There’s something very apt about leaving Cannes, after almost two weeks of frantic movie-watching, with a young drunk person half asleep next to you on the train who, at one point, pukes on the floor. Especially when you consider this year’s Palme d’Or went to Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, whose main talking point is the most epic and ambitious vomiting scene since Monty Python gave us Mr. Creosote.
Now a member of the two-time Palme winners club (alongside Alf Sjöberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August, Emir Kusturica, Shohei Imamura, the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke, and Ken Loach), Östlund took the Croisette by storm with his gleefully chaotic satire – not quite as sharp or precise as his previous film The Square, but still a deliriously good time at the movies. And that is perhaps one of the reasons it won over the jury.
“Deliriously good time” is a fitting descriptor for what Cannes set out to do this year, to celebrate its 75th anniversary and an apparent return to normal moviegoing habits, at least in Europe and France (where masks are recommended but no longer mandatory). Much like last year (and 2020, in terms of which films received the Official Selection label), it was a very French event, due to the festival’s close relationship with the national theatrical business (exhibitors are part of the event’s board of directors).
As such, it made sense to kick things off with Final Cut, Michel Hazanavicius’ remake of the Japanese microbudget horror comedy One Cut of the Dead. A fun but flimsy endeavor, it’s a textbook example of a film trying to have its cake and eat it too – it’s ridiculously and refreshingly open about being a lazy cash-in (there’s an in-story explanation for why it basically xeroxes the original), while still being a lazy cash-in.
Other gleeful slices of fun were available in the Out of Competition strand: Top Gun: Maverick hogged most of the headlines, but there was also Elvis. Not the easiest screening to get into (I had to queue in the last-minute line for people who didn’t have a seat reservation), but very much worth it: Baz Luhrmann’s flamboyant style is a good fit for the great singer’s story, resulting in his first truly accomplished effort since Moulin Rouge!, which famously also played at Cannes back in the day.
Fans of comic books got their fix with two different titles: Funny Pages (Directors’ Fortnight), directed by first-timer Owen Kline (son of Kevin), is a charming and heartfelt tribute to various eras of American comics, while the animated Little Nicholas (Special Screenings) puts a nice meta spin on the little boy’s adventures, as he interacts with fictionalized versions of his creators René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé, voiced respectively by Alain Chabat and Laurent Lafitte.
Chabat, himself a bit of comic book adaptation royalty in France (he directed the second live-action Astérix movie), was also part of the ensemble cast in Quentin Dupieux’s Smoking Causes Coughing, a Midnight Screening in the purest sense of the term. Joyfully silly and deliriously committed to the bit (or rather, bits, as the film is basically a collection of absurd vignettes), it was a welcome return to form for Dupieux after he went autopilot on Incredible But True, which played at the Berlinale a few months ago.
Also pulling a Berlin-Cannes two-punch was Claire Denis, who brought Stars at Noon to the main competition. She had previously stated the film was unlikely to be ready for a Croisette premiere, and it definitely felt like some of this confused and bloated romance thriller could be left on the cutting room floor. Still, the jury clearly enjoyed it enough to give it the second prize, albeit one that was shared with Lukas Dhont’s Close – a simpler follow-up to his ambitious and controversial debut Girl, with massive emotional stakes.
Staying on the awards topic, a running joke among long-time attendees of the festival is that only three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the Dardennes winning a prize in Cannes. The Belgian brothers have been in competition nine times in a row, and only twice have they returned home empty-handed. So it wasn’t a major surprise that their kid-focused drama Tori and Lokita won an award – although it feels a bit silly that they received the specially created 75th anniversary prize when David Cronenberg was right there.
The Canadian auteur was back in France with his first cinematic outing in eight years: Crimes of the Future, a drama depicting a world where evolution has taken a weird turn and given humans surplus organs. A pointed meditation on the world we live in today (“Surgery is the new sex” quickly turned into a festival mantra), although some of the more classically Cronenbergian stuff occasionally looked like crossing off items on a list.
That film’s female lead, Léa Seydoux, also lit up the Fortnight with Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning, a lovingly delicate depiction of complicated human relationships, shot in two phases to accommodate the change in seasons required for the plot (fun fact: Seydoux filmed her part in the Cronenberg during this hiatus). How this ended up in one of the sidebars, while one of the prime competition slots went to Arnaud Desplechin’s shockingly dire Brother and Sister (a clumsy and insincere family drama starring a miscast Marion Cotillard), will remain one of this edition’s enduring mysteries.
Also deserving of a competition upgrade was the highlight of the Un Certain Regard section, Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland. As a native speaker of Swedish, I cheered when one of the characters started ranting about the Danish language, but that’s not the only admirable thing about a period piece that explores the fraught relationship between Iceland and Denmark in strikingly shot detail, with photography playing an important role in the plot.
And that is but a small part of what was sold as a major celebration of cinema in all its forms (including restored prints of classics which will get proper theatrical re-releases in France). Perhaps the most significant element was, in fact, giving the afternoon slot on opening day to Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore – the first step in a painstaking effort to give new cinematic life to the late director’s entire filmography, which was largely under the radar for years due to legal issues.
And perhaps most symbolically, the final screening overall – on the beach, where local audiences get to see restored classics for free – was The Last Picture Show, a tribute to Peter Bogdanovich that doubled as a reminder the time had come to close the book on this year’s Cannes. A chaotic, messy, sometimes frustrating edition, especially in the early days when it looked like the festival’s glitchy online ticketing system would prove an unbeatable adversary even for the most seasoned Croisette dwellers. But that is also, perversely, part of the fun.