Cannes festival 2022: prestige arthouse meets Hollywood glitz - plus ça change

Top Gun on screen - finally - and one of the starriest line-ups of auteurs in the event’s history

Austin Butler as the King in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis

Austin Butler as the King in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis

 

The 75th edition of the Cannes film festival may have TikTok as a sponsor, but if attendees from the late 1940s and early 1950s were beamed forwards to this year’s Croisette they would be taken aback at how little has changed.

The photographers are, thank heavens, less likely to objectify near-naked starlets on the beach. As ever, the priority is, however, to balance movie-star glitz with a display of cinema’s high-cultural achievement. No red carpet at any other such bash operates at anything like the industrial pitch of the Cannes jamboree. No other festival prize matters like the Palme d’Or. After a surprisingly successful return to action in 2021, the 75th Cannes appears to be easily achieving both its lofty and populist ambitions

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick; it took over 30 years to nudge a sequel to the era-defining 1986 film before cameras.
Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick; it took over 30 years to nudge a sequel to the era-defining 1986 film before cameras.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, it looked as if Hollywood was becoming less keen on premiering its big beasts on the French Riviera. Forget that. Tom Cruise will be in town for a much-delayed unveiling of Top Gun: Maverick. It took over 30 years to nudge a sequel to the era-defining 1986 film before cameras. It feels as if it took almost as long to get that film to audiences. The festival will play tribute to Cruise and may even welcome a flyover by the home air force. “We’re thinking and working on that but let’s see,” Thierry Frémaux, the festival president, said. “There have been discussions with the French military but nothing is set at all.”

Competition title attracting the most press attention will surely be David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, starring Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart
Competition title attracting the most press attention will surely be David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, starring Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart

The festival will also see out-of-competition premieres of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis and George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing. The Lurhmann film, starring Austin Butler as the King, secured a place in future pandemic chronicles when Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker, became, on the Australian set, one of the first celebrities to contract Covid. There are other Elvis connections. Riley Keough, the great man’s daughter, makes her directorial debut in the Un Certain Regard sidebar with Beast (co-directed with Gina Gammell). Ethan Coen, one half of the Coen brothers, brings Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, a documentary on Elvis’s most dangerous musical contemporary, to the “special screenings” corner. Miller follows up Mad Max Fury Road, a Cannes premiere in 2015, with an epic romantic fantasy starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. Nobody seems to have any idea of what to expect from Three Thousand Years of Longing. There lies the fun of seeing a film on its first ever public outing.

Palme d’Or

The core of the festival remains, however, the prestige arthouse (for want of a less awkward word) titles competing for the Palme d’Or. With all films unseen, we can judge the Official Competition only by the standard of directors in the running. Cannes 2022 boasts one of the starriest line-ups of auteurs in the event’s history. Previous Palme winners Hirokazu Kore-eda, Cristian Mungiu, Ruben Östlund and the Dardenne brothers return with, respectively, Broker, another social study of contemporary Japan; RMN, a drama concerning racism in Romania; Triangle of Sadness, a knotty Östlund satire starring Woody Harrelson, and, this being two-time Palme honourees the Dardennes, a naturalistic Belgian drama called Tori et Lokita.

The competition title attracting the most press attention will surely be David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. This is the sixth of the Canadian director’s films to battle for the Palme, but he has won only one major award – a Jury Prize for Crash in 1996. Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart star in a film that, if the trailer is any measure, returns to the body horror with which Cronenberg made his name. “It’s going to be very Cronenberg,” Seydoux told me last year.

Kelly Reichardt, among the best American directors of her generation, competes with Showing Up. Reichardt is known for her oblique approach in titles such as First Cow and Wendy and Lucy, but the new film, starring Michelle Williams, promises something close to comedy.

After the initial programme launch, Fremaux was criticised for including just three films by women, but he has since edged up the female-directed titles to a respectable – if unspectacular – five. The most distinguished of those film-makers, Claire Denis, has, astonishingly, not played in competition since Chocolat landed here in 1988. Denis’s The Stars at Noon, an English-language production featuring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn, adapts an admired novel by Denis Johnson.

