Cannes, Day 4: First Palme d’Or Front-Runner; Ted Sarandos Surfaces; 2017’s ‘Toni Erdmann’

New AIDS drama primed for queer cinema canon, Netflix content chief survives the Croisette

Last Updated: May 21, 2017 @ 3:37 AM

The honeymoon phase is waning across the French Riviera, as the Cannes Film Festival shirks bonjours and gets to the business of its annual contribution to global film.

Translation: everyone’s screening schedule is packed, no one is eating or sleeping and you’re lucky if you catch a passing glimpse at Rihanna on the Croisette.

But a French lens on the AIDS crisis has moved many critics, we have 2017’s potential “Toni Erdmann” and Netflix boss Ted Sarandos was not shackled Jean Valjean-style for showing his face.

“120 Beats” Strikes Critical Chords

In America, there is an esteemed (if not excessively familiar) narrative canon that documents the rise and devastation of HIV/AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s — Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” the recently adapted ‘The Normal Heart,” the forgotten VHS-era gem “And the Band Played On.”

This year’s Cannes competition slate offers “120 Beats Per Minute,” which perhaps for the first time shows us the pandemic’s impact on a French community of queer brothers and sisters, specifically the country’s branch of the ACT UP movement. Its effect was devastating.

Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson called it “a vital contribution to queer and political cinema, a testament to crusaders of recent history whose nobility does not overshadow their complicated and individual humanity.”

Lawson also saluted the film’s unflinching approach to gay sex — which, demonstratively, is getting closer to reality all the time — as “frank and even-handed, allowing for all its beauty and danger, its capacity for release, for connection, even for protest.”

TheWrap’s Ben Croll praised director Robin Campillo for recognizing “that the fervent intensity that drives someone to become an activist — that burning passion to make the world a better place — is the same passion that can cause schisms and acrimony with equally like-minded associates.”

Also, can the U.S. import one if its stars, Arnaud Valois? Asking for a friend.

Ted Talk

You might have heard that a lot of people have a lot to say about the inclusion of Netflix in the Cannes competition, and that Netflix is not in the business of appeasing French theater owners. And that Cannes is.

The streaming giant’s Chief Content Officer and veritable public face Ted Sarandos touched down in France to support his company’s two titles — highly publicized, thanks to their star power and Netflix’s outlaw status this year — “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.”

“The story of this festival, for whatever reason, has been those two films. And remember, those films were invited here solely on their merits. Thierry [Frémaux, Cannes Artistic Director] has an incredible track record of cultivating the greatest movies of the year from all over the world, and these two films, according to him, qualify,” Sarandos said, in an interview with the U.K.’s Telegraph.

French theater owners balked at the idea of Netflix being invited to the nexus of European cinema with no firm plans to release their titles theatrically in the country. Netflix said they were considering it, but before a deal was struck, the festival appeased the establishment and announced it would mandate a European theatrical run from all festival titles.

“If you are inventing qualifications for how a film has to appear on a commercial basis, that seems very out of step with the spirit of the festival, and the independence of the festival,” Sarandos said.

Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” premiered to great reviews. Noah Baumbach’s “Meyerowtiz Stories” premieres Sunday.

“The Square” Lingers

Not unlike last year’s sensation and eventual awards contender “Toni Erdmann,,” Ruben Ostlund’s ambitious and gratifying art-world film “The Square” is long (almost two and a half hours) but long-lingering after critics left the screening Friday night.

“Aren’t we humans a sorry lot?” is the question the film inspires, according to TheWrap’s Pond.

A museum curator chases millennial viewers and shirking screens in this ensemble piece that features faces like Dominic West and Elisabeth Moss. It’s the film’s provocative questions about humanity and the social contract that has everyone buzzing, though: