Cannes Do

There are conventions and festivals, and then there is the Cannes Film Festival.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to Cannes once, for the TV equivalent, so I’m among the privelaged few that have dined on the Lower Croissette, strolled the village in search of the perfect pain au chocolat, and had a nightcap at the Martinez hotel with people who have picked up the tab.

But I’ve never been to the Film Festival, which is back in full force after a three-year disruption where it was either virtual or muted.  The crowds are back, the global stars are there, and the most beautiful people on Earth are getting a sneak preview at how they hope moviegoers (and cven a few streaming subscribers) will spend some time during the rest of 2023.

You know I’m downwright evangelical about the necessity for in-person conventions as an absolute necessity in a business where communication and connection are crucial.  More than ever, at a time when American production is now focused on picketing and studios, particularly those that have emerged from tech companies that built their billions on automation, are as dug in as ever on challenging the business model in place for more than a century, the need for a global fortnight to honor the greats, showcase the upcoming hits and, most importantly, give a chance for the masses to rub shoulders with them is dramatic.  I’m absolutely thrilled that the south of France is hopping between now and the end of this week.

And as THE WRAP’s Steve Pond penned this morning, so far it’s as much of a fete as it is an introspection:

A film festival as large as Cannes is always a study in contradictions, but the first six days of the 2023 edition feel particularly schizophrenic as the fest has veered between sentimental celebration and unsentimental artistry.

Both were on display in the festival’s biggest premiere so far, when Martin Scorsese’s monumental “Killers of the Flower Moon” had its debut in front of a delirious crowd at the Grand Theatre Lumiere on Saturday night. The invitation-only, black-tie audience was there to celebrate Scorsese, who first came to Cannes in 1976 with “Taxi Driver,” greeting him as a conquering hero and giving him a lengthy and emotional standing ovation that didn’t stop until he left the theater.

His film, meanwhile, was a hard-eyed and epic-length examination of the systematic murder of Native Americans from the Osage nation by whites looking to take the tribe’s oil money; the film’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, play amoral killers as Scorsese lays bare the real-life killings for more than three-and-a-half hours.

On opening night, veteran actor Michael Douglas received an honorary Palme d’Or for his long career, and he got an extended ovation. Two nights later, Harrison Ford showed up for the premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and was the surprise recipient of his own honorary Palme. He was moved to tears with the reception he got from Cannes audiences in screenings and even in press conferences for the next two days.

Yet amidst all of the grandeur, some of the greatest accolade was being bestowed on a far more somber-toned work:

But while those lovefests were taking place (and in the face of lighter movies like the out-of-competition “Indiana Jones” and Todd Haynes’ deliberately pulpy “May December”), the film that drew the most attention was Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest,” which uses sentiment to chilling effect by showing the carefree, happy lives of the Nazi elite who live in bucolic surroundings just past the brick wall separating the camp commander’s home from Auschwitz.

Disturbing?  Unquestionably.  But if you sit back and ponder what demographic and psychographic might just be more inclined to go out to a theatre and want a glimpse into this world, you might be more disturbed.  They’re mostly not in Cannes; they’ve been watching FOX News and, occasionally, CNN.

And lest you think the protests back home that  turned the Boston University commencement ceremony into a national news story complete with skywriting pleas to the keynoter we endearingly refer to as Yosemite Zas were forgotten, as Pond’s colleague Kristen Lopez added, even Cannes is acknowledging change could be on the horizon:

French film groups ARP and directors guild SRF published a letter, signed by 500 members of the French film industry, critiquing practices like censoring films for television as copyright infringement and threats to auteur filmmakers. ARP, the guild for writers, directors and producers, as well as SRF, the directors guild behind Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, want the final version of edited features, as well as opening and closing re-edits, to be signed off by the film’s director and writers, as well as have their names listed on all promotional material.  It goes hand-in-hand with Cannes’ Investors Circle, a panel featuring financiers and international producers discussing the state of cinema. Similar to our opening thoughts on Cannes, many at the panel said the time of big money playing at the festival has slowed down. As reported by Screen Daily, “streamers not releasing comprehensive data on what titles are working, both in the theatrical market and on their platforms, is hindering independent film’s ability to respond to changing audience behaviour.”

So who knows if and when this may all happen again, particularly with the renewed optimism this year was able to produce?

For now, we’ll savor it from afar, and hope like mad we might somehow be able to get back there, especially at this time of year.  Because one never knows who one might run into at Le Pizza at 1 AM, right?

Until next time…


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