For the most part, the opening ceremony of the 76th Cannes Film Festival was a tightly scripted event. The show, broadcast live across the country from the Lumiere Theater on public television channel France 2, included an honorary Palme d’Or for Michael Douglas, who stumbled into a speech from a teleprompter across the room and botched a few words of gratitude in French. Catherine Deneuve went out and read a poem about Ukraine. The presenter Chiara Mastroianni offered the usual platitudes. “Cinema has never abandoned us,” she said. “We, in turn, have to commit to the next 10 days.”
However, when Swedish jury president and director Ruben Östlund took the stage after a lavish edit of his acclaimed satirical work, he seemed to be improvising a speech about the value of watching movies together. “In the past, we used to gather in front of the TV,” he said, “but the only content we watch together in Sweden now in front of the TV is the Eurovision Song Contest.”
The audience laughed together. “All other content runs on small individual screens alone in our rooms,” Östlund said. “The point is, when we look at things like that on our own, we process the images in a completely different way. It does not ask us to think. The algorithm that is curating the content basically just wants us to keep watching. Watching movies with a crowd, he added, “just the fact that someone is sitting next to you and might turn around to ask what you think means you have to take a point of view. … I think it’s important that we’re in one of those rooms where we’re processing the content we’re watching.”
It was an intriguing observation to kick off a festival rooted in its traditions, from the European cinema that dominates the program to the formalities of the screenings themselves. Watching movies in Cannes isn’t just about the projects on screen; the environment becomes part of the show.
The opening ceremony was followed by “Jeanne du Barry,” French director Maiwenn’s engaging and breezy portrait of Louis XV’s favorite mistress, played with an air of playful rebellion by the provocative director herself. The role of the king belongs to Johnny Depp, a controversial figure in the United States but greeted with much applause when he arrived at the theatre. When the lights dimmed, a tuxedo-clad audience member couldn’t help but shout, “We love you, Johnny!”
The movie won’t do much to alter Depp’s complicated reputation in the wake of his court case with Amber Heard, but as a fairly minimal presence in the film, his potential isn’t based solely on his charm. While US buyers at the screening, from Sony Pictures Classics to MUBI, seemed intrigued, Netflix is also a part of the conversation as it helped finance the project. Still, the film is reminiscent of another era of arthouse cinema: ‘Jeanne du Barry’ traverses the romance at its core with the old-school likability of a commercial French film that would have played gangsters at Lincoln Plaza a few decades ago. .
Now, its prospects in that kind of market were less clear. SPC co-chair Michael Barker told IndieWire after the screening that he liked the film, but said “I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet” when asked if he might consider taking it. .
Time will tell, but the core audience at Cannes was ready to move on. Depp skipped the official festival dinner in favor of the film’s afterparty, but over 600 people – mostly press and industry – packed into a dining room at the Carlton Hotel for the film’s opening dinner. Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences CEO Bill Kramer sat down with Berlinale head Carlo Chatrian as they discussed the exhibition’s future in the streaming age.
While the Academy is expected to reevaluate its cinematic requirements for Best Picture in the coming months, Cannes’ policy on theatrical releases remains unambiguous: films competing for the Palme d’Or must receive a theatrical release in France. Chatrian said Berlin’s policy had been more fluid, simply requiring that films at the festival must receive a worldwide release somehow, not necessarily in Germany. “I think streaming and theater are going to become more and more distinct,” he said.
Vapor from Deneuve’s e-cigarette passed them by a few seats. She was sitting with her ex-husband, former Cannes president Pierre Lescure, who stepped down from her role last year with the election of new festival leader Iris Knobloch, the first woman to fill the role. Knobloch, a former WarnerMedia executive, is known more for her business acumen than bona fide cinephiles.
Addressing the Cannes audience for the first time, Knobloch chose Östlund. “You have that incredible knack for capturing everyday events and moments that turn sour,” she said. “Standing here I can’t stop thinking about Ruben’s film ‘The Square'”. The Palme d’Or-winning fine-art world takedown includes a memorable performance-art sequence in which wealthy dinner guests are thrust into the center of uncanny, confrontational performance art as the celebratory air gives way to fear .
There was no such chaos at the Cannes dinner, although there was lingering uncertainty about how the next two weeks would go. Seated across from Deneuve was John C. Reilly – the head of the Un Certain Regard judging panel – along with his wife and producing partner Alison Dickey, who noted that American films produced in the low seven-figure range were impossible to make Now. Nearby, sales agent Vincent Maraval (whose longtime Wild Bunch factory was renamed Goodfellas this year) was looking around the room, hunting for buyers. Jury member Damian Szifrón, whose “Wild Tales” was a hit at Cannes in 2014, said he was planning a sequel. His fellow juror Paul Dano seemed content to play a different kind of role for the next 10 days. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen three movies a day like this before,” he said. “I need to get some sleep.”