The festival and awards circuit has, in recent years, been a peculiar place for women. Equality has not yet been reached in programming, but, last year, Chloe Zhao won the Oscar for best director and, over the following 12 months, each of the three showpiece European festivals – Cannes, Venice and Berlin – gave their top prize to a female film-maker. Jane Campion then won the 2022 best director Oscar. Denis must have a decent chance of following Julia Ducournau, Palme honouree in 2021 for Titane, to the most coveted of the festival awards.

There is more to look forward to in competition. Anthony Hopkins appears to be a playing a version of Donald Trump’s dad in James Gray’s autobiographical Armageddon Time. Park Chan-Wook, who allegedly came close to a Palme with Oldboy, is back with a thriller called Decision to Leave. As has been the case for over 50 years, almost as much attention will be played to the Directors’ Fortnight, just a few hundred metres along La Croisette. Created in the wake of the “May 68” disturbances – which led to the festival’s cancellation – the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs has given an early leg-up to such directors as Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. Lenny Abrahamson premiered Garage there in 2007.

Irish film God’s Creatures, starring Paul Mescal and Emily Watson, has made it into the Directors’ Fortnight.
Irish film God’s Creatures, starring Paul Mescal and Emily Watson, has made it into the Directors’ Fortnight.

This year, the Irish film God’s Creatures, starring Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi and Emily Watson, has made it into the Fortnight. Produced by Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, who was Bafta nominated for Lady Macbeth, Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s film has to do with a women who causes trouble for her community when she tells a lie to protect her son. The sidebar is just the right place to launch such a film into prominence. Recent Oscar nominees such as Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project and Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse all played at Directors’ Fortnight

Mescal is having quite the Cannes. The Maynooth man will also be seen as a father (already?) travelling through Turkey with his 11-year-old daughter in Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun, which plays at International Critics’ Week. Jessie Buckley, unavoidable Kerry star, will be at Directors’ Fortnight with Alex Garland’s already much-hyped horror film Men.

The Quinzaine has grabbed a few titles that Cannes pundits had pencilled in for the main competition. Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men follows up his ingenious Cornish drama Bait. Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning, starring Cannes regular Léa Seydoux, and Alice Winocour’s Paris Memories, featuring Virginie Efira, could both have been plausible Palme competitors.

There will be plenty more to savour in the corners of a festival that has barely taken a breath after recent convulsions. Brett Morgan, who previously studied Kurt Cobain in his fine documentary Montage of Heck, turns his eyes to David Bowie with Moonage Daydream. Restorations in the Cannes Classics section include Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, Orson Welles’s The Trial, and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain.

It is startling how steadily Cannes seems to have continued after the pandemic. The 2020 event was, of course, cancelled, but the 2021 edition – at which attendees were regularly tested – delivered one of the juiciest recent programmes. From the main competition, Ducournau’s Titane, Leos Carax’s Annette and Sean Baker’s Red Rocket were critical hits. Joaquin Trier’s The Worst Person in the World and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car made it all the way to the Oscars.

There was some concern that suspensions in production might have caused problems for the 75th selection, but the busy programme confirms how doggedly film professionals plugged away when everyone else was locked down.

The lessons worth heeding may, however, emerge from the busy film market that takes place in the bowels of the Palais while attendees watch the official selection above. Thanks to disagreements over French regulations on the gap between theatrical premiere and streaming debut, Netflix has again been excluded from competition, but, licking its wounds after indifferent financial results, the online giant will be in search of acquisitions. Just last week the company laid out for Alejandro G Iñárritu’s upcoming Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. Beaming after its Oscar win with CODA, Apple will also be prowling.

It seem, alas, that none will have the chance to pick up the “secret” David Lynch film that respectable sources had pencilled in for exhibition at Cannes 2022. Did it ever exist? Might it still turn up? Fremaux wasn’t playing.

“At Cannes, we don’t talk about what we’re not showing, we talk about what we are showing,” he said last month.

The Cannes film festival runs from May 17th until May 28th.

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