As controversy concerning the absence of Netflix films from the Cannes film festival bubbled, festival director Thierry Frémaux announced a programme flush with young and exciting talent. There will also be new films from such stalwarts as Spike Lee and Jean-Luc Godard.
In recent years, there have been complaints about the main competition being stuffed with the usual fat old fellows. The race for the Palme d'Or is missing long-predicted new releases from film-makers such as Lars Von Trier, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Mike Leigh and Jacques Audiard. Those last three are all former Palme d'Or winners and, until recently, were expected to launch their new films on the Croisette.
Frémaux did, however, stress several times that more films will be added. It is assumed a few of those candidates are striving to finish their final cuts for late inclusion. It was confirmed that Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film decades in development and production, was tied up in legal dispute. The clear implication was that, lawyers permitting, it would be added before the festival launches in May 8th.
Jafar Panahi gets a main competition spot with Three Faces
One way or another, Frémaux has ended up with one of the freshest competitions in recent memory. Close to half the film-makers competing for the Palme d’Or are people of colour.
Jafar Panahi, an acclaimed Iranian film-maker whose own government still restricts his movement, gets a main competition spot with Three Faces. Frémaux explained that he would be making an explicit request to the authorities to let Panahi travel.
Spike Lee returns to the Palme d'Or race with his eccentrically titled BlacKkKlansman.
The festival will open with the first film from Asghar Farhadi, two-time Oscar winner, not in his own language of Farsi. Farhadi's Everybody Knows stars Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in a tale of intrigue and betrayal. David Robert Mitchell, creator of the cult horror It Follows, directs Andrew Garfield in the promising neo-noir Under the Silver Lake.
As the 50th anniversary of the turbulent 1968 festival looms, Jean Luc-Godard, instrumental in shutting the event down during Les Evénements, brings The Image Book to the Croisette. Frémaux joked that Godard was relaxed about the invitation to attend.
The elephant in the room was first addressed when, announcing that Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War would compete, Frémaux stressed it was an Amazon Studios co-production. The festival has never had any dispute with that streaming service, which works hard to get its films into cinemas. In contrast, Netflix is reluctant to accommodate theatrical releases.
There was, thus, some sympathy with Netflix's decision not to enter competition
Last year, during an event that welcomed two Netflix releases in competition, the Cannes authorities confirmed that, in future, no films would battle for the Palme d'Or without an agreement that a French release was planned. That country's exhibition agreements impose a wildly impractical 36-month window between cinema release and any subsequent streaming. There was, thus, some sympathy with Netflix's decision not to enter competition, but the company could still have allowed their films to play out of competition at Cannes. One day before the announcement of the programme, Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said none of its films would play anywhere at Cannes.
Frémaux and Cannes president Pierre Lescure confirmed, as many had suspected, that the decision came after negotiations to show Orson Welles's The Other Side of the Wind, a lost film restored by Netflix with the help of Peter Bogdanovich, in the Cannes Classics section. It has been reported that Beatrice Welles, the late director's daughter, begged Netflix to permit the Cannes screening.
"Why punish Orson Welles when they have done this amazing job?" said Frémaux.
“We made offers for two [Netflix] films – one in competition, one out of competition,” said Lescure. But “for the reasons you know” Netflix refused to release the proposed competition film into cinemas. Hence the fallout.
"It was a pity because Orson Welles was a president of the jury and came back as a member of the jury," said Fremaux. "And he won the Palme d'Or with Othello. I have seen the film. Everybody wants to see the film."
Before the Netflix row re-erupted, everyone suspected that most controversy would surround the role of women in the film industry. This is the first festival that (as far as we can guess) Harvey Weinstein will not be attending since his salad days in the late 1980s. Frémaux announced that three of the 18 films in the main competition were by women: Alice Rohrwacher, Eva Husson and Nadine Labaki. That is not so many. But it is more than Cannes has sometimes offered.
“The world is not the same as it was in October,” said Frémaux, addressing the Weinstein abuse scandal. “There are not enough [woman directors]. But the issue of quotas cannot be relevant for artistic purposes. The films are picked for their own intrinsic qualities. There will never be a selection with positive discrimination.” Frémaux hinted that at least one more female director may be added to the programme.
On a lighter note, Frémaux and Lescure went on at some length about the recent decision to ban selfies from the red carpet.
“We have 2,200 people to get in the cinema – this is why we forbid selfies,” he said. “Often people are falling up the stairs. So we decided it’s not nice to have people taking pictures of themselves. It’s also a philosophical question.”
Now we were getting to the Gallic heart of it.
“Cannes is based on a desire and a kind of elegance,” he said.
Purists will whinge about the decision to premiere Solo: A Star Wars Story
The organisers of the event can never win. Last year there were complaints about them daring to include Netflix releases and television shows such as Twin Peaks. This year, they are forced to defend the absence of such content. Last year, some wondered about the dearth of big Hollywood releases. This year, purists will whinge about the already announced decision to premiere Solo: A Star Wars Story 10 days before it arrives at commercial cinemas. This will be the first Star Wars film to hit Cannes since Revenge of the Sith in 2005.
Thierry was also pressed about the decision to prohibit press screenings before the red carpet premiere of films in the official selection. Sparking the analogy police into action, he compared the new situation – press screenings will be simultaneous with premieres or will occur the next morning – with arrangements for the press at football matches. He claimed that simply imposing an embargo would not work.
There was some shuffling of feet. But Frémaux did, at least, seem to promise more lavatories. Is that what the translator meant by “watering holes”? We’ll keep our eyes open.