CANNES, France — When Jeff Nichols first attended the Cannes Film Festival, he was a 21-year-old student interning at the event’s American Pavilion. His days were mostly spent waiting tables, but every once in a while Nichols would get his hands on a premiere ticket, put on a tuxedo his mother had bought him, and sit high up on the balcony of the Grand Theater Lumiere. Every time he landed there, he felt on top of whatever he wanted to do in life.
Since then, Nichols has returned to the festival with two films he directed: “Take Shelter,” starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and Matthew McConaughey’s drama “Mud.” This year, he will be one of the jurors who will decide the winner of the Palme d’Or. At a jury press conference on Tuesday, Nichols, now 43, said his invitation was a complete honor.
“I can guarantee you that I will watch each of these movies with the same enthusiasm as when I was 21,” Nichols said.
The host, Didier Allouch, adds curtly: “You will have a better place.
In its 75th year, an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival remains highly coveted, even though the film industry has changed irrevocably in the two decades since Nichols first attended. Since French theaters have been lobbying the festival to exclude streaming films from competition, Cannes sometimes feels like a throwback: a place where the big screen is so revered you wouldn’t know the outside world was consuming films. of art on much smaller screens, if at all.
The most significant concession Cannes has made to change viewer habits is the abundance of billboards and banners along the Croisette, the city’s main boulevard, touting official partner short video app TikTok. of this year’s festival. Does this union suggest that the festival is hedging its film bets, or is it just a savvy way for Cannes to reach a user base of over a billion young users?
It’s perhaps a reminder that Cannes has more to sell than art films, even when some of those entries – like Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” or last year’s hit “La worst person in the world” – continue to strike a cultural chord. Cannes also sells glamor in the form of red carpet images that are broadcast around the world. And the perfect backdrop of the Croisette, where that red carpet is set off by azure summer skies and an even richer blue sea, also provides the perfect launch pad for studio blockbusters:” Top Gun: Maverick” and the glitzy “Elvis” by Baz Luhrmann. will make its Cannes debut this year alongside independent films like Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up,” starring Michelle Williams as an artist tending to an injured pigeon.
After the 74th edition of the festival was constrained by the emergence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Cannes this year is partying back to its fullest. The number of journalists here has almost tripled since last summer, the evenings are once lively and the opening night film, “Final Cut”, was directed by a big name from Cannes – French director Michel Hazanavicius, whose film ‘The Artist’ debuted here in 2011 before winning the Best Picture Oscar.
Hazanavicius has had all the ups and downs Cannes has to offer: Three years after his win with ‘The Artist’, he returns with the war drama ‘The Search’, which earned him such derisive boos and whistles during of its screening in the press that the film narrowly escaped the Croisette alive. Still, Hazanavicius couldn’t stay away: Although his zombie comedy “Final Cut” was originally scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the film pivoted to Cannes when Sundance went entirely virtual.
“I feel like I was born in Cannes for ‘The Artist,’ but I died in Cannes for ‘The Search,'” Hazanavicius told IndieWire this week. “It’s a poker game. You come with your cards but you never know.
And you come because when Cannes connects, there’s nothing else like it. Perhaps that’s why the festival’s opening ceremony on Tuesday night was able to attract a big-name surprise guest: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who showed up via satellite. In his military fatigues, he spoke to the couture-clad crowd about the power of cinema to reshape how we think about war and the people who fight it. Quoting “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin, Zelensky said, “The hatred of men will pass, and dictators will die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.”
As he spoke, I thought back to the jury press conference, where the jurors – which include actress-director Rebecca Hall and jury president Vincent Lindon, who starred in the Palme d’ Gold from last year, “Titanium” — were asked if the film still retains any cultural primacy in a world dominated by, well, TikTok. Another member of the jury, the director of “The worst person in the world”, Joachim Trier, intervened to say that cinema is “a very radiant and progressive art form that we all love”. Then he smiles.
“People are saying he’s dying,” Trier said. “I do not believe it one second.”