Cannes got started with fireworks at the usually dull jury press conference after an underwhelming press screening for the opening film “Ismael’s Ghosts” from Arnaud Desplechin. (Read IndieWire’s review here.) Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard shine in the stylish French drama (which played out of competition), but their central relationship drama with an alcoholic filmmaker (Mathieu Amalric) is buried by overwrought theatrics.
Then the jury press conference exploded as jury president Pedro Almodóvar defended the experience of seeing movies on the big screen — all films should be seen first that way, he stated — and not on Netflix in people’s living rooms.
Was he actually saying he wouldn’t consider giving the Palme d’Or to the two Netflix competition films, Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja”? And if so, would the jury go along with him?
There are multiple reasons why French exhibitors demanded that Netflix play ball with them and participate in their peculiarly French way of sharing production and cinema costs. And thus Cannes stated explicitly that they would not book a film without a planned proper French theatrical release.
After Almodóvar’s statement, juror Will Smith, demonstrating a Hollywood movie star’s knack for seizing the moment — he had already told a Canal Plus interviewer that he’s “looking for the opportunity to slam my hand on the table and disagree with Pedro, I’m looking forward to a good jury scandal” — got his wish.
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The West Philadelphia native, who admitted he’s “a long way from Cannes” and hoped to “leave Cannes less dumb” than when he arrived, defended Netflix, saying his three children, ages 16-24, go to the movies twice a week and watch Netflix.
“I see very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix in my home,” he said. “Netflix has no effect on what they go to see in a movie theater. They are two different forms of entertainment. With Netflix they get the benefit to watch what they never would have seen, it brings great connectivity to them to the world. There’s movies that aren’t on a screen within 8000 miles of them. They get to find these artists and look them up online, the whole underground world of artists. Netflix has done nothing but broaden my children’s global cinematic comprehension.”
He added that he’ll bring his “African American eye” to watching 2-3 movies a day in Cannes. “Part of the reason why were here is to bring our personal perspective, to be confronted with potential biases,” he said. “The reason to put together a group this diverse is to have those collisions. I hope we’d have the collisions artistically, not physically in the world.”
The question is how the jury will regard all the Netflix films. Jessica Chastain, who thanked Cannes for jump-starting her career with Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” when asked about the continuing lack of women on juries and in competition, said she would approach each movie with an open mind.
And she admitted, “I love fashion but I love films more. My main focus is to watch the films.”
The jury assembled to award the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival is always an eclectic melange of talent from all over the world. Chastain was on my flight to Nice and admitted while retrieving her family’s baggage that she was looking forward to jury conversations with Almodóvar, Paolo Sorrentino and Maren Ade. They are joining actors Fan Bingbing and Agnès Jaoui, director Park Chan-wook and composer Gabriel Yared to watch films from all around the globe.
“I’m coming in without pre-conceived ideas,” “The Handmaiden” director Park Chan-wook told Canal Plus. “I’m not thinking about who the filmmaker is or which films they have made before. I’d love to have the experience when lightning strikes, without going in with predetermined standards.”
Sorrentino said that he hoped “to find the cinema of tomorrow, in that case could be unbelievable discovery.”
But what if it’s a Netflix movie?