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Cannes Film Festival turns it up to 11 for its 75th anniversary

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

CANNES, France— The red carpet is being rolled out, the streets are full of newly planted spring flowers and the celebrities and movie lovers are flocking back to town.

After two years of being nearly silenced by the pandemic, the Cannes Film Festival is ready to “turn it up to 11” again.

That famous loud-and-proud boast from “This Is Spinal Tap” will be heard across the beaches of this city’s Riviera waterfront, as a restored print of Rob Reiner’s 1984 rock mockumentary gets a free public screening at the Cinéma de la Plage outdoor venue with the director in attendance.

It also sums up the spirit of this year’s 75th-anniversary edition of the world’s most prestigious film fest, which is ready to party again following two years of COVID-19 curtailments: a 2020 edition that was cancelled outright and a 2021 edition that was reduced to a smaller summer event.

After making its official debut in 1946, the Cannes Film Festival has become the biggest event of its kind in the world. We look back at the festival's biggest stars ahead of the opening of its 75th edition. (May 12 / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The movies are also rebounding, with audiences worldwide returning to theatres at close to pre-pandemic numbers to see blockbusters like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “The Batman.”

And the streaming services that threatened public movie-going and film fests are suddenly facing headwinds: Netflix recently reported a drop in subscribers — it expects to be down 2.2 million by June. This unexpected result prompted a share price tumble, layoffs and other belt-tightening measures.

Cannes 2022 will be “almost a return to normality,” festival chief Thierry Frémaux said recently at a press conference unveiling this year’s Official Selection of films, including 21 that will compete for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize. (Five of the Palme contenders are directed or co-directed by women, a record number at a festival often accused of overlooking female filmmakers.)

Many of the films at Cannes 2022, including competition entry “Crimes of the Future” by Toronto’s David Cronenberg, will be world premieres.

The festival has issued 35,000 accreditations to industry players and journalists, close to the 40,000 who attend in normal years and nearly double last year’s total of 20,000. Cannes also received 2,200 film submissions from around the world, about 200 more than in a normal year.

This is despite the fact that there will be fewer Asian films this year, mainly due to tight COVID restrictions in China, and no official films from Russia, due to its war in Ukraine.

It remains to be seen if the parties that are a big part of the Cannes experience will also be back in force. A recent headline in The Hollywood Reporter asked: “Cannes: Is the Fest Ready to Party Again?”

It certainly is in terms of cinema. A full slate of films is scheduled for the 12-day event.

Many are already generating much buzz, including festival opener “Coupez! (Final Cut),” a zombie comedy by France’s Michel Hazanavicius, whose 2011 Cannes contender “The Artist” went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Screening out of competition, it stars Romain Duris and Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”). The film was originally titled “Z,” but Hazanavicius recently changed it because “Z” has become the symbol for people who back Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future,” his first feature in eight years, borrows the title from his 1970 sci-fi movie and continues his career-long interest in body horror, sexual ambiguity and the cerebral vs. the corporeal. It’s a future shock tale of a performance artist, played by Viggo Mortensen, who has developed the controversial ability to grow new organs within his body, something called “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome.” Kristen Stewart and Léa Seydoux co-star.

The trailer suggests Cronenberg doesn’t skimp on the viscera — we catch a glimpse of a man with his eyes and mouth sewn shut yet sporting extra ears. The Toronto writer/director has been gleefully telling industry trade journals he expects to see some audience walkouts during the first five minutes of its Cannes premiere while others will sprint for the exits during the final 20 minutes.

As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances. Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed… Their mission – to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

Tom Hanks and Austin Butler star as Col. Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in “Elvis,” a musical biopic by Baz Luhrmann that’s having its Cannes world premiere out of competition. It already has the seal of approval from Lisa Marie Presley, who tweeted she’s seen it twice and finds it “absolutely exquisite,” praising Butler for having “channelled and embodied my father’s heart and soul beautifully.”

It’s a great year for rock ’n’ roll movies at Cannes. Besides “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Elvis,” there will also be screenings of “Moonage Daydream,” a new David Bowie documentary by Brett Morgen (“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”) that includes unseen concert footage, and “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble In Mind,” a doc about the 1950s rock pioneer, a.k.a. “the Killer,” directed by Ethan Coen of Coen Bros. fame.

And let’s not forget “Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 airborne blockbuster starring Tom Cruise as a flying ace who feels the need for speed. Lean on plot but big on spectacle, “Top Gun” helped usher in the notion of using movies as extended rock videos. “Top Gun: Maverick” will have its European premiere out of competition here shortly before its global theatrical rollout.

The official trailer for Top Gun: Maverick starring Tom Cruise. In theatres May 27, 2022.

Among the artier films at the fest, there’s already keen buyer interest in “Triangle of Sadness,” a new social satire by Sweden’s Ruben Östlund, who won the Palme d’Or for “The Square” in 2017. Starring Woody Harrelson as a manic sea captain, it sounds like a combination of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lord of the Flies.” It’s about two fashion models, played by Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean Kriek, who find themselves in a fight for survival with a group of billionaires on a desert island, after their ship sinks while on a luxury cruise.

Several other 2022 Palme contenders are similarly new works by previous Palme winners. The others are “Broker,” a child-abandonment drama by Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Shoplifters”); “Tori and Lokita,” a refugee drama by Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“Rosetta,” “L’enfant”); and “RMN,” a mystery drama by Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”).

On a personal note, this year marks my 25th anniversary of covering Cannes for the Toronto Star. I first attended the fest in 1997 for its 50th edition, which saw Canada’s Atom Egoyan win the second-place Grand Prix for “The Sweet Hereafter,” coming in just shy of winning the Palme.

Back then, the internet was still a novelty and streaming services like Netflix were far off in the future,

But the focus then and now was on the appreciation of great film, no matter what form it takes or what challenges it faces.

“Cinema isn’t dead,” Frémaux said. “Language isn’t dead. Everything is renewed. Everything is always renewed.”


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