Cannes 2022: Standing ovations, red carpet protests and deals getting done

Festival Diary: Holy Spider an early contender for Palme d’Or, while genie Idris Elba let out of bottle

Zahra Amir Ebrahimi in Holy Spider.

Stop the presses. Three Hundred Years of Longing got a six-minute standing ovation at the Lumière on Saturday night. Tom Cruise got five minutes on Thursday night. It says here that Lee Jung Jae and Jung Woo Sung’s Hunt equalled Longing’s seven minutes as did Patricio Guzmán for My Imaginary Country. Every year this happens.

Every year it gets reported as news. Often, the story is presented as rebuttal to argument that bad word was gathering around titles pre-release. See? They loved it at Cannes.

Sometimes the dreaded phrase “early Oscar buzz” is dragged out. Let me break it to you. Almost everybody gets a standing ovation. Most of the famous duds got standing ovations. It is only polite when the cast and crew have flown in to launch the thing.

Jim Sheridan’s long-discussed autobiographical drama looks to have got a little closer to production. Timothy Scott Bogart, in Cannes to sell Spinning Gold, a study of his father, the disco pioneer Neil Bogart, is to produce North Star, as Sheridan’s film is called, with Jessica Martins. U2 are reportedly in talks to provide some songs.


Variety reports that the drama will begin principal photography in Ireland next year. The official description runs: “Sheamie finds his world turned upside down when a teenage orphan moves in to live with them, revealing the deeper and more complicated problems Sheamie has with his dad; secrets that now threaten to tear the family apart.”

Jessica Martins was effusive about the project. “I’ve always been drawn to stories about family,” she said. “And for some reason, I keep finding myself making films about fathers and their sons! In North Star, Jim has pulled no punches, delving deep into his own personal family history to craft an incredibly compelling tale about love, loss and the life we live between.”

We expect nothing less. In other news from the market, Anthony Hopkins is to play Sigmund Freud in Matthew Brown’s Freud’s Last Session, which concerns a meeting between the great man and CS Lewis. Rather neatly, the Welsh veteran, appearing in James Gray’s Armageddon time at Cannes 2022, played Lewis to acclaim in Shadowlands.

Members of feminist movement Les Colleuses hold a giant banner reading the names of 129 women who died as a result of domestic violence since the last Cannes Film Festival, prior the screening of Holy Spider during the event in Cannes, France on May 22nd. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

There were protests outside the premiere on Sunday evening of Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider at the Lumière Theatre. Feminists let off smoke bombs and unveiled a banner detailing the “129 feminicides in France since the last Cannes festival”.

Given that Abbasi’s film (reviewed below) is markedly sympathetic to victims of misogynistic violence, we can reasonably assume this was a gesture of support rather than an attack on Holy Spider.

Holy Spider
Directed by Ali Abbasi. Starring Mehdi Bajestani, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad, Alice Rahimi
In competition, 115 min

Ali Abbasi’s Border, which won Un Certain Regard here in 2017, worked hard at defying any attempt at categorisation. Were you so inclined you could class the first two thirds of his stunning follow-up as feminist noir – working through an aesthetic that David Fincher would not find foreign – on the streets of Mashhad in northeast Iran.

But, in its later stages, more reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi, the picture, based on a true story, develops a chilling critique on institutional misogyny in that country. The whole film is pitched between a howl of rage and a gasp of disbelief.

Rahimi (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi), an investigative reporter, arrives from Tehran with the intention of investigating a serial killer who is menacing the sex workers of Mashhad. Early on we see signs of the mid-level sexism that she endures on a daily basis. Hotel clerks are suspicious of a woman unaccompanied by a husband. She is blamed for the sexual harassment she received back in the capital.

We are invited to place these inconveniences on a continuum with the violence playing out on the streets. Rahimi’s investigation of those crimes is handled with a grasp of genre dynamics that, whether Abbasi is interested or not, will have Hollywood beating down his door.

The violence is cautiously pitched between gratuitous explicitness and dishonest coyness. We are shown awful things, but there is never any sense of revelling in the carnage. The most shocking thing in the film is a closing grimly playful moment that suggests the malignance will live on in succeeding generations.

Easily the best film in competition to date.

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in Three Thousand Years of Longing. Photograph: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc

Three Thousand Years of Longing
Directed by George Miller. Starring Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Alyla Browne, Aamito Lagum, Burcu Gölgedar, Matteo Bocelli 
Out of competition, 108 min

A full seven years since he premiered Mad Max: Fury Road at Cannes, George Miller returns, again out of competition, with an expansive, time-travelling adventure that – in its epic way – nods to the shut-in life many of us have been living since 2020.

Based on a story by AS Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing spends most of its time relating conversations between a respected “narratologist” and a recently released genie in an Istanbul hotel room.

Yet this is no chamber drama. He talks her back through the centuries he has spent imprisoned in a phial and relates thrilling moments of (literal) release when this biblical queen or that Ottoman firebrand utilised his wish-giving powers to erotic effect.

Tilda Swinton, always welcome, is polished and primped as Alithea Binnie, an academic in Turkey for a conference. Working her electric toothbrush on a jar she picked up in a bazaar, she unleashes a djinn who initially takes up even more of the room than Idris Elba can usually manage.

Shrunk back to manageable size, he offers her the three wishes that will set him free. Did we mention she is a narratologist? Alithea knows that most stories about wishes (she doesn’t even mention The Monkey’s Paw) are cautionary tales and she takes some persuading.

The too-heavily computer generated versions of the magical past stray from dubious exoticism to high-end panto. The sense that conventions of myth are being deconstructed is lost from Byatt’s original story, but there is enough flash here to dispel any boredom.

More successful is the sweet relationship between the bottled-up Alithea – Swinton just about shrugs off potential miscasting in a role that could have gone to Sally Hawkins – and her sweetly spoken magical friend. Feels like a folly at times, but always a worthwhile folly.