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Cannes Official Selection Line-Up Overview with Digressions You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

On April 14th in Paris, Programming Director and all-around feisty film fellow Thierry Fremaux alongside final-term President Pierre Lescure revealed the 47 films—so far—that have been granted a slot for the Official Selection of the 75th Festival de Cannes, which will run from May 17-28, 2022. Eighteen of those will compete for the top award, the Palme d’Or or Golden Palm. The others will unspool in the sidebars (Un Certain Regard, Cannes Premiers, Special Screenings, etc.) to which they are presumably better suited.

Art needn’t be competitive and cinematic transcendence can pop up where one least expects it. (I just thought I’d toss that in because I happen to believe it. But many editors—although not those at RogerEbert.com—remain convinced that the competitive section of a film festival is always where the real action is.)

The Cannes Film Festival is doing its level best to banish paper but on the sheet that I carry in my head, everything just announced looks delectably enticing at best and pretty-darn-intriguing at worst. Elation and inevitable disappointments are still relatively far off. I love this particular pre-fest limbo to which announcements of the films in other sections of the event—Directors Fortnight and International Critics Week—will soon be added.

It was announced on April 19 that Kelly Reichardt will be this year's recipient of the Carosse d'Or trophy, which is awarded by Directors Fortnight. Since 2002, the French Directors Guild (SRF) has bestowed this distinction on a filmmaker whose body of work reflects a daring and original personal vision. Previous honorees include Martin Scorsese, Naomi Kawase, Jia Zhangke, and Werner Herzog

The result will be more movies than any one human can possibly see in 11 days, but considerably fewer than the 2,200 submissions to the main event overseen by Fremaux and Lescure.

Pre-Covid, the Festival reliably attracted 40,000 registered participants. (Cannes is the world’s largest film market in addition to the artistic side). The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic but the festival conferred a “2020 Festival Label” on movies that would have been shown had it been possible. These movies are still making their way out into the world with “Broken Keys” from Lebanon just opening in France on April 13th.

In 2021, the fest was held in July instead of May and—with masks and negative Covid proof mandatory but social distancing waived—official attendance dropped to about 20,000. Fremaux expects 35,000 participants next month, emphasizing that big swathes of Asia are not currently allowing international travel.

The population of Cannes is about 75,000. You’ll have to gather your own statistics on how many ridiculously overpriced handbags and jewelry items can be had in the boutiques that line the main drag, known as La Croisette. But it’s safe to say that local businesses are fond of people with discretionary income raised to believe that one cannot possibly own too many pairs of 600-Euro sneakers.

Baseball season has recently begun in the U.S. so here’s some inside baseball on new Festival developments. For a quarter of a century, pioneering French pay cable station Canal Plus covered the event, meaning the Opening and Closing ceremonies and everything in-between. That long-running partnership has ended and France’s public TV network, France Televisions, is the new official television partner.  

By the time the Film Festival begins, the world will know who the President of France will be for the next five years. Emmanuel Macron (who was 10 years old the first time I went to Cannes for the Festival, in 1987) wishes to eliminate the token fee collected from almost every household in France that goes to help fund the nation’s mostly enviable public television and radio services. Macron’s challenger, extreme right wing demagogue Marine Le Pen thinks it would be a good idea to privatize said public service. 

The Festival du Film has struck up a new partnership with Tik Tok.

Tikety tikety tok

Between hard place and rock

The fest renews

Its online views

Tikety tikety tok

If, like me, you wonder whether algorithms should be filed under Friend or Foe, you might want to take temporary refuge in another new Festival sponsor, Campari.

I mention these commercial ventures because they illustrate how much the festival has evolved from its long-ago goal of being an artistic bulwark against creeping Fascism as demonstrated by Italy’s Venice Film Festival. And I’m tempted to say that the cash needed to acquire one pair of those sneakers could have fed a Cannes family of four for a very long time back in 1939. (That first festival, slated for September, was called off when Germany invaded Poland which helps explain why this is the 75th edition although it has been 83 years since the idea for a juried film event on the French Riviera was first put into practice.)

