Mike Leigh brings Turner's stormy seas to sunny Cannes

Thu May 15, 2014 10:30am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

CANNES (Reuters) - With colors from the artist's own palette and a central performance that explores the 'art of the grunt', British director Mike Leigh brought the turbulent life of English artist J.M.W. Turner to the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.

Leigh, a Cannes regular who has had five films in competition for the top Palme d'Or prize and won it in 1996 for "Secrets and Lies", is going head to head with another veteran British director, Ken Loach.

His "Mr Turner" and Loach's "Jimmy's Hall", about an Irish communist, are among 18 films vying for the top honor at the world's most prestigious festival, while 100 or more are being shown here in other forums.

Leigh's film brought Turner's huge canvases of ships tossed in stormy seas to a Cannes that this year is basking in steady sunshine.

"Turner is...one of the great painters of all times anywhere really, a great radical revolutionary painter," Leigh told reporters, explaining why he chose to focus on the 19th-century pre-Impressionist.

"I felt there was scope for what could be a fascinating film because of what may seem the tension between this very mortal, in some ways flawed and very inspired individual and this epic work, this spiritual way that he had of distilling, capturing and expressing the world."

Another competition entry, "Timbuktu" by Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, went to another climatic extreme entirely, depicting the occupation of the Malian desert city by Islamist militants who impose their strict version of Islamic law on an uncomprehending local population.

It shows shocking cruelty inflicted on residents, with people being whipped or stoned to death after the Islamists take over, in a film inspired by real events of 2012.   Continued...

Director Mike Leigh (2ndR), cast members Dorothy Atkinson (L), Timothy Spall (2ndL) and Marion Bailey (R) pose during a photocall for the film "Mr. Turner" in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 15, 2014.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier