The word "commercial" is no longer employed in the title of this annual celebration of... what shall we call it?... marketing-oriented cinema?
That's just as well. The marketplace has changed, and the festival has modified accordingly. A couple of decades ago, when this program toured as "Award-Winning Commercials," it really was not possible to view the worldwide program of ads in one sitting.
The Internet changed all that, of course. Most of the commercial shorts in this program are as readily accessible as your YouTube account.
But the fest winners, still a popular, well-attended event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, remains a handy catch-all for important, influential, provocative and just plain hilarious works culled from ad agencies around the globe.Here's a sampling of what to expect among the 68 offerings on the program:
Fame. The six-minute commercial for the Lady Gaga-branded perfume Fame mines deeper than the basic perfume commercial's attract-a-man raison d'être. This is more like a sexual nightmare, using imagery borrowed from the opening credits of David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Director Steven Klein riffs shot after shot of the pop star frolicking with stuff that resembles liquid black vinyl, or gazing into a mirror that sucks her into its frame. A key shot of tiny male bodybuilders climbing all over a giant, nude Gaga suggests a decidedly kinky variation of a Gulliver's Travels motif, all accompanied by a cacophonous industrial-techno soundtrack composed by Gaga herself. It's impressive enough in its feverish way, but one comes away feeling a more apt name for the perfume would have been "Unhinged Narcissist."
Dumb Ways to Die. The winner of the Gold Lion Grand Prix is a morbid little musical cartoon from Australia about stupid -- and often gory -- ways of accidentally killing yourself. The commercial was intended to educate people to behave safely in and around trains before it went viral. It's a little gem, reminiscent of the notorious animated series Happy Tree Friends with its combination of kid-friendly animated characters and unpleasantly gruesome deaths.
Real Beauty Sketches. This three-minute Brazilian spot for Dove soap employs a police artist, shielded from view from his interviewees, drawing portraits of various women from the descriptions they supply themselves. Afterwards, he draws the same women described by strangers who have briefly encountered his subjects. The women are amazed to discover that the portraits drawn from their own descriptions tend to be uglier and less complimentary than the portraits as described by perfect strangers, suggesting women are less likely to appreciate their own beauty.
Whatever's Comfortable. You've probably already seen this Southern Comfort commercial in which a paunchy, oily, middle-aged dude in a Speedo strolls a beach with the unseemly confidence of a young, fit stud. In the context of the aforementioned Real Beauty Sketches, it serves as a demonstration that men tend to have a better self-image than women... often deludingly so.
Beat Your Pounds. A large, shirtless man finds his ample frame being used as a percussion instrument by three slap-happy drummers in this incredible German spot for a fitness centre.
Meet the Superhumans. Another Grand Prix winner, this 90-second spot for the 2012 Paralympics in London, is an intense multi-faceted view of Paralympic participants that effectively embraces their competitive spirit while refusing to look away from their "disabilities," all essayed by director Tom Tagholm to the music of Public Enemy's Harder Than You Think. Powerful and intensely moving.
The Beauty Inside. The Grand Prix Campaign winner at the end of the program is a tad anti-climactic, feeling like a cinematic Trojan horse wherein an artsy short film managed to sneak into an advertising program. Sponsored by Intel and Toshiba, The Beauty Inside is a series of six films totalling around 40 minutes, about a polymorphous human who being wakes up every day in a new body, sometimes young, sometimes old, sometimes male, sometimes female, of varying races. Some 36 mostly unknown actors play the role of "Alex." His malady makes things difficult when he/she (in the body of Criminal Minds' Matthew Gray Gubler) falls for a winsome antiques dealer played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. They have a beautiful evening together sneaking into a museum. He disappears... but not really. In other physical manifestations, Alex pays visits to her, but is stymied about declaring his/her love.
The plot device promises some fantastic opportunities for both satire and comedy, but the projects opt for a moony romanticism that spectacularly fails to live up to its premise.
Since this is the concluding presentation of the Cannes Lions, you wouldn't really be missing much if you ducked out while this was on, even if that seems counter-intuitive.
That's right. Stay for the commercials, and leave during the drama.
For days and times of the Cannes Lions screenings, go to WAG.ca.