See all our 2012 Cannes coverage here

Despite being mysteriously listed in the Cannes schedule as simply ‘séance spéciale’, word quickly spread online and at Cannes that the festival had organised a special preview of exclusive footage to be shown to the press attending.

Described on the night by master of ceremonies Thierry Fremaux as an experiment (this was gleamed from the small amounts of French that I was able to understand) the event was a one off screening of trailers, teasers, clips and footage of upcoming films. These included a number of trailers that I won’t go into detail about here as they were all trailers already available online, such as Frankenweenie, Chimpanzee and The Brave but there were also a few exclusives too.

All the clips that played in the presentation had played in the preceding week in the market, in screenings that the press were denied access too. In fact, I had made efforts to see The Grandmasters footage at a showreel presentation by Wild Bunch but was informed by their representative that they weren’t willing to show it to press at that time. Luckily though this footage was included in the press presentation, along with exclusive footage from Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives and a sizzle reel from Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.

Both The Grandmasters and Spring Breakers had a very strong presence at the festival this year, with large banners for each greeting you as you left the Palais. Oddly the banner for Spring Breakers resulted in what seemed to be the most chatter with many simply wondering what on earth this film was.

The images on the banner look very much like a somewhat trashy raunchy comedy, something in the vein of Todd Philips perhaps, but the stars are pulled from safe and squeaky clean television shows and then right below the title is Harmony Korine’s name. None of these facts when brought together seem to quite fit but they certainly are intriguing. At the press preview we were treated to a three minute sizzle reel (official reports said five minutes but my watch told a different story) and it certainly did nothing to shake that intrigue.

The reel was created originally for the market so there was a strong sense that the footage included was selling the film, highlighting the most marketable moments. The reel was made up of a large number of very brief clips and appeared to be presented in chronological order from the film, giving one an idea of what the story may be. Beginning with the introduction of  the main girls in the film – played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine – who want to go on spring break but don’t have the money to do so. From what we saw it appears that they then rob a bank, successfully, and make their way to celebrate spring break.

Enter James Franco’s character Alien, with braided hair and a slimy grills filled grin, who gets involved with the girls spring break and things appear to get even more wild than they already were. Korine has a history of graphic content in his films and his writing work for director Larry Clark has included scenes involving a lot of sex between teenagers (Kids and Ken Park). Nothing in the sizzle reel shown hinted at anything as graphic or indeed strange as Gummo, Kids, Ken Park or Trash Humpers but there were a number of scenes involving drinking, drug taking, some minor nudity, arrests and a lot of guns. Also, the main stars were in bikinis throughout the reel, including a scene in a shot in a courtroom, and it seemed clear that Korine was making the most of the young actresses seemingly shedding their former clean cut Disney personae.

The whole reel looked very glossy and commercial, two words not generally associated with Korine, but producer Gregoire Melin has commented that Korine was able to “make it feel totally real” and there was a bit of an anarchic sense to some of the clips, including scenes of the girls in masks running about with guns. Apart from the novelty of the main stars and Korine’s name associated with such a commercial looking feature there was little in the reel that was actually particularly interesting or surprising though, but the intersection of a number of disparate factors make this still a film that I am oddly fascinated by.

Currently slated for release in 2013 and with a number of buyers reportedly interested in the film Spring Breakers is certainly an intriguing prospect, even if nothing about the reel shown was particularly arresting or interesting, and with the high profile actors involved it is sure to be a film that you’ll be hearing a lot about.

The official synopsis of Spring Breakers is as follows,

Brit, Candy, Cotty, and Faith have been best friends since grade school. They live together in a boring college dorm and are hungry for adventure. All they have to do is save enough money for spring break to get their shot at having some real fun. A serendipitous encounter with rapper “Alien” promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they could hope for. With the encouragement of their new friend, it soon becomes unclear how far the girls are willing to go to experience a spring break they will never forget.

The Grandmasters was the footage that I was most looking forward to at the press presentation and it thankfully it did not disappoint. The only disappointment was the fact that I was sitting down to watch five minutes of footage rather than the complete film, a film that has been so long delayed that this is the second Cannes to have rumours circling prior to the festival about it having its première here. I’m usually very quick to complain about watching footage or trailer presentations, I like films not tiny slivers of films, but with Wong Kar-wai reportedly working on re-shoots as I type and the UK rights to the film in the hands of The Weinstein Company I am not optimistic about seeing this film for a very, very long time.

The five minutes of footage presented were utterly gorgeous and appeared to be a wonderful set up for the character played in the film by Zhang Ziyi, presumably Kung Yi. The footage began with a young girl watching her father practising Bagua martial arts in a snowy courtyard from a window. The voiceover, from the girl, informs us that she is forbidden from watching him but she appears to be taking it all in and in a smooth transition we see her trying to practice the same moves in the courtyard.

