After more than two years, Cannes is back and better than ever. From Jury President Spike Lee’s all-pink outfit to the most inspiring Palme d’Or contenders, here’s everything you need to know about the 74th edition of the French riviera spectacular
Words by: Gilda Bruno
Two years on from the last pre-COVID edition of the Cannes Film Festival, the French celebration of cinema and culture has finally kicked off again, rolling out its sought-after red carpet on the French Riviera for the pleasure of all cinephiles. Gathering some of the most talented international names from the film industry in Southern France for the traditional 11-days-long film premier marathon (July 6—July 17), the 2021 edition of the festival has already gone down in history. Why?
Well, first off, because of Spike Lee’s unattainable Louis Vuitton color-block pink suit which, paired with matching sunglasses, a black hat, and custom Nikes featuring the director’s own face, marked the beginning of Cannes at the premiere screening of Annette (2021): the Leos Carax-directed musical shown on the opening day of the festival and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
But Lee’s eye-catching outfit was more than appropriate considering the special occasion: in fact, not only did last Tuesday mark the director’s first attendance to Cannes as Jury President, but he also became the first-ever Black person to serve in such position since the establishment of the festival in 1946.
In short, it was a night of ‘firsts’ for the mind behind masterpieces such as She’s Gotta Have It (1986) and Do the Right Thing (1989), accompanied in this adventure by fellow judges (and directors) Mati Diop, Jessica Hausner, Melanie Laurent, and Kleber Mendonca Filho as well as by singer-songwriter Mylene Farmer, and actors Tahar Rahim and Song Kang-ho.
Quite obviously, this year’s Cannes cinematic programme is also the first one to run regularly following the outbreak of COVID-19. The 73rd edition of the film festival, which was originally scheduled to take place between 12 and 23 May 2020, was cancelled to comply with the measures put in place to contain the contagion of the virus. Describing Cannes as “a Woodstock for cinema,” Festival Director Thierry Frémaux told IndieWire the reasoning behind last year’s cancellation, stressing the importance of keeping theaters alive.
“Cannes supports cinema, and cinema requires theaters,” he explained.
“We could have had a virtual festival, and we didn’t, because it would have trivialized the event. It was better to go down in history that way than with a few screenings on the internet to make people believe that we exist. The cinema has not had its last word yet. The multiplication of platforms all over the world will mean that the more time passes, the more the screenings in theaters with the public will show their particular strength. The theaters are the best advocates of themselves. It’s a constant spectacle!”
Frémaux spoke loud and clear, the show must go on. But what are the films competing for the Cannes 2021 Palme d’Or? Discover some of our favourite nominees below.
ANNETTE by Leos Carax
Featuring stellar duo Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as an engaging stand-up comedian and his famous soprano wife, Carax’s English-language debut film is a trippy rock opera musical that stays true to the French director, critic, and writer’s established poetic style while still bringing something new to the table. Suspended between reality and dream, Annette — for some, Driver’s best performance so far — convinced the international film community after screening at Cannes Film Festival opening night. Among the others, the film features an original soundtrack by Los Angeles-based duo Sparks.
Annette will screen on August 6 for a limited theatrical release before landing on Amazon Prime Video on August 20.
THREE FLOORS by Nanni Moretti
Nanni Moretti, a real Cannes fixture class 1953, makes a comeback to the cinematic scene with Three Floors: an Italian-French drama based on the 2017 novel Shalosh Qomot by Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo. The film, set between Tel Aviv and Rome, marks the first adaptation of the work of another artist by the Italian excellence that, through the years, gifted the public with masterpieces such as Caro Diario (Dear Diary, 1993), Io Sono Un Autartico (I Am Self Sufficient, 1976), Ecce Bombo (1978), Sogni d’oro (Sweet dreams, 1981), and Palombella Rossa (Red Wood Pigeon, 1989) to name a handful. Three floors stars national cinema icons Margherita Buy, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Adriano Giannini, Elena Lietti, Alessandro Sperduti, Denise Tantucci, and Moretti himself with a plot retracing the adventures of three families living on different floors of the same middle-class apartment building.
The storyline is split into three: a young man kills a woman in a drunk driving accident, forcing his parents, well-respected judges, into an endless moral conflict; a young mother struggles to get the attention of her husband; an old man challenged with the demanding task of carrying for a young child suddenly gets lost on his way back home.
BENEDETTA by Paul Verhoeven
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has long been known for his characteristic mixture of graphic violence, explicit sexual content, and thought-provoking social satire. But this year he brought it even further. Why? Let’s put it this way, if there’s one thing Benedetta succeeded in doing is disrupting the heteronormative narrative that permeates the sermons of the Vatican State. In fact, the film, which has already been described by most critics as “the lesbian nun movie,” follows the lives of two nuns from the 17th century. So? One might say. Let me get to the juicy part: one of the nuns is into the other one.
Soon the two throw themselves into an “immoral” affair fulfilling their passion in all its possible connotations and by all means necessary — even if it takes forging a wooden dildo from a Virgin Mary statuette. Pure heresy, pure genius. Still, Benedetta is way more than watchers’ guilty pleasure: the movie presents, in fact, numerous historiographic references, introducing the audience to the complex hierarchies that characterised the lives of those who lived throughout the 17th century.
AHED’S KNEE by Nadav Lapid
In a continuum with his previously-released, Berlinale-winning Synonyms (2019), Israeli screenwriter and film director Nadav Lapid is back with another film exploring the contrasting aspects of Israeli identity. Through the gaze of Nur Fibak, a forty-something-years old Israeli filmmaker on a journey through the desert to present one of his films — and possible Lapid’s alter ego — the award-winning director gets to narrate the protagonist’s battle against the death of freedom in his country as well as his grief for the loss of his mother. Although Lapid’s experimental style might not meet the expectations of the entire jury, Ahed’s Knee is good food for thought when it comes to facing the discussion around the ongoing Israeli-Palestinese scenario.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH by Wes Anderson
Calling all symmetry-lovers and Wes Anderson cultists! After a long, nerve-wracking wait that saw the cinematic release of The French Dispatch being postponed from July 24, 2020 to October 22, 2021, the film has finally premiered at Cannes on July 12 for the pleasure of all the present — Timothée Chalamet fans and others alike — as proved by the nine-minute ovation that followed the premiere screening. A candid, heartfelt tribute to old-school New Yorker journalists, The French Dispatch dives into the adventures of the employees of a France-based fictionalised publication that is completely run by expats.
Featuring a n y o n e you might want to see in a film, from Tilda Swinton to all-time Wes Anderson-star Bill Murray, alongside Oscar-recipient Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, and more, the much-anticipated film — described by the critics as very Wes Anderson — is a painting-like, characteristic take on the world of journalism, its uncountable dramas, and its even more peculiar protagonists.
DRIVE MY CAR by Ryusuke Hamagachi
After competing at Cannes with his 2018 acclaimed film Asako I & II, the Japanese director made his comeback to the French Riviera to present Drive My Car: an engaging drama based on an adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami’s part of his collection Men Without Women (2014). Narrating the story of a theatre director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his screenwriter wife (Reiki Kirishima), the film is a homage to storytelling and its infinite facets; a theme that, featuring in the films of other Palme d’Or contenders — from Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island to Anderson’s The French Dispatch — appears as one of the crucial motifs of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Among the others, the movie also touches upon the different aspects of relationships, exploring their evolution, highs, and lows in an authentic, emotional manner that honours the delicate material of Murakami’s miniature masterpiece.