Cannes So Far: Movies Take a Back Seat to Netflix and Security

The 70th anniversary Cannes has delivered strong films, but nothing to seize the conversation away from the streaming giant and tech snafus

We’re now five days and 68 movies into the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, and here are some of the big stories:

Netflix. The streaming company landed two films in the official selection, which provoked the ire of French theater owners who don’t think the temple of cinema should give spots to films that are premiering on demand, not in theaters. A press release from the festival agreed… but the new rule doesn’t start until next year. The Netflix logo was booed before screenings. Jury president Pedro Almodovar seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t want to vote for a streaming film. Juror Will Smith disagreed and got lots of headlines.

Security. Bag checks grew more stringent, lines got slower and longer and some screenings were delayed while pass holders had to go through several levels of zealous bag-checking. A screening of “Redoubtable” was delayed for 40 minutes because somebody at a previous screening had left their backpack in the Salle Debussy, and the premises were briefly evacuated before an all-clear was delivered.

Technical problems. The first screening of “Okja” was stopped after the first scene because it was being shown in the wrong aspect ratio. The second was reportedly delayed because it didn’t have subtitles. Assorted other snafus have popped up at additional screenings.

And, then, oh yeah, there’s this: movies.

But that’s hardly the right order when we’re talking about Cannes. It should be a festival about film, a 70th anniversary showcase for the finest that international cinema has to offer. So why aren’t the headlines about the films at the heart of Cannes, rather than the folderol that surrounds them?

Partly, that’s the nature of the beast. “Andrey Zvyagintsev’s ‘Loveless’ Is a Great Movie” isn’t a juicy headline; “Cannes Theater Evacuated for Suspicious Package” might be.

And this year hasn’t lacked for strong films. Sure, the opening-night entry “Ismael’s Ghosts” was kind of a dud, and Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” is a curious misstep for a typically fine filmmaker. But “Loveless” and Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square” were sharp, biting films, Robin Campillo’s AIDS drama “120 Beats Per Minute” left audiences in tears and “Okja” was a lot of fun.

Among films out of the main competition, Agnes Varda’s documentary “Visages, Villages” won strong reviews, and Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider,” in the Directors Fortnight sidebar, picked up immediate strong buzz.

What’s missing so far has been the kind of grand surprise that last year’s selection brought, the “Toni Erdmann” that comes out of nowhere to knock the festival for a loop, or the “American Honey” that sharply divided viewers and prompts impassioned arguments.

Hell, nobody’s even gotten all that worked up so far, except for people getting cranky about security and delays. During the 15 movies I’ve seen since Cannes opened on Wednesday night, the only boos I’ve heard have been directed at the Netflix logo or the projection problems.

(I understand there was a solitary boo at the first Sunday press screening of Michael Haneke’s viciously comic, utterly black brain teaser “Happy End,” but the audience I saw it with gave it respectful applause and then filed out silently.)

This year so far has delivered a solid batch of films, but the delightful shocks are missing. The closest thing to a surprise has probably been Michel Hazanavicius’ “Redoubtable,” simply because the idea of making a film about the personal life of French New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard and bringing it to his home festival seemed so foolhardy as to invite disaster. Instead, the film turned out to be a charming pastiche, handled with a stylish, light touch.

So now, as Cannes moves into its final week, there’s still time to put the focus on its big anniversary celebration, and still time to change the common lament I’ve been hearing from everybody: “I haven’t seen the movie yet.”

But hey, while we wait for that, what’s Netflix up to?