It would be exaggerating to say that Cannes during the film festival is like a mini-police state—but it has started to feel that way recently. Understandably, given the recent terrorist attacks in France and other parts of Europe, security has been ratcheted up on this part of the Côte d’Azur for 12 days in May.
Visitors to this year’s festival, the 70th, are acutely aware that cops are almost everywhere around the Palais and on the Croisette, and that patrol boats are keeping a watchful eye on all those fancy cruise ships moored offshore. The embrace of the law’s long arm does make people feel safer, but it can create chaos, especially before the 8.30 am screenings.
Take the In Competition screening of Wonderstruck. With the film about to begin, hundreds of journalists and critics were still shut outside the Lumière Auditorium. It eventually started a quarter of an hour late. In a festival that has the tightest timetable, a 15-minute delay can cause a serious rescheduling and induce panic in anyone anticipating a race to the next screening.
Wonderstruck is Todd Haynes’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Carol, which premiered in Cannes in 2015 and earned Mara Rooney a Best Actress award.
Writer-illustrator Brian Selznick adapted Wonderstruck from his juvenile novel (as he had adapted his The Invention of Hugo Cabret for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo). It tells the parallel stories of two deaf pre-teens.
In 1927, at the dawn of the talkies, Rose (affectingly played by hearing-impaired newcomer Millicent Simmonds) runs away from her unhappy life in pre-Depression Hoboken, New Jersey, to find her silent movie idol (Julianne Moore) in Manhattan.
Love letter to New York
Ben (Oakes Fegley), who lives with his aunt and uncle in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, loses what’s left of his hearing in a freak accident. His mom was killed in a car crash and he’s never met his dad, but a clue sends him to New York to find him.
Like Hugo, Wonderstruck is a beautiful homage to silent cinema. Part of it is shot like a silent in black and white—the only sound being Carter Burwell’s soundtrack, already an Oscar contender. When Rose’s and Ben’s stories converge, Wonderstruck turns into both a moving story about a family coming together after years of separation and a love letter to New York City filtered through The Museum of Natural History, Queens Museum, and the Westsider Rare & Used Book store.
Netflix caused a hullabaloo even before the festival started. The streaming service has two films in the main competition, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. French exhibitors are angry because Netflix has no intention of releasing these films theatrically. To keep the theater-owners happy, the festival ordained that, in future, films entered in the main competition must be guaranteed theatrical distribution in France. That could potentially jeopardize Netflix’s relationship with the festival.
On top of this, Cannes Jury President Pedro Almodóvar and jury member Will Smith disagreed at the pre-festival press conference about whether films that are streamed but not shown theatrically deserve to compete at Cannes. The Spanish director argued that the tendency for people to watch movies on tiny screens runs counter to the cinema experience Cannes has always championed. Smith says he and his family love all movie platforms.
Meat is murder
Okja star Tilda Swinton pointed out at the film’s press conference that its makers had come to Cannes to present it, not to win awards. They must have felt jinxed when a technical problem at the press screening led to 10 minutes of booing and Okja being rescheduled for another day.
Bong’s entertaining action-thriller tells the story of a young South Korean girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) trying to save the life of her pet and best friend Okja, a massive female “super pig” developed in a lab by an international corporation. The company wants to use Okja’s image to market its new meat product, but that requires Okja being turned into pork. Swinton plays warring twins in the film. Art films usually win the prizes at Cannes, so Okja probably isn’t a serious contender for the Palme d’Or.
One of the best films screened at Cannes so far is Loveless, an eerie, ambiguous thriller directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose Leviathan won the festival’s Best Screenplay award in 2014. Like Wonderstruck, Loveless addresses childhood suffering.
Twelve-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) is wanted by neither his mother (Mariana Spivak) nor his father (Alexey Rozin), who are divorcing and setting up homes with new partners. Sick of their endless bickering, he disappears. The neglectful parents are tasked with finding him, but the burden only intensifies their hatred for reach other,
Leaving a lot of its mysteries unsolved, Loveless is an allegory about the loss of sustainable values in modern Russia where people are obsessed with upwardly mobility and addicted to social media. It’s nothing less than a country hurtling toward a social apocalypse.