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The 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival has ended and with it came the fight with Netflix, causing them to pull out any movies for consideration (they wouldn’t budge on the festival’s rule requiring a film to play in France in a timely fashion – not the three-year hold Netflix currently has), an underwhelming opening night film in Everybody Knows (which got scooped by Focus Features) and lack of American representation in the lineup, which led to articles about how Cannes has lost its prestige and importance, and culminated in an awards ceremony where director/actress Asia Argento declared to the audience that Harvey Weinstein had raped her in 1997 at the festival, calling it his “hunting ground.” In a first, the closing ceremony moved outside after the awards were announced for a live performance by Sting and Shaggy on the steps of the red carpet. Cate Blanchett and her jury danced, hugged and shook hands with the night’s winners, not unlike the end of an episode of Saturday Night Live. In between all of that were dozens and dozens of incredible films, a jury with incredible, intelligent women (Blanchett, Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux and Khadja Nin) who turned it out on the red carpet, giving us the glamor that some were worried was going to be missing and solidifying it as still the most important film festival in the world.
For me, even though it was my third visit to the stomping grounds of the rich and famous merging with paycheck-to-paycheck cinephiles and film critics, this was my first year as press, and under my own banner, no less. I had attended twice before (in 2010 and 2013) as a guest of the festival and as a member of the International Cinephile Society. I enjoyed red carpet galas, rubbing elbows with Nicole Kidman and chatting up Apichatpong Weerasethakul and now awkward in retrospect, Harvey Weinstein. I told him he needed to push Julia Roberts in supporting for August: Osage County and well, I’m not saying I made that happen but I’m not not saying either. This year was different; I had a badge, a blue one, when I thought I was destined for a yellow one, the lowest on the totem pole of press badges. It was a bit of a moment of pride when I picked up the badge (you don’t know what you’re getting until you get it) so it felt good to start off on a positive note. I got to see and meet some writers and critics I’ve admired for a long time and some I’ve newly become fans of. I met up with members of my website, some of whom have been with me for over 15 years. I had to queue for everything this time but I also didn’t have to wear a wool tuxedo in the blazing sun for 11 days in a row. That’s a win-win for me.
Even after a low-key starter like Ashgar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows, the festival proved itself to be jammed with enough masterpieces and world premieres for any cinephile’s dreams. It might not have always been a selection made to ensure clicks to your website with highly recognizable titles but then, that’s not the main purpose of Cannes. What we got were some of the world’s most respected directors giving us some of their best work. Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme for Shoplifters, making it the first time in 21 years a Japanese film took home the top award. It was one of my favorite films and I think it’s Kore-eda’s best. Magnolia Pictures scooped it up, making them 2-for-2 for Palme winners (they had The Square last year). Spike Lee returned to the festival that burned him and even though he didn’t win the Palme he left with the Grand Prize for BlacKkKlansman and a rapturous response. You’ll be able to see his film at the end of summer from Focus Features. Best Director winner Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War will be coming to you from Amazon – look for it to be a major Foreign Language Film Oscar contender. Films that didn’t manage a win, like the intoxicating Lee Chang-Dong film Burning, will be etched in the minds of Cannes audiences for a long time to come. Ash is Purest White, one of China’s most expensive movies ever, found love and appreciation across the Croisette. Same goes for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree. The last film to play the festival, the 3-hour epic ended up being a huge critical favorite.
The lack of female-fronted films was a focal point of the festival, so much so that two women’s protest marches on the red carpet took place. In the end, two of the three films in competition by women won prizes; Alice Rohrwacher won Best Screenplay for Happy as Lazzaro (which was a tie with 3 Faces) and Nadine Labaki won the Jury Prize for Capernaum. Both films were picked up for US distribution by the festival’s end; the Rohrwacher to Netflix and the Labaki to Sony Pictures Classics. But, we are still, 71 years in, without a solo female director winner of the Palme d’Or.
We saw coming of age and romance movies in Un Certain Regard like Girl and Border that were festival favorites and won multiple awards. Both got pickups; Border went to Neon, Girl to Netflix. Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night didn’t win a prize but the sweeping, 3D epic floored everyone on the Croisette. Gaspar Noé came to Cannes with Climax ready for it to be torn apart but, lo and behold, it became his best-reviewed film ever. Birds of Passage, from Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra (with Cristina Gallego) was a first-week hit. It got picked up by The Orchard. Even the return of persona non-grata Lars von Trier gave the festival a boost of vivid and divisive conversation on his new film, the controversial and brutal serial killer movie The House That Jack Built.
Together, it all made for a thrilling festival, a crucial one and proved that rumors of its demise had been highly exaggerated.