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Cannes 2022 Launches Amid Controversy, War, and Optimism

Cannes always blends art cinema with brazenly commercial Hollywood fare like "Top Gun: Maverick." This year's biggest star on the red carpet is Tom Cruise.

Festival workers pull the official poster into place at the Grand Theatre Lumiere during preparations for the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, May 15, 2022. The Cannes film festival runs from May 17th until May 28th 2022. (AP Photo/Dejan Jankovic)

Festival workers pull the official poster into place at the Grand Theatre Lumiere during preparations for the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, May 15, 2022. The Cannes film festival runs from May 17th until May 28th 2022. (AP Photo/Dejan Jankovic)

AP

Cannes 2022 unfolds in an atmosphere of uncertainty as the war in Ukraine grinds on, the global film industry sputters back from the pandemic, and diversity and gender parity issues continue to confront festival director Thierry Fremaux. That also goes for his competition jury, who along with Fremaux gave respective press conferences ahead of Tuesday night’s opening night screening of “The Artist” Oscar-winner Michel Hazanavicius’ “Final Cut,” an enjoyable comedic French remake of the Japanese zombie movie “One Cut of the Dead,” and starring Romain Duris and Berenice Bejo.

“This year, everyone wanted to come to Cannes and meet together again,” said Fremaux, who greeted opening night attendees at the top of the Palais tapis rouge. They were friendlier than the interlocutors at his Monday press conference, who grilled him about everything from gender parity to the festival’s glitchy ticketing system and new partner Tiktok. “They didn’t want to talk about cinema,” he told me.

Accepting an invitation to address the televised opening ceremony audience was Ukraine president (and former actor) Volodymyr Zelenskyy via live video, who brought the Palais crowd to their feet. He talked movingly about cinema and war, from vanquishing dictators (without naming Vladimir Putin) to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” “I’m sure that the dictator will lose,” Zelensky said. “We will win this war. Glory to Ukraine.”

“Final Cut” is unlikely to make much of a splash outside of the festival and its home country, along with most of the films on display here. As producers and sellers in the market look for buyers in North America and other territories, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond took advantage of the “Top Gun: Maverick” out-of-competition Cannes premiere to show off the new IMAX screen at the recently completed Cineum multiplex, which will play the film in all its IMAX glory on May 18 — as it was meant to be seen — the same night that it debuts at the Palais in Cannes with Tom Cruise on hand.

President Zelensky at 2022 Cannes

President Zelensky appears via video at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival

screenshot

The film’s producer-star provides the festival with some much-needed Hollywood wattage. Viola Davis will also attend Cannes to accept an award from Kering’s Women in Cinema, while Cannes Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker (Clint Eastwood’s “Bird”) accepted the honorary Palme d’Or during the opening night ceremonies. Among the stars turning up this week are “Crimes of the Future” leads Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart and fellow Cannes regular Tilda Swinton (George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing”). New to the Croisette is Austin Butler, who will see his star rise as Baz Luhrmann finally unveils his musical biopic extravaganza “Elvis” on May 26, ahead of Warner Bros.’ worldwide launch on June 22.

“Tom Cruise represents contemporary cinema,” said Fremaux, who pointed out that since its beginnings, Cannes has always welcomed its Hollywood friends. “He is perhaps one of the actors with the greatest success rate. He made it possible to bring audiences back to theaters. He’s dedicated to cinema. If you want to see Tom Cruise, you have to see his movies in theaters.”

“Final Cut”

The jury led by French star Vincent Lindon (“Titane”) promised to retain their childlike wonder, in tune with their emotions more than their brains, as they watch 21 films over the next 10 days, not unaware of the global crises around them. “What’s happening in the world today changes who we are as human beings,” said Lindon. “It will have an impact.”

“Cannes is the most powerful celebration of the most powerful art form,” said Noomi Rapace, who is proud of three Swedish films in the official selection. (“Triangle of Sadness” by Ruben Östlund and “Boy from Heaven” by Tarik Saleh are in the Competition, as well as Swedish co-production “Holy Spider” by Ali Abbasi.) “Films are emotional oxygen — even in the loneliest place, film can reach you.”

French filmmaker Ladj Ly said he was shocked to get the invitation, and thanked Cannes for putting “Les Miserables” on the map in 2019; the Amazon pickup was nominated for the International Feature Film Oscar. “You know it changes the destiny of a film to be in Cannes,” he said. “It changed the life of my film to get an award [the jury prize] at Cannes. It gives hope to younger people that you can start at the bottom and work your way up to the top of the ladder and be on the jury here!”

The 2022 Cannes Film Festival competition jury

Anne Thompson

Norwegian director Joachim Trier, who was inspired to become a filmmaker by his grandfather’s Cannes competition film “The Hunt” in 1960, made a splash last year with Oscar-nominated “Worst Person in the World” (Neon). “Cannes represents a sophisticated approach to cinema and storytelling on the big screen, which is a progressive art form we love,” he said. “Don’t believe the hype; it’s not dying!”

American director Jeff Nichols (“Loving”) promised to watch the competition films with the same enthusiasm as when he was 21 and waiting tables at the American Pavilion.

As for issues of gender parity and diversity still challenging the film industry, “I believe it’s a work in progress across the board,” said actress-filmmaker Rebecca Hall (“Passing”), “not just festivals.”

At the end of the conference, Asghar Farhadi answered for the first time a question about his ongoing Iranian litigation surrounding allegations of plagiarizing “A Hero,” which will eventually come to trial. He denied the charge.

After bows from the competition jury, Julianne Moore declared the 75th Cannes Film Festival officially “ouverte!”

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