The strangest Cannes Film Festival since the one that was halted by protests in 1968 is now at the halfway point, and the main topics of conversation coming out of the Croisette seem to be these:
- COVID-19 tests.
- The heat.
- Rumors that the whole thing is going to be shut down any day now.
- The online ticket-booking system.
- To hug or not to hug?
- And, oh yeah, movies — particularly the one where a guy sings while performing cunnilingus, and the other one where the nuns have lots of sex.
In other words, it’s been a thoroughly weird Cannes, and one that has been dominated not by a lineup that on paper had looked exceptionally strong, but by all the stuff that’s required to mount a festival during a pandemic.
But under those circumstances — which include mandatory COVID tests every 48 hours to enter the Palais, new announcements at the beginning of each movie to remind viewers that they can’t take their masks off inside the theater and rules against shaking hands and hugging — can Cannes really be Cannes? According to conversations with some of those in attendance, the answer seems to be a guarded yes.
“It still feels like Cannes to the degree that you’re still seeing/interacting with many of the same people,” one longtime festivalgoer told TheWrap. “But it doesn’t feel like the festival has taken over the city. Rather, it exists within it, a big change from the past.”
If the festival hasn’t taken over the city, it’s because social events have been cut back, the Marche du Film market is a fraction of its usual size and journalists from China, India and Australia have, for the most part, stayed home. The huge posters that usually hang from the luxury beachside hotels are missing this year; so too, said one attendee, are “Middle Eastern playboys ripping up and down the Croisette in luxury vehicles.”
But are even bigger changes in store? Rumors have been running rampant for the entire festival, and the latest ones involve a planned Monday address by French President Emmanuel Macron, in which he may announce new curfews and restrictive measures. Will that result in the cancellation of all social events in Cannes? A curtailing of the festival itself? Or even a premature halt to everything?
“There’s been a huge uptick in rumor-mongering and fear spreading this year,” said one visitor. “I can’t really tell what is real, what is a nascent urban legend or what is just fear-based exaggerating.” Over the first few days, rumors focused on whether there was a Cannes-based outbreak (likely false) and whether there’s such a thing as a “sanitary pass” that would exempt bearers from the constant testing (the festival said no). Now they are centered on what Cannes will look like after Macron’s speech.
As for the existing COVID protocols, nobody likes the “spit stations” where festivalgoers must fill a tube with saliva every two days to gain admission to the Palais, but accepts them as the cost of attending Cannes this year. (Theoretically, the 48-hour rule doesn’t apply to the fully vaccinated — but the French app that displays vaccination QR codes doesn’t accept ones from the U.S., so all American visitors are treated as if they’re unvaccinated.)
Masks, meanwhile, were notably missing from most of those who attended the opening ceremony on Tuesday, but increased enforcement has made them ubiquitous since then — at least inside the theaters, with most people ripping them off as soon as they leave the building. (The July heat and Mediterranean humidity, far beyond what Cannes sees in its usual May dates, provides further impetus to get that cloth off your face.)
But the festival’s suggestion in an email to accredited attendees that people “get creative!” and find alternatives to shaking hands and hugging is not embraced like the mask mandate, according to those around town. “It’s a surprise to all of us how strong the urge to hug is,” said one visitor. “It’s the first thing you talk ask anyone: I say, ‘Are we hugging?’ before I say, ‘How are you?’”
Added another Cannes vet, “I think we are all desperate to get some contact, and that’s gradually superseding any qualms. A couple of glasses of rosé in, people are throwing caution and distancing to the warm Mediterranean wind. They’re just delighted to be out and away from home, drinking, kissing and hugging and escaping into movies.”
But what about those movies? Usually, the halfway point is time to take stock of the films that have screened so far, handicap the Palme d’Or race and talk about the breakout hits. But this year, although 12 of the 24 films in the main competition have screened for viewers and for Spike Lee’s jury, there’s no real bombshell favorite or leader in the clubhouse, although Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island” is making a play for that standing based on the initial reaction out of its Sunday-evening premiere.
(But we may have to wait until Monday to see what the Brits and Italians thought of it, since they were all off watching the European Championship soccer final while “Bergman Island” was screening.)
Beyond that, response has been positive for Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” Juho Kuosmanen’s “Compartment No. 6” and Nadav Lapid’s “Ahed’s Knee.” But there have really been only two films that everybody has to see and about which everybody has to have an opinion: Leos Carax’s “Annette,” the wacky opening-night musical starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and a marionette who plays their daughter (the singing cunnilingus movie) and Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta,” an erotic drama set inside an exclusive convent where the pleasures are as much physical as spiritual.
If none of those seem to be likely Palme winners, don’t worry — the next few days will bring new films by such heavyweights as Asghar Farhadi (“A Hero”), Wes Anderson (“The French Dispatch”), Jacques Audiard (“Paris, 13th District”), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Memoria”) and Bruno Dumont (“France”), as well as competition debuts for Sean Baker (“Red Rocket”), Julia Ducournau (“Titane”) and Ildiko Enyedi (“The Story of My Wife”).
And that means that assuming that Macron doesn’t shut the whole thing down, there’s still time for Cannes to become a festival that’s about movies, rather than one that’s about enduring the pandemic — although the smaller crowd along the Croisette will accept the latter option if that’s all they can get in 2021.
“At the end of it, Cannes is still Cannes,” said one vet of many previous festivals. “I am glad I came, but every day a part of me really wishes it was already over.”
Ben Croll and Jason Solomons contributed to this report.