In 2017, when the Cannes Film Festival celebrated its 70th anniversary, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was a box-office smash, “Moonlight” won Best Picture, and Will Smith was a giddy member of the festival jury, watching everything from “Good Time” to “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Salma Hayek, host of the dinner party for that evening, hired a surprise mariachi band to storm the event as the Three Amigos goaded the room into one boisterous song after another.
Those were more innocent times. The festival’s 75th-anniversary ceremony and subsequent dinner took place two years after the festival’s COVID-era cancellation and the obliteration of theaters around the world. Hopes remain that “Top Gun: Maverick” can reignite moviegoing enthusiasm a week after its boisterous Cannes premiere, but within the celebratory atmosphere many actors and filmmakers expressed uncertainty about how much stability remained for their work.
This time, there were no mariachi bands. When festival head Thierry Fremaux corralled an estimated 118 actors and filmmakers onto the stage at the Lumiere theater for the 75th-anniversary ceremony, no one seemed interested in giving an impromptu speech when he asked for volunteers. Eventually, he yanked Gael Garcia Bernal out of the crowd, and the actor stumbled through a few platitudes in Spanish before Guillermo del Toro stepped forward to join him as the pair launched into an impromptu rendition of the ranchera song “Ella.”
And then… everyone took their seats to watch a lighthearted French comedy.
It was a strange evening. Actors like Kristen Stewart and Mads Mikkelsen rubbed shoulders with filmmakers like Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Baz Luhrmann, and Lynne Ramsay, but none of them seemed to fully comprehend their roles in the evening. “The Innocent,” the new comedy directed by actor-turned-director Louis Garrel, turned out to be an enjoyable out-of-competition entry that played well for a roomful of people looking for a distraction from real-world problems.
Garrel has tested his directing chops for a few years with intriguing hour-long undertakings that include the 2018 marital infidelity comedy “A Faithful Man” and last year’s “The Crusade,” but “The Innocent” is a more fleshed-out, audience-friendly film that might even spark interest in a U.S. remake. Garrel stars alongside “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” breakout Noemie Merlant as well as Anouk Grinberg, and Roschdy Zem in the story of a young man whose mother is dating an ex-con. When Garrel’s character begins stalking the older man, hijinks ensue; Merlant eventually steals the show as Garrel’s plucky girlfriend. While its U.S. prospects remain unclear, “The Innocent” seems well positioned to succeed as a broadly accessible French film for national audiences mulling a return to theaters.
Ultimately, that’s the message the event was designed to send. “We need cinema,” Fremaux said as festival alumni, jurors, and major actors stood behind him. “This festival is here to protect the truth that cinema will never die.”
Despite the fancy wardrobes, the gathering was a hectic affair. Announced at the last minute, no one was certain how it would come together. Some guests — flown into town just for the night — were unclear about why they were summoned. Others felt the disorganization more acutely; the festival forgot to send a car to pick up Todd Haynes. Abandoned at the Martinez Hotel, he wound up with producing partner Christine Vachon at a nearby café until it was time for the dinner.
The dinner, held in a tent-like venue typically reserved for market events, resembled a lot of posh Cannes gatherings with major talent buzzing about new projects. Stewart was still beaming about her experiences working with David Cronenberg, two days after his “Crimes of the Future” premiered in competition, although she admitted that the movie’s insights into microplastics led her to stop eating fish.
After Cannes, she wants to move on to her directorial debut, “The Chronology of Water,” an adaptation of Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir. “If I don’t make this movie before the end of the year, I’ll die,” she said. Full financing remains a challenge, in part because she wanted to shoot with a small crew of five people and a loose schedule along the Oregon coast. With all of that going on in addition to her “Crimes” promotional tour, the avowed cinephile hadn’t been able to see much at this year’s festival. “To be honest, I prefer links,” she said. “I have a great projector.”
Others faced their own unpredictable futures. Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, who served on last year’s jury headed by Spike Lee, said he was on the verge of securing financing for his follow-up to the 2019 neo-western “Bacurau” and hoped to shoot in Brazil later this year. He was feeling bullish about the prospects of President Jair Bolsonaro losing in a landslide this fall, and that his anti-culture mentality would go with him. That would mean more state financing for local productions and support for the film agency ANCINE. “We’re waiting for all the cables to be plugged back in,” Filho said. He was thrilled about the reopening of the Brazilian Cinematheque, which suffered a devastating fire last year.
Sitting nearby was French producer Said Ben Said, who was waiting for screenwriter Edward Neumeier to complete his draft of “Young Sinner,” which will mark Paul Verhoeven’s first project to shoot in the U.S. since “Hollow Man” in 2000. The movie, which reteams Verhoeven with his “Robocop” writer, takes place in the White House where an American president who used to be a high-ranking religious official brings his extremist views to the job. Despite the setting, the project was expected to be financed with European funds. Ben Said was also working on Ira Sachs’ next feature, “Passages,” currently in post production and expected to hit the festival circuit in the fall.
As the dinner went on, there was more news of upcoming work: “Slave Play” and “Zola” writer Jeremy O. Harris said he anticipated two upcoming shows in London, while Lynne Ramsay made the rounds in a pink fedora and suit that also served as her wedding outfit earlier this year. “I just grabbed it last minute,” she said with a grin. News broke last week that Ramsay would direct an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s short story “Stone Mattress,” a revenge thriller set on a cruise to the Arctic. Ramsay said she was “supposedly” getting ready to the shoot the project, which Amazon was producing, though the logistics of an Arctic shoot were still to be determined.
The festival’s jury was tight-lipped, although several members said they were getting along and agreed on a lot of what they’d seen. Rebecca Hall said she differed from her fellow jurors in that she avoided reading anything about directors unfamiliar to her before seeing their new films. Joaquim Trier was coy about how the experience except to say “We’ve still got a lot of films left,” and three days to watch them before deliberation.
Isabelle Huppert sat and smoked next to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, who seemed to be happy to have no obligations a few months after they made the awards rounds for “The Lost Daughter.” Daniel Bruhl boasted about plans for his upcoming racer project “2 Win,” one of many high-profile titles sold out of this year’s Marché du Film. And Cinetic’s John Sloss said the market had gone well for Richard Linklater’s upcoming “Hitman” comedy, starring and co-written by Glen Powell, which is expected to shoot this summer.
As the room roared with conversation, Fremaux took the microphone again and shushed the crowd. After thanking various sponsors and partners, he singled out 76-year-old Cannes veteran Wim Wenders in the room. “Wim said, ‘If images can change the world, then the world can change,’” he said.
With official proceedings over, the room began to empty out. Director Michel Hazanavicius lingered by one table, having returned to town a little over a week after his French comedy “Final Cut” opened the festival. French theaters released the film on the same day it played Cannes and withered in the shadow of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” to no real surprise. “It’s a crowdpleaser, but we don’t have the crowds,” Hazanavicius said. Standing next to him, his wife, Bérénice Bejo, shrugged and pulled him toward the exit.
A handful of stragglers hopped into cars that drove high into the hills above Cannes for an afterparty to celebrate Garrel’s film, hosted by sales agent Wild Bunch. Garrel had no idea that his film would be at the center of such peculiar gathering that included A-list auteurs onstage in addition to his own mother, actress and director Brigitte Sy. “It was a weird night, guys,” he said, gazing at the town below. “A real performance.”