The 72nd Cannes Film Festival kicks off on Tuesday, May 14, to exhibit and felicitate the best in contemporary art cinema over the week. Like any year, the stage is set to premiere highly-awaited films by filmmakers all over the world, while the red carpet will be awash with who’s who of world cinema.
More importantly, film agents and producers are arriving with their best bets at Nice, ready to sell buyers on completed movies or scripts that they argue could be the talk of the town. This year too, disruptors like streaming giants Netflix and Amazon have been barred by tradition-mongering Cannes regulars.
Away from the haggling, the competition section gives filmgoers, connoisseurs, and aspiring filmmakers cause for delight, and will go on to shape the rest of the year’s festivals in Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam, Toronto and Sundance.
After a female-majority jury to meet the #MeToo wave last year, the panel for 2019 Cannes Film Festival is chaired by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu and comprises 5 men and 4 women, including esteemed filmmakers, writers, actors and activists. Polish filmmakers Pawel Pawlikowski, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt are among the those who will decide this year’s winner of Cannes’ top Palme d’Or prize.
Last year, the award was won by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters.
Cannes should chill more
Amidst the continuing feud over admitting films that are produced and distributed by online platforms like Netflix into the prestigious competition, the list of nominees this year has once again faced criticism for ignoring the evolving nature and roles of the film studio, theatre and box office.
According to Variety, the traditional way of monetising feature films country by country is under immense pressure with the digital delivery of content, which is altering the value chain for distributors and how they exploit their content.
It’s also driving up prices. At Sundance, for example, Amazon went on a buying spree, shelling out nearly $50 million for the rights to attractive films. But most festivals have adapted well to this scrambled ecosystem except Cannes, as the festival’s prolific history comes with the baggage and considerable pressure from the established distribution system.
After banning Okja in 2017, and Oscar-winning Roma in 2018, Cannes has cited French broadcast laws again to disqualify the streaming giant’s new Scorsese and Soderbergh titles from the competition this year.
Nonetheless, the festival insists that it is neither anti-television nor anti-streaming. Two episodes of Too Old to Die Young, a forthcoming series on Amazon Prime by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s, will be screened in a prestigious out-of-competition slot.
Films to watchlist
Some of the most eagerly awaited movies include two-time Palme d’Or winning Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Pedro Almodovar’s 21st film Pain and Glory starring Antonio Banderas.
Other films vying for the Palme d’Or include South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, Terence Malik’s historical war drama A Hidden Life, and The Young Ahmed by Dardenne brothers.
Jim Jarmusch’s much-awaited zombie slasher comedy The Dead Don’t Die that is set to open the festival on Tuesday.
Among upcoming directors, Robert Eggers returns two years after his phenomenal debut film The Witch with The Lighthouse starring Wilhelm Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. British director Babak Anvari will follow his widely acclaimed political horror film Under the Shadow (2016) up with Wounds starring Armie Hammer.
Kleber Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Brazilian drama Bacurau, Arnaud Desplechin’s Oh Mercy! and Ira Sach’s Frankie starring Isabelle Huppert will be participating in the Queer Palm competition at Cannes.
71 year-old glass ceiling
After making a bold statement about heels and #MeToo last year, the question on everyone’s minds is whether women directors will decisively break the glass ceiling and win a coveted olive branch this year. The official poster for the event is incidentally dedicated to Agnes Varda, one of the best female filmmakers in history who died at the age of last month.
Out of the 21 films shortlisted this year, only four of them are directed by women. Mati Diop, Jessica Hausner, Celine Sciaamma, and Justine Triet are in the running for the top prize.
Tiop, the niece of Senegalese cinema pioneer Djibril Diop and daughter of jazz musician Wasis Diop, got nominated for her debut film Atlantics; she is the first female black woman in the Cannes lineup. Winning the Palme d’Or for a debut film though rare, is not unheard of; Steven Soderbergh did it with Sex, Lies and Videotape.
In 71 years of Cannes’ history, only one woman New Zealander Jane Campion won the Palme d’Or, albeit jointly. The Cannes jury has often been criticised for dismissing female auteurs and conferring the prize on works by male directors that were admittedly not their best. Last year, 82 female film stars pushed Cannes authorities to sign an equality charter for greater gender parity on the administrative side of the festival, both in terms of composition of the jury and nominations. The board, however, refused to take affirmative action by setting aside a quota for female directors on the shortlist.
This year, no Indian entries have made it to the official programme of the festival nor in its three coveted sidebars: Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight, and Critics’ Week. However, three filmmakers Saurav Rai from Darjeeling, Dominic Sangma from Meghalaya, and Kolkata-based cinematographer Modhura Palit will be presenting their works at various sections of the festival.
All of them are alumni of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Insitute (SRFTI).
Rai’s Nimtoh (Invitation) which secured the Prasad Labs DI Award and Moviebuff Appreciation Award at Film Bazaar’s Work in Progress Lab last year, will feature in the Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum in Cannes’ Film Market. This is his second entry to screen at the festival after a 2016 short film ‘Gudh’ (Nest).
Palit, an alumna of the Asian Film Academy (AFA) in Busan, will be conferred with the prestigious Pierre Angenieux ExcelLens in Cinematography Award this year, that includes mentorship from Mira Nair. Palit’s eclectic body of work includes a number of feature and short films and she has notably worked on one of India’s first virtual reality films.
Sangma’s film,‘Rapture’ (Rimdogittanga) will screen in the segment titled La Fabrique des Cinema du Monde (Cinemas of the World). His debut feature Moan premiered at MAMI last year and has had a good festival run since then. Sangma’s diploma film at SRFTI, Echoes, had won India’s National Student Film Award for Best Short in 2014.
India-origin British filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Argentine football icon Diego Maradona, compiled from previously unseen footage of the soccer star’s own archive, will compete for the non-fiction format award. Maradona is expected to walk the red carpet along with Kapadia on Tuesday.
Cannes or Grammys?
Distributors at Cannes will also get a sneak preview of the first authorised documentary on Led Zeppelin, which means the surviving members of the legendary rock band may as well make a red carpet appearance. Elton John will be playing the piano to accompany the premiere of his biopic Rocketman that he personally supervised.
A sea of other rockstars including Bono, Elton John, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Rihanna, Wutang Clan’s RZA are also expected to pose at the Cannes Pavillion later today. Indian divas Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut, Sonam Kapoor and Hina Khan will also splash the coasts of Nice.
The names of the winners will be announced on Saturday, May 25, followed by the prize distribution ceremony.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.