It was Cannes in a time of crisis.
Less money, fewer parties and less ostentation, significantly fewer people, the bars of the big hotels virtually empty at times, tables easily available at many popular restaurants, the various trade publications noticeably slimmer as advertizing plummeted, a decline so steep that they simply stopped publishing by Day 8.
It was a Cannes of lowered expectations, and conflicting results, with some territories selling for 20% of what they used to, with a few sales companies reporting record years, but most expecting catastrophe, grumbling about expenses and relieved to secure minimums on the products they were flogging.
This was my 21st Cannes, and it was a great Cannes, maybe the best of all.
The good news is that below the surface, in the trenches, at parties, or on the lawn of the Grand Hotel until three in the morning over $12 dollar beers, the conversations among the cutting edge, the avant garde, directors and producers from around the world, the energetic and innovative future of the industry, are all about reinventing cinema.
Rather than aiming at the lowest common denominator to weather the crisis and the demise of the DVD market as a result of downloading, time after time I heard people say that the only way to get the audiences into theaters now is to make films which stand out, unusual, exceptional films.
I’ve always been amused by the buzz, that mix of rumor, opinion and word of mouth that hardens into trend and fact by the end of a market. (My favorite being the one at AFM a few years back when the Japanese economy went into meltdown, taking all of Asia with it and causing various bad-suit bottom-feeders to decide it was time to make good movies since you could no longer sell the bad ones to Korea.)
But the buzz at this year’s Cannes felt different, no longer a cynical calculation, but a heartfelt attitude in line with a global shift in values, a yes-we-can response to the end of an age of excess and frivolity, an age of willful cultural blandness. Like the end of the Eisenhower years and a promise of something more dynamic just around the corner.
How this will all play out remains to be seen, of course. Different people mean different things by “films that stand out,” and many will doubtless continue to underestimate audiences and recycle the same old tired mixture of name actors, safe, predictable, cookie-cutter stories and pablum.
But on Monday in Cannes, when it always feel like the circus has left town, when the workers start dismantling billboards, displays and pavilions, when the people with badges around their necks have disappeared, making the Croisette safe once again for the retirees with their walkers, the sun is still shining the way it did almost all through the festival.
A memory of fine, passionate conversation all through, an international crowd mixing exuberantly, a sense of novelty and rebirth. Euphoria. There is hope.