On the opening night of the Cannes film festival the guests gather for the premiere of Jeanne du Barry, a historical romp. It is the tale of a courtesan (played by the film’s director, Maiwenn) who catches the eye of a libidinous king and thereby flies in the face of propriety and good taste. The palace, we learn, is a place thick with intrigue, byzantine protocols and ridiculous rules that make no discernible sense. “It’s grotesque,” says one character. “No, it’s Versailles,” says another.
The royal court has its troubles — and so too does Cannes, where the traditional grand unveiling was all but derailed by the arrival of Johnny Depp, a Hollywood star dogged by allegations of domestic abuse whose performance as King Louis XV is his first leading role in a little over three years. Most critics were outraged but the festival was unmoved. Cannes shrugs off cancel culture and tends to lean into a fight. It figures that controversy is good for business and keeps us all on our toes.
“I first came to Cannes in 1992, accidentally,” Depp told reporters after he had toured the red carpet. “And it was an absolute circus like nothing I’d ever seen. And it remains that today — which is a good thing, I think.”
If we applaud complexity in our films, why shouldn’t we require that of our film festivals, too?
Peer from one Croisette balcony and the place is a palace. Peer from another and it’s Barnum and Bailey’s big top, with all of the clowns falling out of their car and the elephant dung piled high, center stage. Some people detest it, which is a perfectly valid response, because it’s chaotic, enraging and wilfully perverse. But it is also bracing and challenging and quite often sublime. I love it, I hate it: sometimes within the same breath. It’s always struck me as amusing that Cannes once clutched its pearls and kicked out Lars von Trier. If Von Trier were a festival, he’d be this one right here.
The first days are a gallop. The guests are toiling to keep pace. The schedule seems at pains to cater to every taste, every time frame. Those with a spare four hours on their hands can immerse themselves in Steve McQueen’s Occupied City, a monumental, cross-cutting portrait of Amsterdam which shows the ghosts of the war years still haunting the canalside streets and picnic spots of today. Those on a stopwatch are better served by Pedro Almodovar’s Strange Way of Life, a 30-minute queer western. Dancing in the shadow of Brokeback Mountain, this casts Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as ill-starred lovers in the one-horse town of Bitter Creek.
This year’s jury president is the Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, a two-time Palme d’Or winner for 2017’s The Square and 2022’s Triangle of Sadness. He tells me that Cannes is unique in the way it’s able to balance both sides of the industry: the multiplex and the arthouse, the large with the small.
“So you have this big commercial presence here on the Croisette. But then you also get the small Iranian film shot on a cheap DV camera — and the organizers will give it the exact same amount of attention.”
No doubt Ostlund’s right. A random glance at the program throws up some wild juxtapositions. On the first Friday, for instance, blockbuster fans happily fill their boots at the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, in which 80-year-old Harrison Ford prepares to join battle with a band of ex-Nazis. Anyone requiring a more shaded and troubling film on a similar subject, though, would be advised to beat a path to Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, a romantic drama that incongruously plays out on the edge of Auschwitz. Turn one way, you’re in heaven. Turn the other, it’s hell.
First off the rank in hunt for the Palme d’Or comes Catherine Corsini’s Homecoming, a decent bantamweight contender, uncovering buried family trauma on the island of Corsica. It’s crisply performed and engagingly handled, gently tackling themes of gender, race and class politics. All the same, I fear that Corsini’s picture may finally be too tasteful and underpowered to properly trouble the judges.
Monster, meanwhile, boasts a robust constitution. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film hinges on an altercation between a troubled student and a callow schoolteacher; an event that quickly threatens to consume everybody involved. But having initially established the crisis, Kore-eda pulls back; repositions. He frames the action from the perspective of the mother, the child and the teacher, so that his intimate human drama takes on the properties of a procedural thriller. Who’s lying, he’s asking. What is the real story here? Monster is at its most powerful during its fraught opening half, when we’re lost in the thicket, trying to make out the woods from the trees. Arguably it becomes less charged and successful when it belatedly steps in to explain. Sometimes the great mysteries are the ones that remain unresolved.
Out on the press terrace, writing this piece, I’m waylaid by an amiable, wiry man by the name of Sy Sabata. Sy explains that he’s of Romany heritage and a former Mr Universe, in town to raise funds for a big-screen biopic. He’s come to discuss the project with a Norwegian producer but he’s not exclusive and besides, the deal’s not yet set in stone. He sizes me up and makes a snap decision. He says: “Would you like to write the story of my life?”
I’ve covered Cannes for years and I still can’t pin it down. Great movies reveal fresh layers of mystery every time we see them. The best characters surprise us; that’s what makes them so compelling. And if we applaud complexity in our films, why shouldn’t we require that of our film festivals, too? Screenings thunder by like stampeding wildebeest on the plain. The scrum is so thick, I’m smelling 10 different armpits. This event contains multitudes. It contradicts itself and keeps going. It’s dreadful and it’s gorgeous. It’s grotesque, it’s Versailles.
One of the ways that pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) peaceniks forward PRC propaganda is by presenting its fabricated history of the Taiwan-China relationship as accepted, mainstream history. Like the faces of astronauts on rocket sleds reshaped by high GEE effects, every conversation about Taiwan is distorted by this stream of effluent. PRC supporters ground their conversations about the PRC in this fake history because it allows them to maintain that the PRC is “reasonable” and is simply deterring Taiwan’s “permanent separation” from “China” rather than bent on annexing an island it has never ruled over. It also recasts the PRC
Private conversations with corporate insiders and ex-government officials that cost upwards of US$10,000 an hour. Coded language and blurred regulatory lines. For hedge funds and other global investors, China’s vast web of “expert networks” has become a key tool for navigating an opaque but potentially lucrative economic powerhouse. For Xi Jinping’s (習近平) Communist Party, the secretive industry represents something far more ominous: a threat to national security that must be reined in. That contradiction is now sending shockwaves through the financial world as China’s government cracks down on the expert networks it had showered in praise less than a decade ago during
When Jerome Eisenberg enrolled his daughter at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles, where Adam Levine met some of his Maroon 5 bandmates, the investment manager says he expected her to get a traditional liberal arts education. But after the murder of George Floyd, the US$50,000-a-year school said it was reimagining its purpose “with an eye toward anti-racism” and diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. In Eisenberg’s view, Brentwood was pulling a “bait and switch” on parents. He sued the school last year for breach of contract, civil rights violations and emotional distress. “The curriculum change shifted away from teaching students critical
The 24 bright green baby parrots began chirping and bobbing their heads the second anyone neared the large cages that have been their homes since hatching in March. The Central American natives, seized from a smuggler at Miami International Airport, are being raised by the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation — a round-the-clock effort that includes five hand feedings a day in a room filled with large cages. At just 9 weeks old, these parrots have already survived a harrowing journey after being snatched from their nests in a forest. They are almost fully feathered now and the staff has started transitioning them