The Cannes Film Festival doesn’t usually take second place to any other fest. For a film to get a competition slot in Cannes, it almost always has to give the festival a world premiere.
So what was Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River” doing at the Salle Debussy on Saturday evening, screening as part of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section four months after it premiered in Sundance?
As always, rules have exceptions. Cannes’ main competition doesn’t accept other festival leftovers, but Un Certain Regard, which goes for filmmakers a bit less experienced or lower on the arthouse food chain, typically takes one or two Sundance titles each year. Last year, it was “Captain Fantastic” and “Hell or High Water,” which Sheridan happened to write; this year, it’s “Wind River.”
The film stars Jeremy Renner as a tracker who helps a neophyte FBI agent played by Elizabeth Olsen solve the murder of a young woman on the Wind River Native American reservation in Wyoming. When the film played at Sundance, TheWrap called it “a quiet, meditative crime drama, and a wonderfully affecting one.”
According to the Weinstein Company, which will be releasing the film in the U.S., the film was re-edited between Sundance and Cannes, although at both festivals the listed running time was an hour and 51 minutes.
In January, the film set in frigid snow-covered landscapes played well to an audience that had spent the day trudging through Park City’s own blizzard. And on Saturday, it played even better on an unseasonably warm day on the French Riviera.
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The crowd may have been slightly thinned out by a delayed start time, courtesy of the security scare that had briefly postponed the previous film in the Debussy. But it reacted with an enthusiastic and prolonged ovation when the film ended — an ovation that once again seemed justified.
The things that stood out about “Wind River” in Park City stood out again in Cannes: Renner’s subtle but wrenching performance as a man who is driven to somehow make up for a death in his own family that utterly changed his life; Sheridan’s calm assurance that quiet emotional moments mean at least as much in a murder drama as the shootouts; Olsen finding notes of real strength and of heartbreak after her naïve character is the butt of jokes for the opening stretch of the film; and the marvelous sense of place, with Sheridan giving us a palpable sense of how lives are lived on a reservation whose residents, says one character, have had everything taken away from them but the silence and the cold.
Sheridan lived on the real Wind River reservation for years, and you feel his care and respect in every frame of his film. You felt it in the snow back in January, you felt it by the beach on Saturday, and you’ll feel it when it hits theaters in August.