Following IndieWire’s report earlier this month that Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival were unlikely to find a solution in order to allow Netflix films to play in competition, Variety now confirms the streaming giant will be skipping the festival entirely for the second year in a row. The move means high profile Netflix titles such as Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat,” David Michod’s “The King,” the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” (Netflix is handling international rights), and an untitled Noah Baumbach film will not debut at Cannes and will most likely wait until fall film festival season.
Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, would have easily been the biggest title at Cannes, but Variety reports the film would not have been ready to debut by May even if Netflix was bringing films to the Croisette. Scorsese is using the same VFX technology from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in order to de-age De Niro and Pacino so they can play their characters across decades. The VFX has made “The Irishman” a costly effort for Netflix (the budget is rumored to be over $140 million) and a time-consuming one. The film will reportedly remain in post-production through the Cannes Film Festival.
According to Variety, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux had been pursuing Scorsese over the last several months in order to find a way to bring “The Irishman” to Cannes so the festival could avoid missing out on another high profile auteur offering, which was the case last year with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma.” Scorsese has a rich history at Cannes, having won the Palme d’Or for “Taxi Driver.” The director has previewed unfinished material at Cannes before (a 20-minute preview of “Gangs of New York” screened at the 2002 festival), but the extensive VFX work on “The Irishman” means a premiere at the Venice Film Festival in late August is now the safest bet.
The riff between Netflix and Cannes began in 2017 after two streaming titles, “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” landed in the competition for the Palme d’Or. The decision outraged French exhibitors, who have long opposed Netflix’s day-and-date release strategy because the French theatrical window is three years (meaning films can only stream online three years after they debut in theaters). Pressure from exhibitors led Cannes to instill a rule for the 2018 festival that any film in competition would have to have a French theatrical release. Netflix serves five million subscribers in France and has no interest in delaying films to meet the three-year theatrical window. The rule did not ban Netflix movies from playing out of competition or in sidebars (which is where “The Other Side of the Wind” was set to debut), but the streaming giant decided to pull all movies from Cannes as a reaction to the rule.
While the battle between Netflix and Cannes was more hostile last year, the two groups have been trying to find a solution over the last year. As Fremaux told IndieWire earlier this month, “This will be Episode 3. A dialogue between Netflix and Cannes does exist, and I really want to find a solution. Let’s see how it works this year.”
The 2019 Cannes Film Festival takes place May 14-25. Scorsese’s “The Irishman” will open in U.S. theaters and debut on Netflix sometime this fall.