At the height of the pandemic last year, festival head Thierry Fremaux created a branded Cannes 2020 “official selection” of 56 titles for a festival that did not exist. A year later, Cannes 2021 will be on the ground July 6-17 with 18 months’ worth of selections. It’s a transition year, heading toward a return to full power in May 2022.
For now, that means the bulging global 2021 selection will give critics plenty to write about, but the festival is missing some of the usual red carpet bells and whistles that lures auteurs and celebrities to the Cote d’Azur for flashing photo calls and late-night offshore yacht revels. While many filmmakers are eager to show their work in big movie theaters, there will be fewer people to watch them do it. That could have a trickle-down effect: It’s harder to create a media frenzy over the next “Parasite” when there’s fewer people to be frantic.
While Cannes has made clear its terms for vaccination and testing protocols that will permit entry to the Palais for press screenings and conferences, as well as one-on-one outdoor interview opportunities along the Croisette (roundtables likely won’t fly), at this writing France has not made its final determination regarding what’s required to enter the country. Some prominent members of the media aren’t waiting to find out; the Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang does not plan to attend, and neither does the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis. (Kyle Buchanan is taking her room at The Splendid.)
Like other film festivals these days, Fremaux had to lean into more documentaries than usual. That’s partly because they come with recognizable names attached — Oliver Stone revisits “JFK,” Charlotte Gainsbourg honors her mother Jane Birkin, Todd Haynes will debut “The Velvet Underground,” Andrea Arnold addresses bovines in “Cow,” “Val” brings survivor Val Kilmer in tow — and Cannes still needs galas to lure media.
American Jodie Foster will add some star wattage to opening night as a guest of honor, and will accept an honorary Palme d’Or. She first attended the festival in 1976 when she was 13 years old, with Martin Scorsese’s Palme d’Or-winning “Taxi Driver.”
The competition jury is led by Spike Lee, who was scheduled to lead it last year while debuting “Da 5 Bloods” out of competition; that Netflix release could have used Cannes’ media attention. No Netflix films are in this year’s festival because the streamer now refuses the Out of Competition status for titles from Jane Campion and others likely to turn up in such festivals as Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York. (Competition films have to play exclusively in French theaters.)
It’s tough to imagine the trajectory taken by Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” without Cannes, from becoming the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or to blockbuster ($255 million worldwide) to the Best Picture Oscar. We shall see how many Cannes titles launch Oscar hopes; the festival usually supplies a fair share of the titles in contention for foreign-language awards. (Of the Cannes 2020 selection, only Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” made the Oscar cut, winning Best International Feature Film.)
Fremaux encouraged big-name auteurs Paul Verhoeven and Leos Carax to hold off until Cannes 2021 to reveal sexy nun flick “Benedetta” (IFC Films) and opener “Annette” (Amazon Studios), respectively, a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard that will compete for the Palme d’Or via UGC distribution in France. Amazon also acquired Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s Iranian Competition title “A Hero,” and IFC has already picked up Jacques Audiard’s “Paris, 13th District,” co-written by Celine Sciamma from Adrian Tomine’s New York graphic novel. Cannes often debuts the eventual French Oscar submission.
As already announced, we will finally see the Cannes 2020 selection from Wes Anderson, his visually sumptuous valentine to journalists, “The French Dispatch” (October 22, Searchlight), starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Timothée Chalamet, and shot in Angoulême. (Anderson boasts seven Oscar nominations to date.) Swinton also stars in “Memoria” (Neon), from Palme d’Or-winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who also contributes to Neon’s anthology film “The Year of the Everlasting Storms.”
A24 boasts three Cannes titles: Sean Baker moves up to Competition status (“The Florida Project” played in Directors’ Fortnight) with Texas family drama “Red Rocket,” starring a cast of non-pros; Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic family thriller “Lamb” stars Noomi Rapace; and Kogonada’s A.I. sci-fi thriller “After Yang” stars Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith.
A late addition to the lineup is Cannes veteran director-star Sean Penn’s crime thriller “Flag Day,” a hot acquisition title adapted by Jez Butterworth from Jennifer Vogel’s memoir “Film-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life,” and co-starring Penn, Katheryn Winnick, Dylan Penn, and Josh Brolin. There’s another father-daughter drama out-of-competition, Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater” (Focus Features), starring Matt Damon, who will attend the festival along with Abigail Breslin. Focus also has Alicia Vikander vehicle “Blue Bayou” in Un Certain Regard, a Louisiana tale directed by Justin Chon.
High-profile potential Oscar contenders include Eva Husson’s period British drama “Mothering Sunday” (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Oscar-winners Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, which plays out of competition, as well as acquisition titles from Mia Hansen-Løve, with her first Cannes competition entry “Bergman Island,” starring Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread”) as a couple looking for inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s Faro Island as they write screenplays; actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s family drama “Hold Me Tight,” also starring Luxembourg actress Krieps; and Palme d’Or-winner Nanni Moretti, whose “Three Floors” follows three neighboring condo dwellers.