The Cannes Film Festival is poised to launch a blockbuster 76th edition on Tuesday stacked with celebrated auteurs and Hollywood star power, confident that it has weathered the Covid pandemic and upheld its status as the guardian of the big screen. In a belated and welcome sign of change, this year’s line-up features more female directors and a sizeable contingent of African entries, while the return of Hollywood silverbacks Harrison Ford (in his final appearance as Indiana Jones) and Martin Scorsese will provide the festival’s marquee premieres.
The world’s glitziest showcase for the movies is oozing confidence once again after Covid forced a no-show in 2020 and a scaled-back summer gathering the next year, fuelling speculation of a fatal blow to a wider industry already upended by the rise of streaming platforms.
Talk of the festival’s decline has long been a recurrent theme along Cannes’ palm tree-lined Croisette. Once again it has proved premature. Last year’s edition already signalled a return to form for the festival, on and off the screen, while the roaring premiere of “Top Gun: Maverick” – complete with a fly-past tribute to Tom Cruise – proved the Riviera pageant had lost none of its appeal for the Hollywood studios.
The hugely successful sequel was one of three Oscar best-picture nominees to launch at Cannes, cementing the festival’s status as the leading launching pad for the movies. Another nominee was the Palme d’or “Triangle of Sadness” by Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund, who is back in town as head of the 2023 festival jury.
Indy’s last crusade
This year’s “Top Gun slot” will see another iconic character from the 80s crack his whip in James Mangold’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”. Harrison Ford stars in his final performance as the world’s most famous archaeologist, 42 years after he first donned the iconic fedora in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The “Indy” celebration will include a tribute to Ford, who will receive an honorary Palme d’Or.
Days later, fellow 80-year-old Martin Scorsese will debut his “Killers of the Flower Moon”, exactly half a century after he burst onto the film scene with the screening in Cannes of his seminal “Mean Streets”. Scorsese’s latest work, about a series of murders targeting the oil-wealthy Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma, notably unites his loyal collaborators Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio.
As a bastion of arthouse cinema and the world’s most glamorous movie shindig, the Cannes Film Festival always needs to strike a balance between auteur worship and Hollywood star power – and between devotion to the past and turning to the future. This year promises plenty of glitter on the red carpet and an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers.
The flagship Palme d’Or contest sees five past laureates return to the Riviera for more silverware: Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Monster”), Germany’s Wim Wenders (“Perfect Days”), Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“About Dry Grasses”), Italy’s Nanny Moretti (“A Brighter Tomorrow”), and Britain’s two-time laureate Ken Loach (“The Old Oak”).
Fellow Briton Jonathan Glazer has one of the festival’s most eagerly awaited entries with “The Zone of Interest”, shot in Auschwitz and his first feature since 2013’s “Under the Skin”. Brazilian director Karim Ainouz’s “Firebrand” stars Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of English king Henry VIII, played by Jude Law, and China’s Wang Bing brings a rare documentary to the competition with “Shanghai Youth”.
As always, works by US filmmakers will provide much of the red-carpet spectacle. Todd Haynes follows up on his 2015 lesbian drama “Carol” with another big-hitting female duo, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, in “May December”, while Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” leads the A-list charge with Scarlet Johansson, Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie and Edward Norton to name but a few.
In a sign of the times, even the latter cast are likely to be upstaged on the red carpet by “Internet Daddy” Pedro Pascal. The star of “Narcos”, “Game of Thrones” and “The Last of Us” teams up with Ethan Hawke in Pedro Almodovar’s hotly-awaited short, “Strange Way of Life”.
This time for Africa
The festival’s 67th edition will see Cannes break its uninspiring record for female directors with seven women among the 21 vying for the Palme d’Or. It marks a modest increase of two from last year – but a sea-change from the 2012 edition, when there were none.
As the gender-parity advocacy group 50/50 has noted, the average age (48) of female directors in Cannes is noticeably younger than the men’s (65), pointing to signs of a healthy rebalancing among younger generations of filmmakers.
Among the most anticipated is Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher with “La Chimera,” starring Josh O’Connor and Isabella Rossellini. Another talked-about entry, so far for the wrong reasons, is Catherine Corsini’s “Homecoming”, a late addition to the competition that has been dogged by controversy over the treatment of child actors on the set and the non-disclosure of an intimate scene involving minors.
Maïwenn, another French director, will get the ball rolling on Tuesday with her curtain-raiser “Jeanne du Barry”, which screens out of competition, casting Johnny Depp as King Louis XV in his first major role since a highly publicised trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Female directors also account for the two African entries in the Palme competition. Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania mixes documentary and fiction in “Four Daughters”, about a woman whose daughters escape to join the jihad in Syria, while Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s “Banel & Adama” is the rare first feature in the race for cinema’s most prestigious prize.
The selection of Ben Hania and Sy points to a bumper edition for African film, reflecting what festival director Thierry Frémaux hailed as “the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers, women in particular, in North [and West] Africa”. It comes four years after French-Algerian director Mati Diop won a surprise Grand Prix award in Cannes for her debut feature “Atlantique”.
The continent boasts another four entries in Cannes’ official selection this year, all of them in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, dedicated to emerging talent. Casablanca’s everyday life and underworld are the focus of films by Moroccan helmers Asmae El Moudir (“The Mother of All Lies”) and Kamal Lazraq (“Hounds”), while Congolese artist Baloji tells the tale of a child sorcerer in his maiden film, “Omen”. In one of the festival’s most timely films, Mohamed Kordofani explores the roots of South Sudan’s bloody crisis in “Goodbye Julia”, set during the breakaway of South Sudan.
African entries are equally prominent in this year’s parallel selections, including the Directors’ Fortnight and the Acid sidebar, with films from Cameroon (“Mambar Pierrette”), Tunisia (“Machtat”) and Guinea Bissau (“Nome”) set to prove that Cannes’ frenzied bubble is also a microcosm of the world, allowing the audience to travel through space and time.
That’s assuming the lights stay on amid union threats to pull the plug on this and other high-profile events.
The festival will unspool against the backdrop of labour unrest on both sides of the Atlantic, with US screenwriters staging a rare walkout to seek better pay. That strike means the likes of writer-director Scorsese may decline to take questions about their screenplay even as they discuss their directorial work. More worryingly for festival organisers, the home country’s bitter dispute over pensions threatens to kick up a stink in Cannes.
France has for months been roiled by sometimes violent protests against a hugely unpopular pension reform that President Emmanuel Macron’s government rammed through parliament without a vote. The local authorities have banned demonstrations along the Croisette and its surroundings during the festival, but opponents of the reform have vowed to get their message across.
The CGT union is preparing to stage a rally of hospitality workers, including staff from hotels, cafes and restaurants, in front of the famed Carlton hotel, whose guests this year include Scorsese. The rally, which will likely involve protesters banging saucepans to express their anger, is technically allowed because the front of the Carlton is a private area.
The CGT had earlier threatened to cut power during the festival, as well as at Roland-Garros and the Formula One GP in Monaco. Should it choose to do so for the screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s posthumous film – the mischievously titled “Trailer of the film that will never exist: Phony Wars” – it may just be the perfect tribute to the late icon of film, who famously pulled the curtain (literally) on the Cannes Film Festival during the heady days of May 1968.
This story originally appeared on France24