The 71st annual Cannes International Film Festival opens Tuesday, but don’t expect any post-70th-anniversary hangover from this sprawling mash-up of highbrow film competition, party mill and trade show, as there’s yet another milestone date in the offing.
It’s the 50th anniversary of 1968, the year when a clutch of French New Wave filmmakers spearheaded by Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch and Francois Truffaut succeeded in shutting down the festival five days early, in solidarity with student and worker demonstrations and strikes erupting in the streets of Paris. In Cannes, revolutionary shenanigans were in the air, and included Godard’s famous stunt of hanging on the curtains in the old, long-gone Palais in an attempt to prevent them from opening.
In the true spirit of the always and unapologetically glamorous festival, Lelouch reportedly answered the call of the proletariat by arriving on his yacht.
It remains to be seen how or if the festival will recognize the anniversary. Significantly, it’s pre-revolution kissy-face Godard rather than the man-the-barricades firebrand represented by this year’s official festival poster featuring a wholehearted romantic smooch between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina from his “Pierrot le fou.” Godard’s latest film “The Image Book,” will play in competition. Little information is leaked, but a short cryptic description on the web site of the film’s sales agent notes, “Like a bad dream written on a stormy night.” Well, if a Cannes track record or New Wave nostalgia mean anything, Godard might be the one to beat for the Palme d’Or. Despite his venerable status, he’s never won the Palme, and it would make quite an anniversary gift for the still blazingly experimental 87-year-old curmudgeon.
In this year of #MeToo, the competition jury of nine is headed by Cate Blanchett and includes four additional women, a first for male-dominated Cannes. The lack of representation by women directors in the competition is perennially a hot topic, with between none and three being the norm. This year, three films by female directors have been announced for the competition, a scant number on par with 2017.
Speculations abound as to how this female majority jury will view the lineup. The Palme d’Or has only once gone to a woman: Jane Campion in 1993, for “The Piano.” Among this year’s female contenders, Italian Alice Rohrwacher could be the front-runner with her “Happy as Lazzaro,” a time-traveling tale starring Nicoletta Braschi and Sergi Lopez. Rohrwacher’s “The Wonders” was awarded the Jury Prize in 2014, and her “Corpo Celeste” competed for the Camera d’Or in 2011.
There is already a have and have-not aspect to this Cannes, based on pronouncements from on high, i.e. artistic director Thierry Fremaux. The festival will not have a special out-of-competition screening of the long unfinished and greatly anticipated Orson Welles film “The Other Side of the Wind.” A ruling against films without theatrical distribution effectively banned Netflix product, of which the Welles film is one.
On opening night, two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman,” “A Separation”) will walk the red carpet with his Spanish stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, to present the family drama “Everybody Knows,” a Spanish/French/Italian co-production shot in Argentina. This will be a milestone for Iranian cinema, the first time an Iranian director will open the festival, albeit with a film that appears to have a foot in many cultures, none of them reflecting the director’s native land.
The U.S. is represented in the competition by two films. Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman,” a drama starring John David Washington and Adam Driver about a black detective who infiltrates the KKK, sounds as risk-taking as its provocative title. The much-honored Oscar-nominated director has not been a regular presence at Cannes since the first decade of his career, when he made his debut on the Riviera with “She’s Gotta Have It” in the “Directors Fortnight” section of the festival. David Robert Mitchell is in competition for the first time with “Under the Silver Lake,” a comedy/mystery set in the trendy L.A. neighborhood. In previous years he was selected for the “Critics Week” festival sidebar with “The Myth of the American Sleepover” and “It Follows.”
In yet another new administrative ruling, the festival has dictated that this year that press screenings will take place only after the red carpet premiere, rather than before the premiere, as in the past. The intent is to forestall the hisses or praise of the international press so that directors, producers and stars can enjoy their moment of criticism-free glory. They can delay the opinions but they can’t stop them; there’s no doubt about the fact that the festival’s more than 4,000 accredited press, sometimes a raucous and irreverent lot, will have their say in the end.
Barbara Scharres is director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center.