“There's no easy find in Cannes,” Sony Classics co-president Tom Bernard tells TheWrap. “Cannes is like going to a junk auction and trying to find a gem.”
Ryan Gosling will try out a new career in the glare of thousand flashbulbs. Jessica Chastain will return to the place where her career took off. The director of “The Artist” will try to go from being an Oscar champ with one movie to a Palme d'Or winner with the next. Two sexagenarian Belgians little-known in the United States will attempt to make history.
It will all happen at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday evening on the French Riviera.
And during the 12 days on the Croisette, stars will walk the red carpet, auteurs will woo the arthouse crowd and buyers and sellers will use the world's most prestigious film festival to stage a free-for-all film market made up of equal parts status and schlock.
Only in Cannes, perhaps, will you find a new film from the iconic French director Jean-Luc Godard premiering three days after a publicity stunt for “Expendables 3” that has been said to involve Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and others rolling down the Croisette in tanks.
(Calling it a “stunt” does not belittle the event – that's what the film's publicity materials call it, too.)
The 2014 edition of Cannes is a cinephile's dream, with internationally acclaimed directors that include Godard, the Dardenne brothers, Olivier Assayas, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Naomi Kawase, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Cannes '14 is also a star-studded glamor event that could see Gosling, Chastain, Nicole Kidman, Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Robert Pattinson, Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, Kristen Stewart, Christina Hendricks and many more walking the glamorous gantlet.
And as usual, Cannes is a feverish market, with buyers and sellers already deluging the media with press releases about deals for some movies that have already been shot and others that may never be made, many with no real connection to the festival other than the fact that a Cannes dateline will garner more attention.
The main lineup may be lighter on films that could figure into the Oscar race than in some recent years; it won't likely have as much of a U.S. awards presence as it did in 2011, when Best Picture nominees “The Tree of Life,” “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris” all screened in Cannes, or last year, when “Nebraska,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Great Beauty,” “Fruitvale Station,” “All Is Lost” and “The Great Gatsby” were part of the program.
But the race for the Palme d'Or is intriguing. Three of the 18 films in the main competition come from directors who've already won the Palme in the past: Ken Loach won for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and is back with “Jimmy's Hall,” Mike Leigh won with “Secrets & Lies” and returns with “Mr. Turner,” and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne won with “Rosetta” and “L'enfant” and are trying to become the first directors to win or a third time with “Two Days, One Night.”
Directors Michel Hazanavicius (“The Search”) and Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”) haven't won at Cannes before, but Hazanavicius took the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for “The Artist,” while Miller's last two films, “Moneyball” and “Capote,” were both nominated for Best Picture.
Other films in the spotlight will include a pair of Weinstein Co. releases that have made news because of editing: Different versions of opening-night film “Grace of Monaco” have reportedly led to conflicts between director Olivier Dahan and Weinstein, while the Un Certain Regard entry “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” screened as two separate films in Toronto, but will be unveiled as a trimmed-down third version at Cannes.
Chastain starred in and helped produce that last film, bringing her back to the festival she first attended in her breakthrough 2011, where one film she was in (“The Tree of Life') won the Palme d'Or and another (“Take Shelter”) won Critics’ Week.
There's also a strong Canadian presence, with David Cronenberg (“Maps to the Stars”), Xavier Dolan (“Mommy”) and Atom Egoyan (Captives”) all represented in the main competition.
And Canadian-born Ryan Gosling will have his directorial debut, “Lost River,” competing in the Un Certain Regard section, after heading to the Croisette in previous years when he acted in “Blue Valentine,” “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.”
Sony Pictures Classics, which over the years has acquired numerous films at the festival (including “Diva,” “The Lives of Others,” “The Lunchbox” and “Only Lovers Left Alive”), will be heading to the Riviera with a personal-best five films as part of the official selection: “Mr. Turner” and Bennett Miller's “Foxcatcher” in the main competition, Zhang Yimou's “Coming Home” out of competition, Gabe Polsky's documentary “Red Army” as a special screening and Damien Chazelle's “Whiplash” in Directors’ Fortnight.
“For the films that don't require a buyer, Cannes gives you an enormous presence,” Participant Media CEO Jim Berk told TheWrap. “And for films that do, it creates a single location where you have all the world's buyers.”
(It also creates a great location for a party: both Participant and Relativity Media are throwing themselves 10th anniversary parties at the festival, Participant on a yacht and Relativity at the Hotel Du Cap.)
The two sides of Cannes, the film festival and the Marche du Film market, run simultaneously and in close proximity, but, the audiences are markedly difference, Sony Classics co-president Tom Bernard points out.
At official festival screenings and premieres, a film's success is quickly judged by how long the standing ovation lasts or how many people boo; at the market, reaction is harder to judge. “There's no noise in those rooms,” Bernard told TheWrap. “This is a bunch of poker-faced people who don't say anything. You're sitting there with the movie, and you've gotta figure out what you can do it with by yourself.”
“There's no easy find in Cannes,” he added. “Cannes is like going to a junk auction and trying to find a gem.”
The festival, of course, might object to being compared to a pile of junk. But that's Cannes — whether you're looking for stars or auteurs, soirees or silliness, big deals or much ado about nothing, you can easily find it in the south of France.