‘Cinema is not dead.’ Cannes film festival makes a promising return

After cancelling in 2020, Cannes returns this summer with an extensive programme

The Cannes film festival, cancelled in 2020, has announced a promising return to action with a competition line-up featuring three former winners of the Palme d'Or. Thierry Frémaux, the artistic director, and Pierre Lescure, the festival's president, were in Paris to talk the press through what Lescure described as the first event in France to host a large number of visitors since the Covid crisis began last spring.

“Cinema is not dead,” Frémaux said. “The return of audiences to movie theatres around the world was the first good news. And the festival will be the second good news.” There is little sense of scaling down in this year’s official selection.

It had already been announced that the festival would open on July 6th with Leos Carax's musical Annette, featuring Adam Driver and Marion Cottillard, and that Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch, boasting a huge, glossy cast including Saoirse Ronan, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, would join that film in the main competition.

Also fighting for the Palme d'Or are previous champions Nanni Moretti, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jacques Audiard. Weerasethakul's Memoria, featuring Tilda Swinton as a Scottish traveller haunted by eerie sounds, looks like an early favourite for the big prize. This is the Thai director's first film in English.


Asghar Farhadi, winner of Oscars for A Separation and The Salesman, returns to his native Farsi with A Hero. Sean Baker, whose The Florida Project slayed audiences here in 2017, is back with the comedy-drama Red Rocket.

Four years after his The Last Face was roundly booed on La Croisette, Sean Penn bravely reappears with Flag Day, a conman drama starring the director, his daughter Dylan Penn and Josh Brolin.

Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, concerning a love affair between two 17th century nuns, is certain to turn heads.

There is also action "out of competition" and in a (slightly puzzling) new section called Cannes Premiere. Tom McCarthy's Stillwater, a crime drama starring Matt Damon, and Todd Haynes's The Velvet Underground, a study of that influential band, are placed in the former category.

Andrea Arnold's Cow, a documentary on the eponymous beast, and Arnaud Desplechin Deception, based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, will land under the Cannes Premiere label.

Colin Farrell is among the stars appearing in the Un Certain Regard section. He turns up in Kogonada's After Yang, a science-fiction film set in a world where robotic children are purchased as live-in baby-sitters.

Oliver Stone brings JFK: Through the Looking Glass, a documentary on his favourite conspiracy theory, to the "special screenings" strand. In the same section, Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane by Charlotte examines the director's mother Jane Birkin.

More films will be announced in the coming weeks. Frémaux confirmed that there would be at least one "blockbuster", but that it would not be the next James Bond film or Denis Villeneuve's Dune or Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The artistic director also had to field questions about the lack of Netflix films anywhere in the Official Selection. "The festival has a rule that the films in competition must be released in French movie theatres. Netflix wanted to have films in competition and not release them in French movie theatres," he said. "Netflix does not agree to come out of competition – does not accept the rules of the Cannes film festival. … We regret this absence, this attitude – this desire not to negotiate about an out-of-competition presence."

There will also be controversy at the news that only four of the 23 films announced in competition are directed by women.

Much conversation will, of course, focus on the arrangements for dealing with the continuing pandemic. Frémaux hoped that, by July, the festival will be able to “fill the room 100 per cent”. Lescure noted that testing facilities would be available within short walking distance from the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. “We will be very stringent,” he said. “We have some problems with the UK.”

It was announced last week that the French government was bringing in new quarantine regulations for British visitors to prevent the import of Covid variant B.1.716.2.

Attendees from Ireland will, for admission to the festival, require either "a certificate demonstrating full vaccination of a vaccine recognized by the European Medicines Agency" or "a negative PCR or antigen test result issued no more than 48 hours prior" or "proof of immunity via a positive antibody test or RT-PCR test dated no less than 15 days ago".

The organisers’ confidence that they can launch such so huge event so soon is striking. The Cannes film festival runs from July 6th until July 17th.

Cannes 2021 Official Selection


Annette. Director: Leos Carax (opening night film)

Flag Day. Director: Sean Penn

Tout S’est Bien Passé. Director: François Ozon

A Hero. Director: Asghar Farhadi

Tre Piani. Director: Nanni Moretti

Titane. Director: Julia Ducournau

The French Dispatch. Director: Wes Anderson

Red Rocket. Director: Sean Baker

Petrov’s Flu. Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

France. Director: Bruno Dumont

Nitram. Director: Justin Kurzel

Memoria. Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Les Olympiades. Director: Jacques Audiard

Benedetta. Director: Paul Verhoeven

La Fracture. Director: Catherine Corsini

The Restless. Director: Joachim Lafosse

Lingui. Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

The Worst Person In The World. Director: Joachim Trier

Bergman Island. Director: Mia Hansen-Love

Drive My Car. Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Ahed’s Knee. Director: Nadav Lapid

Casablanca Beats. Director: Nabil Ayouch

Compartment No. 6. Director: Juho Kuosmanen

The Story Of My Wife. Director: Ildiko Enyedi


De Son Vivant. Director: Emmanuelle Bercot

Stillwater. Director: Tom McCarthy

The Velvet Underground. Director: Todd Haynes

Bac Nord. Director: Cédric Jiminez

Aline. Director: Valérie Lemercier

Emergency Declaration. Director: Han Jae-Rim


Bloody Oranges. Director: Jean-Christophe Meurisse


Evolution. Director: Kornel Mundruczo

Cow. Director: Andrea Arnold

Mothering Sunday. Director: Eva Husson

Love Songs For Tough Guys. Director: Samuel Benchetrit

In Front Of Your Face. Director: Hong Sang-soo

Hold Me Tight. Director: Mathieu Amalric

Deception. Director: Arnaud Désplechin

Val, dirs: Ting Poo, Leo Scott

JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass. Director: Oliver Stone


*H6. Director: Yi Yi

Black Notebooks. Director: Shlomi Elkabetz

Mariner Of The Mountains. Director: Karim Ainouz

Babi Yar. Context. Director: Sergei Loznitsa

The Year Of The Everlasting Storm; dirs: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowery, Apichatpong Weerasethakul


The Innocents. Director: Eskil Vogt

After Yang. Director: Kogonada

Delo. Director: Alexey German Jr

Bonne Mere. Director: Hafsia Herzi

Noche De Fuego. Director: Tatiana Huezo

*Lamb. Director: Vladimar Johansson

*Un Monde. Director: Laura Wandel

*Freda. Director: Gessica Généus

*Moneyboys. Director: CB Yi

Blue Bayou. Director: Justin Chon

Commitment Hasan. Director: Hasan Semih Kaplanoglu

Rehana Maryam Noor. Director: Abdullah Mohammad Saad

Let There Be Morning. Director: Eran Kolirin

Unclenching The Fists. Director: Kira Kovalenko

*La Civil. Director: Ana Mihai

Women Do Cry, dirs: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova

*Denotes first film, eligible for the Camera d’Or