai, enraging some of the characters and revealing details about Kikuchiyo himself. You may be inclined to argue that this isn't a problem big enough to warrant a complaint; one book made an error, someone will point it out, it will be corrected and we'll be able to move on. Not quite.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is hardly the only publication to make this mistake. In fact, as far as can be gleamed by looking at only the most mainstream of selections from bookstore shelves, this is the most used image when referring to Toshiro Mifune in the film. From other reference books like Great Film Directors A to Z, to a myriad of slapdash web articles (which don't really need to be held to quite the same scrutiny), to huge publications like The Guardian, far too many people seem to be falling prey to a photo being sold under false pretences. British publications mostly credit Sportsphoto/Allstar, but the number one culprit looks to be Alamy stock photos.

The photo is sourced most often from the Alamy A.F. Archive, where they have titled it: TOSHIRO MIFUNE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). They provide some more information: TOSHIRO MIFUNE AS Kikuchiyo FILM TITLE SEVEN SAMURAI DIRECTED BY AKIRA KUROSAWA FILM COMPANY COLUMBIA 26 April 1954. A more apt description would be TATSUYA NAKADAI AS Hanshiro Tsugumo FILM TITLE HARAKIRI/SEPPUKU DIRECTED BY MASAKI KOBAYASHI FILM COMPANY SCHOCHIKU 1962. Yes, the picture was actually taken at an unspecified date 8 years after the date currently accredited to it. Two further bits of information stand out.

Toshiro Mifune

The REAL Toshiro Mifune

First; a lengthy declaration of the circumstances under which the photo can be reproduced once you have purchased the image. It reads: “**WARNING** This photograph is the copyright of the FILM COMPANY and/or the photographer assigned by or authorised by/allowed on the set by the Film Company at that time of this production & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above film. A Mandatory Credit To THE FILM COMPANY (AND PHOTOGRAPHER IF KNOWN) is required. ” Well. Most publications that have used the image have used it to promote Seven Samurai, not Harakiri, as well as crediting the studio Toho, not Schochiku. Or by “the above film” do they mean what is written above? You may only use this image from Harakiri if you use it to promote Seven Samurai? And second; “This image could have imperfections as it's either historical or reportage”. They weren't lying.

And that's the real issue here, reportage. The more publications fork over up to $69.99 for an image that isn't even of what they're looking for, the more the precedent is reaffirmed that this is the go-to image for Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai. And that's not fair. Not to Mifune, who's role is recognised as invaluable by the very publications misattributing the image. Not to Nakadai and the makers of Harakiri, for obvious reasons. And not to admirers of their work, who only ever get to announce their displeasure with the incorrect choice of stock photo in the odd comment section. There has been a new edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die every year since 2007, and every year without fail, the image remains. This is in all likelihood one of the bestselling reference books ever made about cinema. It's an easy mistake, but also, it would seem, easy to fix.

There are plenty of other images of Mifune as Kikuchiyo on Alamy, some of them even larger in format, available for the same price range as the Nakadai photo. Production stills, shots from the film, in the same aspect ratio to fit the page, which better capture the spirit of the epic. Beware, there are a few more mislabeled photos. Just be sure to have a fan help pick out the replacement. Please.

 
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