The Cannes Film Festival opened last night, and as I mentioned the other day when writing about the 2018 jury president, Cate Blanchett, it’s a weird time for Cannes. They’re fighting with Netflix—one of the last big spenders in the indie market—selfies, flat shoes, and #MeToo. They’re still working on that whole “women also make good movies” thing. And then there is the question of what is Cannes without capital-letter Movie Stars. Yes, there will be some stars, and yes, Solo is premiering at the fest on May 15.
But the studios have steadily drawn down their presence as they rely more and more on franchises, and not the kind of mid-budget dramatic filmmaking they would typically present at Cannes, which has decreased the number of neon names attending in recent years. And even when those movies are out there, like Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, they favor the more Oscar-friendly fall festivals as a launching pad. (BCoop and the Star team reportedly turned down an invite from Cannes. I bet they premiere at Venice and then go on to TIFF and/or Telluride.) I wouldn’t say Cannes is in crisis, but like other publicity-first aspects of the industry, like Sundance and Comic-Con, their influence is waning. So let’s take a look at the highlights on the increasingly esoteric Cannes slate.
The Quixote Question
One of the big question marks hanging over the festival is what is happening with the closing night film, Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Gilliam’s tortured passion project has finally been made, but now it’s embroiled in a lawsuit with a credited producer who is seeking an injunction that would keep the film from premiering during the festival. For their part, the Cannes brass is standing by Gilliam but whether or not this film screens is going to depend entirely on a court decision. Right now, this is the most drama happening around Cannes that doesn’t involve Netflix or Spike Lee.
Of the competition slate, the highest-profile film going into the fest has to be Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. It’s his first feature film since 2015’s Chi-Raq, and also, Lee is still totally pissed he didn’t win the Palm d’Or in 1989 for Do The Right Thing (Steven Soderbergh won for sex, lies, and videotape, and Lee is still beefing with 1989 jury president Wim Wenders. This is some top-shelf auteur-sh*t). BlacKkKlansman is based on a book by Ron Stallworth, a former undercover cop who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s (they’ve always been the dumbest sh*ts in the outhouse). One of the producers is Jordan Peele and it’s from Get Out studio Blumhouse, so the Get Out comparisons invite themselves. This is hands down one of my most anticipated films of 2018.
Other notable competition films include David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake—star Andrew Garfield won’t be on the Croisette because he’s currently on Broadway doing Angels In America (for which he just got a Tony nomination); opening night film Everybody Knows from Asghar Farhadi; Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces; and Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Livre d’Image.
Out of competition, the big premiere is Solo, but there will also be screenings of Fahrenheit 451 and Kevin Macdonald’s documentary, Whitney. The Directors’ Fortnight slate includes Leave No Trace, a new film from Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). Shameless brag, I helped program the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which screened this film BEFORE Cannes, so suck it, France. Wim Wenders is also screening his documentary, Pope Francis - A Man of His Word, so he and Spike Lee can 100% reignite their beef in person.
In 2011 Lars Von Trier was banned from Cannes following a fiasco press conference for Melancholia in which he made, let’s call it, sympathetic remarks about Hitler and Nazis. This year, he’s got a new film in the fest because Nazis are back, baby! The film is The House That Jack Built and while it is not screening in competition, it is part of the same out-of-competition slate as Solo. Von Trier himself is another question mark for the fest, as it’s unclear if he, personally, will be on hand. Honestly all the drama surrounding Cannes this year is who is attending—Netflix, Quixote, Lars Von Trier. Hopefully, once the festival progresses we’ll have a better narrative, because otherwise the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival will be defined by who didn’t show up.