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"Cinema is not dead!" Cannes director Thierry Frémaux declares, as the show goes on

Saoirse Ronan joins the ensemble cast of Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch," premiering at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“Cinema is not dead!”

So declared a confident Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, in a press conference Thursday (June 3) announcing both a return to vitality and the lineup of cinematic attractions for the world’s most prestigious film fest, scheduled for July 6 to 17 on the French waterfront.

After being forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to cancel the 2020 edition of the festival, traditionally held in May, Frémaux and his team were determined not to miss a second year of in-person screenings.

The 65 movies in the Official Selection include the world premiere of “Aline, The Voice of Love,” an unofficial biopic inspired by the life of Canadian superstar chanteuse Céline Dion, which uses Dion’s songs but not the singer herself. The Dionesque title character, Aline Dieu, is played by French actress/filmmaker Valérie Lemercier, who also directed the film, which is screening out of competition.

For the first time since 2018, there’s no Canadian movie among the 24 competing for the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes. But there are such eagerly awaited works as Wes Anderson’s ensemble newspaper comedy “The French Dispatch” and Paul Verhoeven’s lesbian nun drama “Benedetta,” both of which were originally supposed to be at the scuttled 2020 fest.

Sean Penn’s con-man thriller “Flag Day,” directed by and also starring him, is a real family affair: it co-stars his children, Dylan and Hopper Penn. The cast also includes Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Katheryn Winnick (TV’s “Vikings” and “Big Sky” series).

The festival’s opening night film, screening in competition, is the musical drama “Annette,” the first English-language movie by Cannes favourite Leos Carax (“Holy Motors”). It stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and features the music of quirky pop band Sparks.

Newcomers to the Palme competition include two noteworthy directors from Cannes sidebar programs of previous years: “Red Rocket,” about a downwardly mobile porn star, by Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”); and “Titane,” a sci-fi body horror by Julia Ducournau (“Raw”).

Ducournau is one of four female directors in the Palme competition, a number that ties the record at a fest still struggling with gender parity. The other three women are Mia Hansen-Love (“Bergman Island”), Catherine Corsini (“La Fracture”) and Ildiko Enyedi (“The Story of My Wife”).

Frémaux, a staunch advocate of big-screen movie-going — he’s still feuding with Netflix and other streaming services — resisted pivoting to an online version of the festival, as the Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance and other fests did. So the 2021 version of Cannes, the 74th edition, amounts to a rebirth of sorts, with many new protocols and other changes from routine.

Speaking from the stage of a Paris movie theatre, Frémaux and Cannes president Pierre Lescure said they intend to utilize 100 per cent capacity in screenings in the Palais des Festivals and other Cannes venues, the latter including a new 12-theatre multiplex called the Cineum, located some distance from the Palais.

They insisted all necessary pandemic protocols will be followed to ensure the safety of festival attendees. “It’s our responsibility,” Lescure said. Masks will still have to be worn indoors, and attendees will have to show proof of full vaccination or acquired immunity, or submit to COVID tests every 48 hours during the fest.

One Cannes tradition that won’t continue this year is the greeting Frémaux and Lescure bestow upon filmmakers and stars who climb the red carpet leading into the Palais: “We shall not kiss one another,” Frémaux said.

Far from being deterred by the pandemic, filmmakers around the world seemed energized by the return of the Cannes Film Festival. More than 2,500 films were submitted to Cannes programmers this year, Frémaux said, a huge increase from the 1,800 to 1,900 typically submitted.

While many would agree with Frémaux’s statement that Cannes is an “irreplaceable” part of the movie culture, it seems some directors would prefer not to be part of the hothouse environment of the Palme competition, which encourages critics to sharpen their scalpels as well as unsheathing their pens.

Cannes is creating a new program called Cannes Premieres, located in the Debussy Theatre within the Palais, which will feature significant directors whose films might otherwise have been expected to compete for the Palme. The inaugural lineup of 10 films includes Oliver Stone’s conspiracy doc “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass,” Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” Mathieu Amalric’s “Hold Me Tight,” Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Jane Par Charlotte” and Hong Sang-Soo’s “In Front of Your Face.”

The Official Selection was shifting right up to the start of the press conference, with several films being added at the last minute for a total of 65.

And there are more to come, Frémaux said, including the people-pleasing “planetary blockbuster” he’s been teasing in interviews. He said Thursday the blockbuster won’t be the sci-fi epic “Dune,” by Canada’s Denis Villeneuve, or the 007 thriller “No Time to Die” or the “West Side Story” remake by Steven Spielberg.

But it will be a big studio film, Frémaux said, that will screen to the public outdoors, most likely at the popular beach theatre, Cinéma de la Plage.

Might it be Peter Jackson’s avidly anticipated Beatles doc, “The Beatles: Get Back”?

At Cannes, the movies may temporarily halt, but the rumours never do. 🌓

(This story originally appeared in the Toronto Star.)

Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

Adam Driver stars with Marion Cotillard in the Cannes 2021 gala opening film "Annette," by writer/director Leos Carax.


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