This year’s Cannes Film Festival is quaking with change

Nicole Kidman in a scene from Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled," which is premiering at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. Ben Rothstein/Focus Features via AP

NEW YORK: The Cannes Film Festival, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, has historically been about cool to change. As its screens light up with the world’s most daring, adventurous cinema, the festival closely protects its traditions. This year, as Cannes prepares for a lavish birthday celebration, the Croisette is quaking with transformation.

Opening Wednesday with French director Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts,” this year’s festival includes films from Netflix, movies from Amazon (including Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck”), two high-profile television series (David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” revival and Jane Champion’s “Top of the Lake”), and virtual-reality exhibits, including a multimedia installation by Alejandro Inarritu.

Trying to keep pace with today’s fast-changing media landscape has come with plenty of challenges for a time-honored institution like Cannes. While unveiling this year’s lineup, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux acknowledged the festival’s internal hand-wringing over such issues. The festival, he concluded, is “a lab.”

Some experiments have already proven combustible. After an outcry from French theater organizers announced last week that, beginning next year, films without intentions of French theatrical release will be ineligible for Cannes’ Palme d’Or competition.

The move effectively bars Netflix releases from Europe’s answer to an Oscar race. Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings bitterly called it “the establishment closing ranks against us.” Such clashes are happening throughout the movie industry but like everything else at Cannes – arguably cinema’s most passionate standard-bearer – they’re inflated.

Sofia Coppola accompanied her father when he debuted “Apocalypse Now” at Cannes.

This year, she will premiere “The Beguiled,” her fourth at Cannes and second in competition.

“It’s still a place that’s celebrating and loves international cinema, and the idea of cinema,” said Coppola. “I feel like that’s at the heart of it.”

Cannes has often come under criticism for a lack of female directors. There are 12 female-directed films in this year’s 54-strong official selection, including three in competition. Alongside “The Beguiled” are Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” and Naomi Kawese’s “Radiance.”

“I think they have more there than we do,” Coppola said. “There’s always been more of a tradition of female filmmakers in France and internationally.”

Coppola’s film is its own kind of correction. It’s a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Civil War drama about a Union soldier (Clint Eastwood) hiding out in a Southern girls school. Coppola wanted to flip the story to a female point of view.

Like many other filmmakers, Coppola was racing last week to put the final touches on her film before the festival. Inarritu was arriving in Cannes days early to finish building the space for his “CARNE y ARENA (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible),” a three-part installation about immigrants and refugees.

“I’m very curious to see how people from cinema will react to this,” Inarritu said. “It’s an individual experience. It’s one-by-one and it’s six minutes and a half. This is not a community experience. That will give the festival something extraordinary to experience and see what people think about it.”

Inarritu said he always envisioned the piece in a museum – it will launch later in Milan’s Fondazione Prada – but he said after he showed it to Fremaux, the Cannes director was “insistent” that he bring it to the festival.

“I thought it was an interesting proposition,” Inarritu said. “Let’s see what happens.”

While virtual reality is now widespread on the festival circuit, Cannes has been more reluctant to embrace it. It has sometimes showcased TV works, notably Steven Soderbergh’s HBO Liberace drama “Behind the Candelabra” and Olivier Assayas’ miniseries “Carlos.”

The Netflix dust-up has put a brighter spotlight on the streaming service’s “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.”

“It’s an interesting issue and it’s going to continue,” said Joon-ho, “Okja’s” director. “While that was all happening, I was focused on post-production in Los Angeles. That’s really where my focus is. These other bigger industry-wide issues will naturally get resolved with time.”

Starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, “Okja” is the South Korean director’s follow-up to “Snowpiercer,” a fantasy about the gulf between humans and animals, individuals and corporations.

“After all this talk has come and gone,” Joon-ho said, “I hope people just focus on the film itself and the story and the images.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 17, 2017, on page 16.




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