The 2014 Cannes Film Festival is underway and the cinema elite have made their yearly pilgrimage to the south of France. The rest of us merely get to try and soak in the festivities. Yet, it appears the festival,celebrating its 67th year, has found its first qualified success, or perhaps two. In that respect, the opening night film – Grace of Monaco, the Grace Kelly biopic starring Nicole Kidman – which impressed few festival goers may be all but forgotten just two days later. Especially since the premiere of Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner appears to an early triumph of the festival.
British auteur Mike Leigh may not exactly be a household name outside the cinephile level, but he’s own of the most respective filmmakers currently working. The seven-time Oscar nominated writer/director of such films as Topsy-Turvy (1999), Vera Drake (2004), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Secrets and Lies (1996), a film that won the top prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival and earned five Oscar nominations (including two for Leigh himself) was always looking like a major player when Mr. Turner was announced for an in competition berth at this years’ festival. The early reviews are nearly unanimous in their praise of Leigh’s biographical portrait of famed British painter J.M.W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall, a Leigh regular whose appeared in the directors’ All or Nothing, Topsy-Turvy and Secrets and Lies.
One thing that has always staked interest in Leigh’s filmography is his unusual approach to the medium. The director famously casts his projects long before a completed script is even fashioned and extensively workshops the material with his cast before shooting commences. The approach has produced a number of Oscar-nominated performances throughout the years, such as Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in Secrets and Lies; Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake.
The question of course, is if all the early praise can translate into prizes at this years’ festival– the jury of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival is headed by Oscar winning filmmaker Jane Campion. A larger, looming question may be if distributor Sony Pictures Classics (who picked up Mr. Turner before Cannes) can segue the advance early notices into a successful awards season launch later this year. Sony Classics hasn’t yet settled on an American release date for Mr. Turner, but the film is set to open in the U.K. in late October.