After two years of Covid disruption, the Cannes Film Festival returns to its traditional May slot for a 75th anniversary edition stacked with celebrated auteurs and Hollywood starpower, including Tom Cruise. The French Riviera gathering, which opens on Tuesday in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, promises to balance nostalgic odes to cinema’s past icons with urgent questions about our troubled times.
The world’s premier showcase for the movies will be hoping for a return to a semblance of normality after the pandemic forced a no-show in 2020 and a scaled-back July gathering the next year. Inevitably, the war raging in Ukraine will loom large over the proceedings, framing the conversation just as it influenced the line-up of films.
There will be no mandatory masks or health passes this year – and no restrictions to partying. Still, the continent’s biggest armed conflict since World War II is likely to ensure cinema’s glitziest showcase opts for unusually sober celebrations even as it marks its diamond jubilee.
For the host country, Cannes marks a welcome lull in an intensily politicised year, sandwiched in between presidential and parliamentary elections – themselves largely overshadowed by the Russian invasion. But there will be no shortage of political material on the big screen, with war, migration, feminist struggles and the climate emergency all high on filmmakers’ agenda.
It’s just as well, because this year’s jury head Vincent Lindon, the French actor known for his politically-charged roles, has already stated his preference for “films that tell us something about the world in which they’re made”.
In the shadow of war
In a sign of just how much Vladimir Putin’s war will weigh on the festival, French director Michel Hazanavicius has agreed to rename his curtain-raiser – a zombie fest initially titled “Z” in French, now called “Coupez!” – to avoid all association with warmongers from Russia.
Mirroring steps taken elsewhere, Cannes organisers have barred Russians with ties to the government from the festival. But they have resisted calls for a blanket boycott of Russian artists, welcoming the prominent Kremlin dissident Kirill Serebrennikov into the main competition for a third time. Having twice run in absentia due to Moscow’s travel bans, the now-exiled director will finally walk the red carpet on Wednesday for his latest feature, “Tchaikovsky’s wife”.
Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov on Ukraine: ‘This is a war and Russia started it’
Ukraine will be represented by Cannes stalwart Sergei Losnitza, whose latest documentary explores the destruction of German cities during World War II. In the Un Certain Regard sidebar, focused on emerging talent, Maksim Nakonechnyi’s timely “Butterfly Vision” will examine the ordeal of a Ukrainian soldier coming to terms with her experiences as a prisoner of Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region.
Footage shot by the late Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius before he was killed in Mariupol in April will also be shown by his fiancée, Hanna Bilobrova, in what promises to be one of the festival’s most emotional screenings.
Veterans, newcomers and Tom Cruise
As a bastion of arthouse cinema and the world’s most glamorous film fest, 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 stardust on the red carpet and an intriguing mix of veterans and newcomers.
The flagship Palme d’Or contest sees four past laureates return to the Riviera for more silverware: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Ruben Ostlund, Cristian Mungiu and two-time winners the Dardenne brothers. Other habitués include Park Chan-wook and David Cronenberg, both of them past winners of the jury’s Grand Prix, along with James Gray, Arnaud Desplechin and 84-year-old veteran Jerzy Skolimowski, who was first in competition at Cannes in 1972.
Last year, France’s Julia Ducournau became only the second woman to win a Palme d’Or with her daring “Titane”, starring Lindon. This year, there are five movies directed by women in competition for the Palme, a record for Cannes but still a low percentage compared to other international festivals. They include a trio of French directors led by iconoclast Claire Denis, fresh from her best director win in Berlin. US auteur Kelly Reichardt will finally have her first shot at the Palme, reuniting with her favourite muse Michelle Williams for a self-reflective look at a small-town artist trying to overcome distractions.
Beyond the Palme d’Or contest, Cannes will host more Hollywood star wattage than it has in years, starting with Joseph Kosinski’s pandemic-delayed “Top Gun” sequel, starring Tom Cruise in the role that propelled him to global stardom 36 years ago. Cruise will walk the carpet for the first time in three decades and sit for a rare, career-spanning interview.
Later on, Baz Luhrmann will bring his splashy “Elvis” biopic, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, while George Miller, last in Cannes with “Mad Max: Fury Road”, will debut a fantasy epic starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. Ethan Coen will premiere his first film without his brother Joel, a documentary about rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis. And actor-director Ethan Hawke will add to the nostalgic feel of the fortnight with a series about Hollywood’s golden couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Spotlight on the Middle East
The much-touted return of big stars from Tinseltown is terrific news for Cannes, since the world’s premier movie festival is as much about the glamour as the films. It’s also a financial boon for this otherwise sleepy seaside town of 74,000 inhabitants, which sees its population treble for two weeks each May.
On top of the usual stargazers, the festival will bring some 35,000 accredited professionals to the Riviera – almost twice as many as last year but still short of pre-Covid levels, with pandemic concerns barring some delegates from attending. “Asia isn’t back to travelling,” said festival director Thierry Frémaux, pointing to travel restrictions in China and elsewhere.
There will, however, be a sizeable contingent from India, this year’s guest of honour at the Cannes Film Market that runs parallel with the festival. The Middle East and Arab countries will also feature prominently, including in the Palme d’Or race, with the latest Cairo-set thriller by Tarek Ali (of “Le Caire Confidentiel” fame) as well as Iranian dramas by Saeed Roustayi and Ali Abbasi, whose thrilling “Border” won the Un Certain Regard sidebar four years ago.
At “just” four, the French contingent in the Palme d’Or race has been halved from last year, when eight of the 24 films in competition hailed from France. But the home country accounts for just under a quarter of the overall selection, with the likes of Olivier Assayas, Quentin Dupieux and Rachid Bouchareb screening their latest works out of competition.
French directors will get the ball rolling on Tuesday, starting with a rare screening of Jean Eustache’s iconic love triangle “The Mother and the Whore”, half a century after it first kicked off a storm on the Croisette. Hazanavicius’s tribute to horror B-movies will follow for the official curtain-raiser, in an echo of Jim Jarmusch’s zombie fest that opened the festival’s last “normal” edition in 2019 – back in the pre-Covid era.