Cannes Film Festival begins amid heavy security

Show goes on as Michael Haneke tipped for third Palme D’Or, for ‘Happy End’

The 70th Cannes Film Festival begins on Wednesday amid unprecedented levels of security.

The town is about 3km from Nice where, 10 months ago, 85 people were killed when a truck ploughed along a crowded promenade.

The threat level in France, assessed by the Vigipirate system, has been described as “elevated”, and armed soldiers have been placed at Cannes railway station and Nice airport.

For the first time, local policemen will be issued with handguns. Until this point, only national police officers were allowed to carry side arms. The Cannes gendarmes have also been seen wearing bulletproof vests.


Last year, after commissioning a report from Israeli counter-terrorism expert Nitzan Nuriel, Cannes mayor David Lisnard introduced a variety of new security measures, but the events in Nice have forced a further dramatic rethink.

The authorities have made efforts not to disrupt the town’s attractive maritime ambiance.

Up to 400 huge flower pots have been placed along the famous Croisette that leads along the seafront from the Palais des Festivals to the eastern edges of the town. The features are intended to act as a barrier against any vehicular assault in the style of the Nice atrocity.

The authorities are also spending about $6 million to erect retractable bollards at every entry point to the town.

Yves Daros, director of the municipal police, has revealed that about 550 surveillance cameras will be observing the goings-on.

“It’s the densest network in France. In Cannes, we have a camera for every 140 inhabitants,” Daros said. “I’ve been doing the festival for 35 years and the security has always been great, but this year it will reach new heights.”

The film community will be visiting a corner of France that counts as one of Marine Le Pen’s strongholds. The Front National candidate took 44 per cent of the votes in Alpes-Maritime, the department that contains Nice and Cannes.

That was more than 10 per cent above the national average, but the festival remains a stubborn bastion of liberal sensibilities.

Directorial debut

This year's official selection is packed with films addressing issues surrounding the migration crisis. Vanessa Redgrave, the veteran British actor, makes a belated directorial debut with a documentary called Sea Sorrow.

The film collects stories from refugees concerning the causes of their dislocation and the hardships they subsequently encountered. “We all get tired, we’ve got to be reminded of the deeper things that make it worthwhile to live and to help others,” Redgrave has said.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, two-time Oscar winner, will present a virtual-reality experience called Carne y Arena (Virtually present, Physically invisible), which will explore the conditions of immigrants and refugees. In an unusual divergence from the Cannes norm, journalists will be driven from the Palais to a warehouse and fitted with headsets.

“My intention was to experiment with VR technology to explore the human condition in an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame,” Iñárritu said.

Most attention will, however be focused on Michael Haneke's Happy End, starring Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones. The Austrian director's latest concerns a middle-class family in Calais whose squabbles take place against the background of that locale's continuing refugee crisis.

Haneke is among the small band of film-makers to have won the Palme d’Or – the festival’s most important award – on two occasions, and few would complain if he became the first director to ever grab a third.

The festival opens with a screening of Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts – a drama starring Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg – and runs busily for a further 10 days.

The stars attending this year include Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Dustin Hoffman and Colin Farrell.

Irish interest is maintained with Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer, produced by Dublin-based Element Pictures, which is competing for the Palme d'Or. Tipsters reckon it has a decent chance of winning.