Cannes will mark its 75th edition with a symposium, during which filmmakers will “reflect on their profession—which once entailed making films in 35mm for theaters. What is it becoming now?,” asked Fremaux.

In 1982, Wim Wenders invited a mouth-watering cross-section of international filmmakers into a Cannes hotel room, and, with a 16mm camera running, asked the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Michelangelo Antonioni, Susan Seidelman and Paul Morrissey whether cinema was a dying language. Four decades later a filmmaker named Lubna Playoust has been commissioned to repeat the exercise.

The jury president and at least some of the jurors are usually announced by now, but we’ve been told to be patient. “Artists work and it’s impressive to see the extent to which the image-making professions are up and running again,” said Fremaux. Translation: Don’t blame us —everybody’s making movies in mid-to-late-May.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you can get a film accepted into Cannes the answer is, in theory, yes. “Anyone who has made a film lasting more than 60 minutes is welcome to submit it to us,” says Fremaux, who works with a programming committee but is known to exercise firm control over final choices. “It will be watched. I’d be lying if I said we’ve already watched every single submission because so many of them arrive at the last possible minute. But we’re still hard at work and we will surely add a few titles in coming weeks.”

In the Special Screenings section, two documentaries about musical powerhouses sound like music to my ears. Ethan Coen has made a doc about Jerry Lee Lewis titled “Trouble in Mind.” Five years in the making with cooperation from the late performer’s estate, Brett Morgen’s “Moonage Daydream” promises to trace the visual and musical sides of inspired chameleon David Bowie. Fremaux revealed that not long before he died, Bowie reached out to say he’d be delighted to serve on the Festival’s jury. “We exchanged messages about the possibility, but it didn’t happen, for health reasons evidently.”

In the Out of Competition section, Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” sounds like the proverbial hot ticket. Also in that section, “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller returns with “Three Thousand Years of Longing” starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in a saga that Fremaux characterizes as “the history of the world.” Cool.

Fact-inspired Marseille cop drama “Bac Nord” premiered in Cannes last year and went on to be a major box office hit in France. Director Cedric Jimenez—whose 2015 English-language “HHhH” (also known as ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’) is well worth seeking out—is back with “November,” starring Jean Dujardin as part of the elite police unit tirelessly investigating the terror attacks that left over 100 people dead in Paris on November 13, 2015.

“Top Gun: Maverick” may or may not take our breath away but Fremaux is intent on making sure that Tom Cruise is celebrated for his “incredible track record” in acting and producing. Fremaux waxed eloquent about Cruise’s ongoing commitment to big screen movies destined for theaters. Come to think of it, not unlike Elvis Presley, Tom Cruise is a great American success story—a talented guy from humble beginnings who has parlayed hard work and (mostly) good material into planetary fame. Of course, I don’t think Las Vegas is full of Tom Cruise impersonators, but a quarter of a century ago on an airplane I met a gung-ho young man who was taking his first commercial flight ever and told me he hoped to become an elite fighter pilot after seeing “Top Gun.” That he felt a little woozy on a regular airliner wasn’t about to deter him from his movie-inspired dream.

The official section known as Un Certain Regard—which translates as “A Certain Way of Looking at Things” and does not stand for uncertainty—sports 15 titles so far, seven of which are from first-time directors and eight of which were made by women.

Observers keenly attuned to gender parity complain that the Competition features "only" 3 films directed by women and therefore eligible for the Golden Palm. The directors in question are pretty formidable talents, whose chromosomes may line up in a similar fashion but whose backgrounds and subject matter are mighty varied. 

