PARIS: The Cannes Film Festival returns next week, promising to bury the long months of darkness and solitude under an avalanche of celebrity, champagne and chin-stroking arthouse cinema.
It is billed as nothing less than a resurrection. “Cinema is not dead!” festival supremo Thierry Fremaux declared last month.
It is the first major fully-fledged film festival since the pandemic, and a truckload of Hollywood stars — from Timothee Chalamet to Nicole Kidman to Matt Damon — are expected on the Croisette between July 6 and 17.
It´s not quite a return to normal, of course, even if France´s Covid numbers have been steadily improving and most restrictions lifted.
There will be no “bises” — the French-style peck on the cheeks — at the top of the fabled steps to the Palais des Festivals.
And some of the glitz will be toned down, with many after-parties cancelled and the big galas cutting their invite lists in half to meet social distancing guidelines.
Organisers are also slowly waking up to the fact that the sight of celebrities and moguls arriving on private jets and mega-yachts doesn´t seem so chic in an age of impending climate disaster.
So this year: no plastic, lots of electric cars, and most symbolic of all: a red carpet that is half the size and made from recycled material.
– Stargazing –
But our collective need to gawp at megastars on the Cote d´Azur will not be denied.
One film in this year´s competition accounts for an outsize share of the celeb-count: Wes Anderson´s “The French Dispatch” includes Chalamet, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray and many more.
Two other stars of that film — Tilda Swinton and Lea Seydoux — will be near-ubiquitous on the Croisette, with appearances in a remarkable eight movies between them.
Damon is in town for the premiere of his latest thriller, the Marseilles-set “Stillwater”.
But Cannes is all about the filmmakers, and after last year´s edition was cancelled due to the pandemic, a particularly rich crop of festival alumni is competing for the Palme d´Or.
Among those submitting themselves to the famously blunt audiences of Cannes are several past winners: Italy´s Nanni Moretti with his new film “Tre Piani”, France´s Jacques Audiard (“Les Olympiades”) and Thailand´s master of the slow-burn Apichatpong Weerasethakul with his English-language debut (“Memoria”).
The opening night film is also a first in English for France´s Leo Carax, directing Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in what is certain to be a bizarre and visually arresting musical about a celebrity couple and their mysterious child, “Annette”.
Dutch shockmeister Paul Verhoeven, who made his name with Hollywood megahits like “Robocop” and “Basic Instinct”, continues his late run of (slightly) more subtle European fare with “Benedetta” about lesbian nuns in 17th century Italy.
Sean Penn will also be hoping for a personal resurrection after his catastrophic Cannes appearance in 2016, when his Africa-based humanitarian love story “The Last Face” was mercilessly booed.
He is aiming for a warmer reception to “Flag Day”, starring himself and his daughter Dylan.
Also in the competition are Iran´s two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, who returns with “A Hero”, and Russia´s Kirill Serebrennikov, who is unable to attend due to an embezzlement conviction that is widely seen as punishment for criticising Vladimir Putin.
– Gender imbalance –
The panel judging the 24 entries is headed by US director Spike Lee — the first time a black man has led the jury — and includes “The Serpent” star Tahar Rahim and US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.
With just four female directors in the competition, the festival´s tendency to pick the usual (male) suspects of the arthouse elite is once again under scrutiny.
Only one woman has won the top Palme d´Or prize in 73 editions of the festival: Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993.
The selection is more balanced in the other sections, however, with over half the entries in the independent Directors´ Fortnight and International Critics Week coming from women directors.
US actor-director Jodie Foster will likely field questions on the subject as she picks up an honorary Palme.
There is plenty happening outside the competitions, including a first showing of Oliver Stone´s new documentary about the JFK assassination, updating his feature-length conspiracy theory from 1991.
That will play in the new Cannes Premiere section, along with other intriguing documentaries: one about troubled star Val Kilmer (“Val”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg´s ode to her mother Jane Birkin (“Jane”).