By the time Tom Cruise arrived at the Cannes Film Festival for “Top Gun: Maverick,” a movie originally supposed to play at the festival two years ago, he had the seventh “Mission: Impossible” in the bag. Opening night entry “Final Cut” may be the first film from “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius since the pandemic hit, but it won’t be the last, as he’s already in post-production on the animated Holocaust drama “The Most Precious of Cargoes.” Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov finally arrived in Cannes following years of house arrest in the country to premiere “Tchaikovsky’s Wife,” but he’s already halfway through a new production about a Russian exile starring Ben Whishaw.
Seemingly everywhere at this year’s festival are reminders of a global film industry clawing its way back after two horrible pandemic years. Projects started ramping up in recent months, with Cannes arriving right as talent on both sides of the camera barely could make room in their schedules for the festival. At the opening night dinner following the premiere of “Final Cut,” held at the Majestic Hotel, many attendees buzzed with excitement about the potential to get back to work even as they basked in the energy of the current moment.
The jury for the competition section may be low on star power, but it’s loaded with an active generation of filmmakers with new projects in the pipeline (and also veterans like Asghar Farhadi). These include Norway’s Joaquin Trier, who was at Cannes last year with eventual Oscar nominee “The Worst Person in the World,” and is currently developing multiple scripts with writing partner Eskil Vogt as the pair search for a new production partner at Cannes. At the dinner, Trier high-fived fellow juror and Cannes alum Jeff Nichols as the pair planned a swimming adventure for the next day (in between screenings, of course). Nichols hasn’t directed a movie since 2016’s “Loving,” but said he was finalizing plans to direct another 1960s period piece set to shoot this fall with New Regency. Jury duty was his last hurrah before diving in, and he said that while he had been reading about the filmmakers in competition, he avoided any summaries of the new films.
Settling in for a very different jury experience was Ariane Labed, the Greek actress best known for films like “Attenberg” and “Alps” who is serving on the jury for Critics Week, which only programs first and second features. That’s a career stage that Labed herself is in, as she recently made inroads into her own directing career with her 2019 short film “Olla” and has now made headway on her feature debut “Sisters.” An English-language adaptation of Daisy Johnson’s 2020 gothic novel, the project is scheduled to shoot in Ireland. Labed said she was on casting non-professional actors as the teen siblings at the center of the movie. “It’s a relief for me not to work with professional actors,” Labed said at the dinner, “and I am one!”
Other filmmakers in the room were anticipating their upcoming Cannes premieres in tandem with the projects they had in the pipeline. Un Certain Regard entry “Joyland” marks the first Pakistani film at the festival, but director Saim Sadiq said he was already developing an English-language script adapted from a novel. Catalan director Albert Serra is known for making surreal and provocative period films (he famously called his work “unfuckable”) but looked humbled by the festival’s decision to program his latest, “Pacifiction,” in competition.
The movie, which doesn’t premiere until late in the festival, blends narrative with documentary elements as it follows a French representative (Benoit Magimel) on the island of Tahiti. Serra complained that he needed to dash back to Paris over the weekend to finish color correction on the film, which was a late addition to the lineup. The sudden Cannes launch also interrupted his own next project, a documentary about bullfighting, though he did still plan to steal away to Madrid to attend a bullfight after the festival. “It’s incredible,” he said.
Nearby was Olivier Pere, the managing director of Paris-based production company Arte France Cinema. Pere beamed about the Serra project as a more traditional undertaking for the filmmaker — at least by his standards — but had many other recommendations. Arte supported a record 33 projects in the Official Selection at this year’s Cannes, including nine in competition. “It’s a very busy time,” he said, “but it wasn’t on purpose.”
Pere planned to hold court on the Arte yacht docked near the Palais des Festivals this year while meeting with filmmakers in the days ahead. He wasn’t the only one with that sort of work ahead. The dinner also found sales agents and distributors working the room, including longtime Match Factory head Michael Weber. Though Weber recently sold his sales company to global cinema streamer MUBI, the deal has yet to change anything about the way Match Factory evaluates the best homes for its projects (at least for now). A few hours before the dinner, Match Factory arranged a buyers screening of “Close,” the new competition movie from 30-year-old Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont, whose debut “Girl” won the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2018. While distributors were uncertain about the commercial prospects of “Close,” which follows a young man dealing with the fallout of his friend’s suicide, Weber said he was confident that the emotional impact of the movie would help it stand out.
Some dinner guests were still thinking through the events of the evening, which included an opening ceremony that featured remarks by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky live from Kyiv. Most were appreciative of the moment, though one astute audience member at the dinner noted that two of the eight jurors (who sat onstage during the speech) did not clap: French director Ladj Ly (“Les Miserables”) and Indian actress Deepika Padukone. IndieWire was unable to track them down for comment, but the inclusion of Zelensky comments has been characterized as controversial in some quarters for emphasizing one global humanitarian crisis over others.
But for most, the ceremony was already fading from memory. Buyers said they were anticipating a lot of screenings and meetings in the days ahead. The Marché du Festival — which formally launches today on the beach across from the Majestic — announced this week that over 370 exhibitors and sales companies from 60 countries had set up shop at the Village International, with 2,500 films and other projects represented.
That’s a shocking turnaround from last year’s edition, which mostly took place online. “It wasn’t working so well,” said Guillaume Esmiol, the co-executive director of the Marché who will run it solo after longtime head Jerome Paillard steps down this year. “We really wanted to have a strong physical market.” The market activity included the annual “Meet the Streamers” panel, which featured Amazon and Netflix international representatives side by side for the first time. Though Esmiol was keen on making room for emerging media at the Marché, he insisted that the future of the market looked much like its present. “I want to defend the core business of the Marché around independent cinema,” he said. “Our first priority is to make sure this is the most important film market in the world.”
At the dinner, that sort of shop talk was mostly replaced by back-slapping, revelry, and not many masks. After last year’s stringent testing requirements, the festival has relaxed its COVID safety policies, and few attendees seem to be exercising much caution. Cases have been declining across France since April, though the international crowd at Cannes meant the current risk factor was uncertain. Near the exit, one attendee shrugged and said, “It’s OK now, right?”