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi comes from what can only be called an extremely wealthy family. Her sister Carla Bruni enjoyed a top-flight career as a model, is a very successful singer-songwriter, once dated Mick Jagger and is the wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. She paid for all of her clothes while First Lady. Bruni Tedeschi’s “Les Amandiers” examines the dedication in the 1980s of students at the title theater school founded by the late Patrice Chereau in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Louis Garrel plays Chereau, whose track record as a director of plays, films and operas is worth consulting and who you may recognize as General Montcalm in Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” 

American independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow” has been an enduring hit in France, playing for months on end. She’s an openly gay woman from a modest background who has stubbornly told affecting stories about ordinary people’s lives. Portland-set “Showing Up” is described as being about ceramicists—certainly not a topic that’s been overdone. 

And Claire Denis, whose filmmaking trajectory can only be described as varied and impressive is in Competition with “The Stars at Noon.” Her first film as a director, “Chocolat,” played Cannes in Competition in 1988. “The Stars at Noon,” set in Nicaragua (but filmed in Panama), is her 16th feature. Not that we need to sit around counting, but not that many contemporary male directors have that many films on their resume. She’s 76 and increasingly prolific. 

If forced to pick what I’m most looking forward to I’d say David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future.” The 79-year-old Canadian auteur had said he was done with directing but I’m ever so happy he changed his mind. At least I think I am. It has a terrific cast and that’s all I want to know until I see it. Watching his masterwork “Crash” in Cannes remains one of the highlights of my life as a movie-goer. 

I also get a residual charge out of the fact that I made Cronenberg laugh when I interviewed him at the Vienna International Film Festival and relayed a true story. The Viennale organizers had told me that the phone rang and a man identified himself as being from the American Embassy in Vienna. “We hear that David Cronenberg is here for the film festival and we’d like to host a reception for him.” The Viennale staffer replied, “That’s an incredibly generous offer. I feel I should ask—you do know that Mr. Cronenberg is Canadian?”

The man mumbled something, and they were suddenly disconnected. Cronenberg told me, “Canadians may seem like they’re just Americans who live further North, but I assure you we’re quite different. We don’t run around invading other countries much for one thing.”

Another film I’m very psyched about discovering is “Leila’s Brothers” by Saeed Roustaee of Iran. If you have not seen his mind-blowingly intense “Just 6.5” consider dropping what you’re doing to seek it out.

For the first time that I can recall concerning the annual press conference for the Cannes line-up, Fremaux and Lescure did not open the floor to questions. Fremaux has been saying for years that questions along the lines of “Why aren’t there more films by women?” or queries from reporters from Spain or Finland asking why there aren’t any films from Spain or Finland are a waste of breath.

Amusingly, it has been 30 years since a reporter at the Cannes press conference for Robert Altman’s “The Player” (he won Best Director) took the microphone to say, “Thank you so much for making Greta Scacchi’s character [June Gudmundsdottir] be from Iceland. I write for a newspaper in Iceland and my editors and I are very happy about this. We finally feel connected to international filmmaking.”

[Bad pun trigger warning]. Fremaux briefly made an ass of himself when announcing the Competition entry by 83-year-old veteran Jerzy Skolimowski “Eo” in which a donkey is said to figure. Which, of course, led to mention of Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic “Au Hasard Balthazar” in which a donkey is mistreated by a series of owners. Fremaux wondered aloud whether the title was the sound a braying donkey makes and imitated it to the best of his ability. Bresson is said to have taken his narrative cues from Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot.” So, all in all, a snazzier pedigree than, say, “Top Gun: Maverick” which when unveiled Out of Competition will almost certainly be a blast to watch.

The world’s most important film festival does not thumb its figurative nose at popular entertainment. I’m looking into securing a rooftop from which to shout about the best films I see. I don’t care whether they’re made by men or women or some less traditional designation. I don’t care what language they’re in or whether the director is young and just starting out or a senior citizen of cinema. The main reason to travel to Cannes is to have a crack at seeing potentially good movies with completely fresh eyes. When you’re lucky, the world lights up because you decided to take a seat in the dark.

 

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