Paris -- It's difficult to think of another country where the "boss" -- Festival de Cannes president Pierre Lescure -- would jovially give disgruntled underlings the floor. But before the running-late press conference at which the 49 films in the Official Selection for the 69th edition were to be announced (on April 14), Lescure asked us to listen to Maxime and Camille, appealing young spokespersons for the 'Underemployed, Unemployed and Struggling to Be Employed Association' about 15 of whose members were holding up hand-written protest signs. These are the actors and technicians of tomorrow who don't see why they should be asked to pay for the financial crisis caused by their elders, as the French government's latest labour reforms would require.
Dashing Maxime and more timid Camille were polite but firm while intimating that it would be a shame if the upcoming Cannes Film Festival or the equally mammoth Avignon Theatre Festival were to be disrupted due to disagreement about the new law's budget-slashing stipulations.
Much the way vegetarians want you to think about where your steak originated, they reminded us that "The Festival de Cannes is a veritable factory for creating exploitative, ill-paid temporary jobs." Yep -- but they're jobs in Show Business! With youth and the zing of solidarity on their side, they filed out of the auditorium on the Champs-Elysées chanting a slogan in a manner one could see the Dardenne Bros or Ken Loach filming. Why, look! New films from both are in the 20-title Competition [La Fille Inconnue by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; I, Daniel Blake by Loach].
As I happen to be American, a colleague from French television asked me, "So, there will be tonnes of American stars coming. Aren't they afraid of terrorist attacks?" I'm not sure you get points in terrorist circles for harming George Clooney or Sean Penn or Julia Roberts or Jodie Foster or Kristin Stewart. And most journalists -- who make up a sizeable chunk of the 45,000 accredited attendees -- are in greater immediate danger of hearing loss from being yelled at by their editors ["What do you mean you can't get an interview with Woody Allen (opening film Café Society) and Steven Spielberg (Out of Competition The BFG)?!?"] than they are of confronting a terrorist organisation.
"Cannes is like a dinner party with 40 guests. Not all of them are your best friends, but they go well together."
That said, the Festival is responsible for security within the main venue "le Palais" and its immediate surroundings, after which the City of Cannes and the administrative region take over. "We have 500 security guards many of whom are extremely experienced and also scary physical specimens akin to world class athletes," explained Lescure and Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux.
This was the first time in ages that nobody demanded to know "Where are the woman directors?" If you're counting, there are three (very promising) films in Competition directed by people with ovaries. Nicole Garcia (Mal de Pierres/ From the Land of the Moon) and Andrea Arnold (American Honey) have both competed before. As have, it turns out, at least 15 of the 20 directors in Competition. And this is the first time in Competition for Maren Ade of Germany with Toni Erdmann.
The first-time feature directors -- seven of them -- are all presenting work in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, whose 17 non-competing titles are chosen by the Festival. The Un Cretain Regard line-up in the company of four films Out of Competition (three Yanks -- Foster's Money Monster, Shane Black's The Nice Guys with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book The BFG -- and South Korean Hong-Jin Na's Goksung); two Midnight Screenings (Jim Jarmusch's Gimme Danger -- a doc about his pal Iggy Pop -- and Sang-Ho Yeon's Korean vampire film Train to Busan) and four Special Screenings (from Greece & Italy, Chad, Spain and France) make up the Official Selection.
The 49 titles announced on April 14th represent 28 countries and were chosen from 1,869 submissions. Fremaux emphasised that "anyone anywhere on the planet who makes a film longer than 60 minutes can submit it and it will be watched." It probably helps if your name is Almodovar (Julieta), Assayas (Personal Shopper), Dolan (Juste La Fin du Monde, for which the talented young French-Canadian told last year's Festival-goers he was due on set the day right after serving on the Festival's main jury), Penn (The Last Face), Winding Refn (The Neon Demon) or Jarmusch (Paterson).
But your film WILL be watched regardless of who you are or where you live. Which means that for the running time of your film, YOU will be treated better than the government is planning to treat the young people currently enrolled in French art schools and film schools. (Instead of trying to determine the nationality of a film in a world of sometimes elaborate co-productions, this year the Festival opted to state the nationality of the DIRECTOR. But, as one of France's leading critics quipped, "Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard isn't an Austrian film.")
Filmmakers returning to the Competition include Jeff Nichols (Mud) with Loving, based on the true tale of an inter-racial marriage that stoked phenomenal anger and Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) with his first film in French, Elle. It's adapted from a book by the same author who inspired Betty Blue and stars Isabelle Huppert as a rape victim not partial to being a victim. A newbie to the Competition is Alain Guiraudie with Rester Vertical. Guiraudie's startlingly frank all-male romance/murder mystery Stranger By the Lake boasted a poster so uninhibited in its embrace of guys embracing that a few French localities banned it from public display.
Three films in Un Certain Regard sound especially tempting. In 2011, sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin of France made the terrifically unsettling 17 Filles based on the true story of a town where over a dozen teenagers decided to get pregnant at the same time. Their entry is Voir du pays.
First time director Stephanie Di Giusto, also of France, has made La Danseuse about the freewheeling American Loïe Fuller. A pioneer of modern dance from rural Illinois who crossed paths with Isadora Duncan and whose flamboyant gestures with veils graced very early cinema, Fuller died in Paris in 1928.
And incredibly talented Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Wit, after over two decades of terrific shorts, makes his feature-length debut with The Red Turtle.
An old Cannes hand describes the balancing act of assembling the Official Selection this way: "Cannes is like a dinner party with 40 guests. Not all of them are your best friends, but they go well together."
"For people who say 'What? Woody Allen AGAIN?'" Fremaux paried, "It's a bit like Moliere at the Comedie Française." (In other words, nobody gripes that France's oldest theatre troupe keeps mounting plays by France's arguably most admired playwright. So, prithee shut up.)
If the jostling for a slot in the feature Competition seems daunting, consider the 5,008 short films submitted. Ten were selected. And -- this is a serous observation -- every one of them lasts either 14 or 15 minutes. You read it here first.
Sex, nationality, running time -- how about age? French director Paul Vecchiali has made dozens of films, many of them outstanding. He's making his first appearance in the Official Selection at age 86, with a special screening of his new film Le Cancre.
In the Interesting Casting department, 71-year-old Jean-Pierre Leaud is portraying the Sun King in Spaniard Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV. [And in the World Upside-Down department, if you type Sun King into the search engine that starts with "goo," the first references are to the Beatles song on the Abbey Road album and not to the rather famous monarch whose crash pad in the city (the Louvre) and modest getaway in the country (the Chateau of Versailles) are still standing.]
Louis the Great reigned for 72 years. The Festival de Cannes will celebrate it's 70th edition in 2017. Long may it reign.