SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT MALTI SAHAI
The 74th Cannes Film Festival opened on Tuesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The red carpet had been trimmed and its volume had been reduced by 50%. The carpet this year is made from recycled material rather than (Polyvinyl chloride) PVC. Rigorous safety measures were in place. Plastic bottles were not allowed. Guests avoided kissing while greeting each other on the top of the stairs where they were received by Pierre Lescure, president and Thierry Fremaux, general delegate of the festival. Social distancing was mandatory. Fewer parties are planned this year. However brave hearts AmfAR and Chopard are returning to the festival to amp up the glamour quotient.
In the spotlight on the red carpet was the first ever black president of the Jury, Spike Lee. Five women and 3 men of seven nationalities, coming from five continents walked beside him. They will have the privilege of discovering the 24 films featuring in the International Competition of the year. This year's female jury members comprise French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, Canadian-French singer/songwriter Mylene Farmer, US actress, producer and director Maggie Gyllenhall, Austrian director/producer Jessica Hausner and French actress/filmmaker Melanie Laurent. They were joined by Brazillian director/producer Kleber Mendonca Filho, actor Tahar Rahim and South Korean actor Song Kang-ho.
This is the second time in the festival's history, female jury members are in the majority. In 2018, when Cate Blanchett was jury president, the split was also five women and four men.
The lineup of stars and films on the red carpet at Cannes has always been a healthy mix of glamour and substance. Pride of place on the red carpet was given to American producer, director and actress Jodie Foster, guest of honour of the opening ceremony. She is a recipient of the prestigious Palme d'or. She also won two Oscars, one for "Accused" in 1989 and the other for "The Silence Of The Lambs" in 1992. She will later receive the Festival's Honorary Palme d'or in recognition of her brilliant artistic journey, and strong commitment to some of the major issues of our time. She will also be kicking-off the 74th edition of the festival. To quote Thierry Fremaux, "Jodie never ceases to reinvent herself. She questions with her piercing gaze, learns from others, and is willing to step back from her beliefs in order to forge new morals and do what is fair. An idea that she strives to convey in the decisions she makes as an actress and director, and which makes her so precious during our confusing times. We will honour her with warmth and admiration".
For Women in Cinema, the numbers look great. For the first time the Cannes Film Festival is hosting 20 female filmmakers among the official selection. However, the devil lies in the details. Only four of the total 24 films in competition are by women. Also Netflix, because of its continuing dispute with the festival authorities, (regarding its theatrical release in France-criteria for competition screening), has refused to make available Jane Campion's latest film "The Power of the Dog" to the festival. This is inspite of her being the only woman director to have won the coveted Palme d'or for her film "Piano." Netflix has also refused an out of competition screening of Spike Lee's film "Da 5 Blood". The challenge to 'widen the screen to widen our view' and choose equal, is not an easy one to fulfil in spite of the festival's best efforts.
India remains on the red list for travel to France. Travel to Cannes is difficult if not impossible. Although no Indian film has qualified for the official sections like Competition and Un Certain Regard. Three young filmmakers from India are keeping the flag flying for our country. Rahul Jain is presenting a documentary about pollution in New Delhi. His film "Invisible demons" is screening in the "cinema for the climate", section of the festival. Payal Kapadia's film, "A Night of Knowing Nothing" has been selected for the "Directors Fortnight" section and Suman Sen is participating in the "La Fabrique" program.
The L'oreal ambassadors from Bollywood have forged a place for themselves on the red carpet with their confidence, charm and designer outfits. It is hoped that some of our young filmmakers who are already present in Cannes have also found a place alongside.
Nine years after the remarkable film "Holy Motors" was presented in Competition, in Cannes, Leos Carax walked the red carpet to unveil the opening film "Annette". It is Carax's first film in English. He was accompanied by actors Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver & Simon Helberg. The film has an inspirational soundtrack composed by Sparks. It will premiere internationally and will enter the competition, following the opening ceremony and it will simultaneously be released in French cinemas.
Set in contemporary Los Angeles, the opening film "Annette" tells the story of Henry, a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humour and Ann, a singer of international renown. In the spotlight, they are the perfect couple, healthy, happy and glamorous. The birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny, will change their lives.
Visionary and enigmatic, Leos Carax has authored some of the most beautiful moments of French cinema in the last 35 years, with a filmography that has never ceased to display his mastery of directing. A poetic genius with an overflowing imagination, "I;enfant terrible" of French cinema has consistently transcended filmic codes and genres.
"We couldn't have dreamed of a more beautiful reunion with cinema and the silver screen, in the Palais des festivals where films come to assert their splendour," predicted Thierry Fremaux, after earmarking the film as the opening film of the festival. This memorably screening ended with deafening applause by a rejuvenated audience, their belief in the magic of cinema restored.