The Cannes Film Festival enters its most critical edition, here’s what to expect
The Palais des Festivals, the hub of the Cannes Film Festival, a massive bulwark of filmmaker-named venues and pristine cinema screens, is about as close to a temple of cinema as it gets. To enter, you have to climb steps covered with red carpet.
But over the past 16 months, the Palais de Cannes has not been home to the cinematic frenzy it welcomes each year. Last year’s festival was postponed and then canceled. The Palace, on the contrary, was lined with hospital beds in the first months of the pandemic. Earlier this year, it was transformed into a mass vaccination “vaccinodrome”.
Tuesday, the Cannes Film Festival, postponed from May to July, will finally open its doors for its 74th and perhaps the most critical edition. His famous red carpet will once again be inundated with stars. The screens will be turned back on. And, perhaps, the movies will rekindle some of the romance and grandeur that has fallen asleep over the past pandemic year.
“It’s kind of a pilgrimage or Mecca, and even more so this year,” says Mark Cousins, the Scotland-based filmmaker whose The Story of Film: A New Generation will premiere on Cannes beach. At the Palais, Leos Carax, a director whose freewheeling fictions reflect true cinema dreams, will debut his highly anticipated Annette, a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
The annual pressure from editing Cannes, arguably the world’s most famous film festival and a global flagship for the big screen, is still enormous. Its fluctuations are closely watched as a barometer of the art form. The last Cannes, a good one, launched Parasite by Bong Joon Ho, winner of the Palme d’Or of Cannes before winning the best picture at the Oscars.
But this year, after much of the film world has gone into hibernation, Cannes’ biggest duty might be to wake up the cinema. Announcing the lineup last month, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux said: “Cinema is not dead.
“When Thierry Frémaux called me after seeing the film, he told me: ‘We fell asleep and we want to wake up and pick up where we left off'”, says Cousins, who will also present in the foreground. premiered a documentary about the British. film producer (and Cannes regular) Jeremy Thomas. “I am impatiently awaiting the overload, the deluge, the exhaustion of Cannes.
Cannes will be the first major film festival to attempt an essentially complete edition. There will be no virtual component. No free places between festival-goers (masked). Participants must be vaccinated or tested for Covid-19 every 48 hours. Ready or not, the crowds will be back on the Croisette, the main artery of the city of the Côte d’Azur.
But in a festival that prides itself on a rigid rhythm and clockwork, a lot will be different. Many foreigners will not be able to attend due to travel restrictions. There will be less of the large contingent of the film industry that normally descends during a week of frantic trading on yachts and hotel terraces. (To dampen the crowds, the Cannes Film Market was held in June instead.) Waterfalls, like when Sacha Baron Cohen rode the Croisette on a camel, can be rare.
On the red carpet, some age-old traditions have also been suppressed for security reasons. Fremaux usually meets all the filmmakers and throws up the steps of the Palace with the standard European greeting of kisses on each cheek. But under Covid, it will be a Cannes without kisses.
France has eased most restrictions in recent weeks as cases have declined and vaccinations have increased. Like most countries, it is also facing the rise of the delta variant. With more than 111,000 deaths from Covid-19, France has the ninth highest death toll in the world.
Many filmmakers who came to Cannes have experienced the worst of the pandemic. Mia Hanson-Løve, the famous French director, has lost her father to Covid. But coming to the festival to create his Bergman Island (with Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth and Mia Wasikowska) does not worry him.
“I experienced this reality in a very brutal and inner way,” says Hanson-Løve, speaking of Paris where she is shooting her next film. “It doesn’t mean that I am not unconscious or unconscious. I am still in mourning. I don’t want my answer to sound light, like someone who doesn’t care. What I mean is: I am not afraid. Maybe because I looked death in the eye.
“I can’t live in fear that long,” she adds. “I can still be sad. But I can no longer be afraid.
This year’s lineup features many of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers, many of whom are Cannes regulars. Among them: Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch), Asghar Farhadi (A Hero), Paul Verhoeven (Benedetta), Jacques Audiard (Paris 13th), Bruno Dumont (Par un Demi Clair Matin) and Sean Penn (Flag Day). Some films, like Anderson’s, were official selections last year for a festival that never happened.
Twenty-four films will compete for the Palme d’Or, which will be decided by a jury chaired by Spike Lee, the first black person to hold this position. Lee’s face also adorns this year’s festival poster.
One thing you won’t see in Cannes: no Netflix movies. The festival, which requires films in competition to be released in French theaters, and the streamer are still at odds. And while the female directors will be very present at the festival, Cannes has often been criticized for its record on gender equality. The list for this year’s competition includes four films directed by women, tying a record for Cannes but nowhere near the parity other major festivals are aiming for.
But there will be a wide range of films at Cannes including Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, starring Matt Damon; Todd Haynes’ documentary The Velvet Underground; Oliver Stone’s JFK: Through the Looking Glass; The Souvenir Part II by Joanna Hogg and After Yang by Kogonada.
Some of the entries were shot in 2019, others were products of the pandemic. Sean Baker will present in competition his long-awaited sequel to the 2017 Oscar-nominated film, The Florida Project. He spent two years on a project that was about to shoot in Vancouver when the virus ruined that chance.
“This movie wouldn’t have happened without Covid,” said Baker, who describes Red Rocket – of a stranded pornstar returning to her hometown of Texas – as “a darker, more raunchy comedy.” “We realized we weren’t going to be making this movie anytime soon. Speaking to the producers, we realized there was an opportunity to make a much smaller film. Basically fair: why not?
The shooting was difficult. The false positives almost stopped them. But Baker believes that “the crazy energy of the moment and the anxiety” were caught on camera. He spoke about Los Angeles as he rushed to finish mixing the film in time for Cannes, still excited that he was competing with “some of the most renowned filmmakers who have ever walked the earth” – like Verhoeven and Dumont, directors whose work influenced Red Rocket.
“Honestly, I feel like the eighth grade that snuck into the prom,” Baker said.
Like most Cannes directors, Baker fully and unequivocally believes in feature films and the big screen. It shoots on film. He posts photos of his ticket stubs on Twitter – including many invigorating trips since theaters reopened.
“The first thing I thought about was this cliché: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
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