Censorship is a huge issue in China, as it is in Iran and some other countries, and governments are becoming less and less tolerant to criticism. We have just seen this at Cannes, in the Directors’ Fortnight. This, along with the Critics’ Week, are two important sidebars that run with the main Cannes Film Festival. A “surprise” movie by Chinese helmer Liu Jian was pulled out at the eleventh hour. It was an animation, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.
Unfortunately, this was to have been the only film from China in any Cannes section this year.
Although it is being felt that the ongoing Covid pandemic in Beijing and Shanghai may have been the reason why the movie could not be included in the Director’s Fortnight, it is also possible that this is a mere excuse.
For, Liu fell foul of Chinese censors in 2017 with his second animated feature, Have A Nice Day. It did premiere at Berlin, and was the first ever work of this kind to have played in Competition. But the work, a black comedy, was taken off France’s Annecy Film Festival reportedly after pressure from Beijing.
Iran’s Jafar Panahi also had to face such music. Banned from making movies for 20 years, he has been on a defiance drive, discovering inventive methods to step behind the camera. His Taxi, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin a few years ago, was a classic example. He disguised himself as a cabbie and took his cab around the streets of Teheran picking up passengers. He placed a small webcam on the dashboard and recorded his conversations with them. A lovely film emerged out of these.
Art is a restless creature, and cannot be shackled. Once Cannes got a movie from an Iranian director hidden in a pen drive, which in turn was buried in a cake and smuggled into the Festival.
Excitement, there is never any dearth of it at Cannes.