The scene then transitions into the girl, now grown up (played by Zhang Ziyi) practising alone in the same courtyard. She is now highly skilled and, like her father, is able to effect the environment around her with her movements, icicles on trees shaking with her swift punches and the snow in the air pushed sideways as if by a strong wind.

The sequence is beautifully shot, gorgeous cinematography providing a feast for your eyes but it also communicates a lot of information visually. Through the sequence we learn a lot about the martial art being practised, the relationship between Zhang Ziyi’s character and her father, what potentially happened to him and also Zhang Ziyi’s character’s formative years. One criticism of voiceovers is often that they tell instead of showing but, like many of Wong Kar-wai’s films, the storytelling is all there in the visuals, with the voiceover doing as much to communicate mood as it does information.

Interestingly, the ‘circle walking’ Bagua martial arts shown in the clip sits very well alongside the other footage we have so far seen from the film, a teaser trailer featuring Tony Leung fighting a group of men. In the trailer Leung’s character (Ip Man) appears to be encircled by the men but manages to fight them off, despite their number, fitting in well with the reported benefits of the Bagua style.

Last year I wrote that my most anticipated film of 2012 was The Grandmasters (pointing out that it was also my most anticipated film of 2011) and little has changed. The five minutes I saw were incredibly solid and breathtakingly beautiful and I can’t wait to see the whole thing, whenever that may be.

The official synopsis of The Grandmasters is as follows,

With martial arts getting more popular in the Thirties, more people seek to learn them via the professionals at Foshan in Southern China. Some of the experienced masters like to challenge their counterparts and undergoing battles. To have their whole concentration, it is their practice to lock up the venues and no one is allowed to leave during battles. No food and no rest before reaching any results.

Ip Man is a young rich man extremely talented in martial arts, but he chooses to keep a low profile. Yet this doesn’t keep him out of these troubles ahead. One day he is trapped in this battleground so he has to use every means in order to get out of there. The masters are amazed by his abilities. Master Kung and his daughter Kung Yi are amongst, and the latter is attracted to this newcomer.

A high warlord is assassinated by his own guard Yi Xian Tian. All masters in Foshan vow to take Tian down no matter what…

Possibly the most hotly anticipated footage from a number of critics was the three minutes of exclusive footage from Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive follow-up, Only God Forgives, and it appeared to go down reasonably well. For me though, the footage was a little disappointing, coming across more like a violent commercial for a high end spirit than an interesting and intriguing scene from a film. Refn’s style is writ large here and whilst this is rather engaging all on its own, as is Gosling’s brooding intensity, there was little of substance in the footage to grasp onto.

Set in some sort of club, the scene features Gosling’s character (Julien), two Thai men and a girl who looks somewhat vacant (much like the women in the dressing room scene in Drive) and as the camera finally settles on the scene Julien suddenly gets up, walks over to the men and smashes one of the men’s glass into their face. A brief fight breaks out, with Julien clearly winning, before Julien then grabs one of the men by his face and then proceeds to drag him out of the building by his upper jaw.

The other man follows behind him and once outside the three continue to fight, or to be more precise, Julien continues to beat them both senseless. At one point he even resorts to pulling off his belt and whipping them with it. All the while swooping music plays on the soundtrack and there are constant cuts to a boxer statue.

Bathed in rich coloured lighting the sequence is, as I suggested above, stylised to the extreme and this is perhaps the only real takeaway from what we saw. The footage shown definitely seems to inhabit the same milieu as Drive and from what we saw it looks as if it will easily be as violent if not more so.

No official release date has been announced yet for Only God Forgives but it is expected late this year or very early in 2013.

The official synopsis for the Only God Forgives is as follows,

Bangkok. Ten years ago Julian killed a cop and went on the run. Now he manages a Thai boxing club as a front for a drugs operation. Respected in the criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty.

When JULIAN’s brother murders a prostitute the police call on retired cop Chang – the Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the father to kill his daughter’s murderer, then ‘restores order’ by chopping off the man’s right hand.

Julian’s mother Jenna – the head of a powerful criminal organization – arrives in Bangkok to collect her son’s body. She dispatches Julian to find his killers and ‘raise hell’.

Increasingly obsessed with the Angel of Vengeance, Julian challenges him to a boxing match, hoping that by defeating him he might find spiritual release… but Chang triumphs. A furious Jenna plots revenge and the stage is set for a bloody journey through betrayal and vengeance towards a final confrontation and the possibility of redemption.