The Cannes Film Festival closed on Saturday evening with one of the most wacky award ceremonies ever recorded, punctuating what had already been two surreal weeks on the Côte d’Azur. To top it off, the Palme d’Or for the bold genre title of Julia Ducournau Titanium which names the French director as the second woman to win the first gong – and that’s a big deal for a festival that has had parity issues in the past. That the Palm was inadvertently revealed by jury chairman Spike Lee at the start of the ceremony only added to the mood.
Overall, the refrain we heard from attendees over the past two weeks – especially those who are event veterans – was, “That just feels weird. It was mostly a reference to being on the Croisette in July rather than May – and with a host of summer vacationers to boot – as well as, for many, being the first big trip they had. been at an industry rally since the start of Covid. Then again, there weren’t many types of industries in town except those with films in the official selection and a handful of hungry buyers. There was activity in the market, but not the usual frenzy in the field.
Otherwise, the movies – an apparent abundance – kept festival-goers busy (and while the new online ticketing system posed a few hurdles at first, once you got the hang of it, things worked out). There may not be any big Oscar contenders for the competition at the 2019 level Parasite, but there is something to chew on.
Critics were generally happy with the selection; five we spoke to from different brands were impressed with the quality and people were thrilled with the Un Certain Regard component. Festivals sometimes conjure up themes, and while it may have been a coincidence after such a long period of social distancing, there was a lot of sex at this festival – by Jacques Audiard Paris, 13th arrondissement at Paul Verhoeven Benedetta to the eventual winner of the Palme Titanium.
After being forced to cancel the 2020 edition, organizers went through Covid hurdles and landed here in July. Oddly enough, we released a headline on the day of the lineup announcement in June that read: “Cannes Analysis: A lineup full of promises and renowned writers hungry critics salivating.” We didn’t know how prescient this title would be. It turned out that participants from outside the EU – fully vaccinated or not – had to take a Covid test every 48 hours. Mandatory to access the Bazin and Bunuel cinemas at the Palais, the spit test literally forced people to salivate in a vial, a task that proved difficult for many in the scorching heat (and perhaps after a few drinks of the ubiquitous rosé). A nifty source gave us a great tip for stimulating saliva while looking at photos of food on our iPhones.
The tests were relatively harmless and results were generally received within six hours, but there was also confusion at one point when a mid-event change in the festival’s Covid protocols materialized, allowing non-European visitors to retrieve a ‘health pass’ that would allow them to avoid repeating negative tests every 48 hours. In no time this was reversed with the festival telling Deadline it was a “misunderstanding” and that some health passes had been granted “in error”. We know of at least one person who may have continued to use their fake pass. Ultimately, the festival said the rate of positive tests was 0.4% (or about 70 people).
Plus, it was never really clear what the mask protocol was. Red carpet talents bared their faces, but others were urged to cover up. Within the Light, it seemed to be free to all with little application. And somehow, Adam Driver lit a cigarette after the Annette screening at the Palace – it’s been illegal to smoke in this country for over a decade, so go figure.
Outside of the Covid, and as we noted at the entrance to the festival, the Croisette and its grand hotels and piers lacked the usual posters touting upcoming films, and this has remained the case throughout. It was difficult to determine a normal Cannes atmosphere. Parties were rare, although some were held in villas and Deadline had its annual cocktail party which drew a lot of people.
The Carlton was closed for bowel remodeling, so the JW Marriot replaced the junkets. One of the most important was reserved for the international press for The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson, which had arguably the most starred cast in town.
At least one moviegoer was moved to tears outside of the competition – the reception of Tom McCarthy Still water brought up star Matt Damon.
The next day actor perhaps summed up the Cannes 2021 experience better when he explained, “I’m really glad we’re here this year. We’ll look back and remember the film’s launch outside of Covid. Being in a room with 1,000 other people who are strangers but are part of the same community because we love the same thing was such a great reminder of why we are doing this.
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