The clocks have gone back, the days are growing longer, and you have finally sloughed off your winter coat. It’s time to hunt down your biggest pair of sunglasses, dust off your glad rags and get yourself down to the French Riviera, for it’s that time of year again – the biggest, the best, the most glamorous film festival in the world is ready to unfurl its red carpet, and we are totally here for it.
The token blockbuster
The Cannes Film Festival is a world unto itself and knows how to tread the fine line between class and crass, auteur and popcorn fodder, minimalist navel-gazing and full-blown spectacle. Festival director Thierry Frémaux has created a heady mix at Cannes so that the avant-garde experimental cinema of someone like Jean-Luc Godard (whose 20-minute Phony War is screening posthumously at the festival this year) can rub shoulders with more prosaic Hollywood fare, and the festival head is more than happy to sate our voracious appetite for stateside glamour.
In previous years, crowds have enjoyed such spectacles as tanks being driven down the Croisette (Cannes’s seafront boulevard) to transport the cast of The Expendables 3 to their press conference, and last year’s red, white and blue fighter jet flyover to salute the Top Gun Maverick premiere. This year’s blockbuster crowd-pleaser is James Mangold’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, with a stellar cast including Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas and Mads Mikkelsen; most of whom are likely to make an appearance on the red carpet. Who knows what to expect for that premiere – a whip-wielding stuntman fighting off Nazis in a snakepit?
The coolest parties
Talking of Indiana Jones, the hottest ticket in town will surely be Disney’s party to celebrate the film’s opening night. Disney throws a great bash, usually on the Carlton Beach: it went all out when celebrating Solo, with photo ops including selfies on board the Millennium Falcon flight deck and a firework extravaganza over the moonlit sea. Other hotly anticipated parties will be for Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City – with so many A-listers in its cast, the film’s party will surely see some of them dancing until the wee hours, probably on a sandy beach.
Still, sidebar event the Directors Fortnight holds its own, both in the quality of films in its selection and the beach party that everybody wants to attend. Last year Julianne Moore and Jesse Eisenberg were seen propping up the bar after the screening of When You Finish Saving the World.
Slightly less glamorous, but no less charming, is the critics’ lunch organised by the Cannes municipality. Held high above town, with sweeping views of the Cannes Marina, this alfresco lunch resembles a country wedding or local fête, with a brass marching band and flower-wielding ladies in traditional costume greeting their guests. The festival jury is always in attendance and the aioli lunch is a beloved tradition amongst the journos in town.
This year, arthouse streaming service Mubi is one of many industry players hosting a soirée, and every night, many of the seafront hotels will be hosting an event. Added to the mix are the villas in the hills and the yachts moored in the marina, also home to private parties or sponsored events. Every night is party night when the festival is in town. The tricky part is bagging an invitation.
It’s not just invitations to parties that Joe Public craves. The streets outside the festival venue are lined with people – many of them young, most of them in decked out in full evening regalia even at 8.30am – holding up placards begging for invitations to a premiere. A lucky few manage to pick up the odd spare ticket or two, and experience the full-wattage glamour of a Cannes red-carpet event.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Cannes if there weren’t a little drama. The festival cocks a snook at trends and movements in the film industry. While Hollywood was wringing its hands and dealing with the fallout from the MeToo movement, Cannes was welcoming the likes of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski to the Croisette. This year, the festival’s opening film is Maïwenn’s Jeanne du Barry, starring Johnny Depp. Once so beloved, he arrives in Cannes with the whiff of his trial against ex-wife Amber Heard clinging to him like a very bad smell. Meanwhile, last month director Maïwenn had a complaint for violence filed against her by the editor-in-chief of the French news website Médiapart.
While there are seven women in competition this year – a Cannes record – this is nowhere near 50-50 representation, the festival categorically refusing to consider the notion of gender equality as an option. One of those seven female directors is Catherine Corsini, but a scandal has broken out surrounding her film Le Retour, which reportedly contains a sex scene with its 15-year-old actor Esther Gohourou that did not see appropriate safeguarding rules in place.
Accusations of on-set impropriety led to the film losing government funding and the film was briefly removed from the Cannes lineup. It brings to mind the controversy around the 2013 Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, which saw its actresses Léa Seydoux (who said that during filming at times she “felt like a prostitute”) and the then-18-year-old Adele Exarcholpoulos spending ten days on repeated takes of just one of the many intimate sex scenes. Plus ça change, as one might say in Cannes.
It is right to take Cannes to task for championing established white male directors in its competition lineup, but when the list contains luminaries such as Ken Loach (with The Old Oak, a film about Syrian refugees in the Northeast of England), Todd Haynes (May December, a romantic drama starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore) or Wes Anderson (with his quirky sci-fi romance Asteroid City), not to mention Nanni Moretti, Wim Wenders and Kore-eda, it makes it harder to get a bee in your bonnet about the dearth of women.
Out of competition, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Plemons and Robert De Niro, has a special screening. The film tells the true story of the murder of members of the Osage tribe in 1920s Oklahoma. Pedro Almodóvar follows on from his sumptuous The Human Voice with Strange Way of Life, another English-language short. Starring Ethan Hawke and heartthrob du jour Pedro Pascal, this is sure to be a hot ticket despite its diminutive running time.
The quirky stuff
For all the serious fare screening in and out of competition, Cannes offers plenty of frivolous charm, such as the annual Palm Dog award for the best canine performance. Previous best in show(business) includes Brad Pitt’s dog in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with Quentin Tarantino himself showing up to accept the award on the pooch’s behalf. Last year’s winner, the giant poodle Britney from the film War Pony, was in town to pick up her award (a Palm Dog collar).
Closing the festival will be another crowd-pleaser: Pixar’s Elemental. Directed by Peter Sohn, it is a romance about a girl, Ember, who is all fire (literally) falling for Wave, her watery beau. It looks adorable and ensures the festival will end on an upbeat note. If Pixar puts on a party that is anything like the one it held for Inside Out in 2015, then that will be the icing on this very rich, very filling and very moreish gateau. Cannes, mon amour, let the fun of the festival commence. I, for one, can’t wait.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 16-28