Charles Tesson, artistic director of the Critics’ Week (the 56th edition of which takes place from 18-26 May as part of the 70th Cannes Film Festival), explains his 2017 selection.

How did the selection process go this year? Did you get the films that you wanted?
This year there was less contention. Of course there are always one or two films that cause a lot of debate; that’s normal. I thought the others would lean towards certain films, but in the end it wasn’t really the case. In all, the balance achieved across the different sections of the festival was very good. Our tastes are similar, even though there are small differences. And what you don’t see from the outside is that when you are making a selection, one film brings a certain something or deals with a certain subject, another is more contemplative and slow, while another has more tension, etc. The selection also depends on the ensemble and, all other things being equal, some films can fit into this better than others.

How would you describe your 2017 selection? Would you say it is notable for the phenomenon of an animated film and a documentary appearing in competition together? 
We select too few films to work on a box-ticking basis, taking one comedy, one genre film, one documentary, etc. We hadn’t had a documentary since 2012 and no animated films since a special screening in 2009.  This year, we just fell in love with the animated film Tehran Taboo by Ali Soozandeh, which is wonderful, and with the documentary Makala by Emmanuel Gras, which takes place in the Congo. I really wanted to bring animated films and documentaries into the competition, putting them up against fiction films, rather than putting them in a “special screening” box and marginalising them. As for the overall look of the selection, it includes films that gauge the state of the world or that anticipate a rather bleak or even apocalyptic future, as well as more overtly political works like Los perros by Marcela Said, which looks at the remnants of the Pinochet dictatorship, A Violent Life by Thierry de Peretti, a very ambitious film focused on the Corsican independence movements, and also Tehran Taboo, which challenges the hypocrisy created by the Iranian regime in a very powerful way. In fact, Iranian cinema will never be seen the same way again after watching this film.

What are the strengths of the French films that you selected?

Ava by Léa Mysius is a very beautiful film – allegorical, lyrical, somewhere along the lines of Love at First Fight, but in a very different way, where parents leave an ever-darkening world to their children and to young adults. As I said, Thierry de Peretti has produced a powerful work on one particular political aspect of France’s recent history, where young people, seeking some form of revolutionary utopia so as to return Corsica to its people, stand up to the authorities. As for Bloody Milk by Hubert Charuel, it explores a real-life situation – the agricultural world and the outbreaks that decimate herds of livestock – but he turns it into a proper thriller.

The Critics’ Week will be opened by Sicilian Ghost Story by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, representing the type of young Italian cinema that has such a strong presence at Cannes this year.
Their previous film, Salvo, was in competition in 2013, and it won the Grand Prix. It isn’t possible to enter the films of directors who have previously won the top prize into the competition, because the aim of the competition is to introduce us to new filmmakers. I am very happy that the Directors’ Fortnight selected A Ciambra by Jonas Carpignano, who we previously encountered in the Critics’ Week with Mediterranea, and we also saw other good Italian films that we were unable to take on due to a lack of capacity. Italian cinema really is doing brilliantly! For Sicilian Ghost Story, there weren’t many options; it was either going to be a special screening or the opening film. The fact is, the movie represents a real leap forwards and goes off in an entirely different direction than its predecessor because it borrows from thrillers, teen movies, fantasy… It’s quite something. So I thought that offering it the opening slot would give it some healthy exposure, especially given that for the past four years all of our opening films have been French. And, as all the other Cannes sections are opening with French films, we will be the only one to open this year with a film from somewhere else.

And what about films from other European countries?
This year, Europe doesn’t have a strong presence in competition, though it is faring better in terms of short films. For feature films, there are always regions that produce very good films, like the Nordic countries. The British wave of social realism-thriller films, which we noted a few years ago, seems by contrast to have lost a little steam. As for Spain, maybe young filmmakers are drawn more to the mainstream, I don’t know. In any case, in terms of Eastern Europe, aside from a Russian film that everyone wanted, there were a few movies, but nothing powerful or striking. It comes in waves: some countries manage to keep a constant hold and reinvent themselves, while others need low periods before taking off again. This year, the Critics’ Week is leaning more in the direction of Latin America with a Chilean film, a Brazilian film and a Venezuelan film, following on from the 2016 festival, where the continent wasn’t represented at all. But I don’t feel obliged to commit to geographical criteria, because, with only seven films in competition, that just isn’t possible. We choose films for other reasons, for what they have and what they bring.

What is your view on platforms in light of the Netflix issue?

In cases where films are produced and financed by Netflix, this could be dangerous because if these films only exist via SVoD, it raises questions over the status and the role of cinema in terms of actual movie theatres and what comes after them, most notably television. However, last year we saw a Singaporean film, A Yellow Bird, which did the rounds at a few festivals after Cannes, but which struggled to sell. Netflix bought it almost a year later, and ultimately this is a positive outcome for the film because people will finally be able to see it. This is a good thing. Then there are countries where films have no chance of reaching the big screen; it’s a shame and ultimately it poses a risk. If films don’t spend any time in the cinemas, the role of festivals in supporting movies becomes problematic.