Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images
For a city that derives its very essence from its annual May celebration of world cinema, the cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival in 2020 due to the pandemic was a major blow. But thanks to falling infection rates and rising vaccines, the Cannes red carpet and its iconic festival have returned with haute couture glamor and cinematic ambition.
“Oh my God, it’s a pleasure, a real thrill,” said Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes film festival he tells NPR in an interview from his office overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. “Yes, Cannes is back,” says Lescure, “but more importantly, cinema is back.”
There will be 24 films in official competition this year, some more than usual during the nearly two-week festival. There are dozens of additional films from around the world that are being screened out of competition. A new section called Cannes Premieres has also been organized to showcase year-long film selections that were lost due to the pandemic.
The opening night movie is Annette, a highly anticipated musical from filmmaker Leos Carax, or as some have described it, a modern opera. It stars acclaimed French actress Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver as lovers. Originally slated to make her 2020 debut, Annette was kept on ice for a year out of loyalty to Cannes, says Lescure.
A feast restored with precautions
The day before opening night, technicians checked the sound systems and put the finishing touches on the entrance to the Palais des Festivals, where movie stars from around the world will climb the iconic red-carpeted stairs tonight to kick off the show. the 74th edition of the iconic festival.
“This is a great moment for us, and we were waiting for it and in need of it,” says taxi driver Olivier Ralaud. “It’s a big, big event that increases the size of Cannes to about 300,000 people, and we are generally a small town.” Ralaud notes that it is a bit strange to have the festival in July, rather than May, where he says the tourist season usually begins.
Organizers waited until France’s pandemic restrictions were lifted to celebrate Cannes. But COVID-19 has created a somewhat different scene this year. People wear masks on the “Croisette”, the famous promenade that runs along the beaches of Cannes. There are also test sites and temperature checkers in front of popular places like the casino.
Film critic Lisa Nesselson is in town covering her 33rd festival. “I don’t think anyone disputes the notion that Cannes is the largest and most significant film event on the planet,” he says. “Some say the Oscars give him a run for his money, but IMHO that’s ridiculous.
Nesselson says Cannes brings together tens of thousands of people and shows carefully curated films handpicked by people who eat, breathe, and think about movies throughout the year. “And of course it is the most important film market in the world,” he says. “There are people who are buying and selling movies that are just a line on a sheet of paper, or a finished script, or halfway there. Huge amounts of money change hands in the market. So, there’s the part. artistic and commercial – and of course it has a reputation for being a spectacularly glamorous event. “
You can already feel the presence of the star, as music flows from elegant beachfront restaurants and private parties. This year a giant screen and chairs have been installed on the sand by the sea, for an outdoor night cinema experience.
Visitors take selfies in front of the famous red carpeted stairs. And then there are the regulars like Joseph Morpelli, who has placed his ladder in front of the stairs, like every year ago. “We love cinema and we love the actors who accompany it,” he says.
Morpelli is one of dozens of stairs chained to palm trees and poles, gleaming in the sun. Stairs are part of Cannes folklore and everything is in search of a better view and a chance to call in the movie stars as they arrive. “Sharon Stone is my favorite, but we haven’t seen her in a few years,” says Morpelli. “But we are going to see Jodie Foster this year.” That’s because the American actor and recent star of The Mauritanian is scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award.
A historic jury for a new era
As always, festival posters decorate the city, from shop windows to the Croisette.
This year’s poster features Jury President Spike Lee, staring wryly through his large black glasses, framed by two palm trees. It is not only the first time that a person from Black has presided over the jury, it is also the first time that a chief of jury has appeared on the official poster of the festival.
Juror Mati Diop also made history in 2019 when she became the first woman of color to have a film in competition at the festival with her feature film. Atlantic. This year’s jury, which awards the festival’s highest honor, Palm D’or, also includes more women than men. At the opening day press conference, Diop and his fellow jurors emphasized the importance of greater equity and inclusion at legacy institutions like Cannes. When asked about her fellow jurors, American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal said: “I’m very curious to see what happens with this new formulation.”
Cannes President Lescure says Spike Lee’s presence at the festivities at a time like this, amid a pandemic and global calls for racial justice, is particularly significant. “For his filmography, for his talent, for his political and social actions, for what he is,” says Lescure. “It seemed to us that he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time.”