Cannes film festival hopes for ‘no controversies’ as wars, scandals rage

The film industry is on edge as the Israel-Palestine conflict and Me Too accusations cast shadows on the red carpet.

Jury President of the 77th Cannes Film Festival Greta Gerwig reacts on a balcony at the Hotel Martinez on the eve of the opening of the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 13, 2024. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Jury president and celebrated filmmaker Greta Gerwig pictured on the eve of the opening of the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France [Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

Cannes, France – The world’s most popular film festival opens on Tuesday with a French comedy, The Second Act, by prolific film director and musician Quentin Dupieux.

It is among 58 films of the official selection in the next 12 days which are likely to set the agenda of the global cinema industry for the year to come.

Kevin Costner, Uma Thurman, Demi Moore and Chris Hemsworth are among the international stars expected to walk the red carpet this year.

Meryl Streep is set to receive an honorary Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the event, while Star Wars creator Georges Lucas will be celebrated on closing night.

Twenty-two films will be competing for the real Palme d’Or, examined by a jury led by Barbie director Greta Gerwig and eight film personalities including the Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda, US actress Lily Gladstone and Turkish screenwriter Ebru Ceylan.

“I’m coming a country that is at great difficulty, Lebanon, and being here is a sort of triumph,” Labaki told reporters. “It’s proof to me that cultural resistance prevails. I’m honoured to be here.”

This year’s contenders are the usual mix of festival regulars, first-time directors with a new take on arthouse cinema, and unique artists pushing boundaries of genre movies.

A woman walks past a Palme d'Or symbol on the eve of the opening of the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 13, 2024. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
A woman walks past a Palme d’Or symbol in Cannes [Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

The most anticipated film this year is by far Megalopolis, a self-funded epic project 40 years in the making by 85-year-old Francis Ford Coppola with Adam Driver and Forest Whitaker. The US superstar director and two-time Palme-d’Or winner is back in Cannes 45 years after Apocalypse Now, with a mix of excitement and anxiety for what may be his final film.

He will compete against other heavyweights – David Cronenberg’s thriller The Shrouds, Yorgos Lanthimos’ new project Kinds of Kindness with muse Emma Stone, Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope with Gary Oldman and Jacques Audiard’s musical Emilia Perez with Selena Gomez.

The Apprentice by Danish-Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi is another long-awaited film, chronicling the rise of young Donald Trump, the former US president, in the real estate industry during the 1970s and 1980s. The film will premiere in Cannes on May 20, fewer than six months before the next US presidential election Trump hopes to win.

China is well represented this year with Jia Zhang-Ke’s Caught By the Tides and She’s Got No Name by Peter Ho-Sun Chan, which will screen at the competition.

Me Too movement in the spotlight

Female filmmakers are underrepresented as there are just four films made by women in the main selection: Bird by British filmmaker Andrea Arnold; Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance; Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light, which marks the return of India to the Cannes competition, and Agathe Redinger’s first film Diamant Brut (Wild Diamond).

Meanwhile, a new wave of “Me Too” accusations in France are casting a shadow over this year’s celebrations. Organisers fear new allegations of sexual abuse might expose French directors, producers and actors, and disrupt the festival

A symbolic measure to prove the festival’s commitment to the fight against sexual harassment will be the screening of Moi Aussi (Me Too), a short film by actress turned director Judith Godreche highlighting stories of victims of sexual violence in France.

Last December, she accused French directors Benoit Jacquot and Jacques Doillon of abusing her when she was a young actress and became the de facto leader of the French Me Too movement.

‘Amplifying Palestinian stories is crucial’

Although the Cannes film festival has always claimed to be apolitical, it regularly platforms filmmakers who take on political positions.

It has been loyal to Kirill Serebrennikov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is bringing Limonov, his sixth film in Cannes since 2016, while Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof will be screening The Seed of the Sacred Fig, telling the story of a judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Rasoulof confirmed on Monday that he was “staying in an undisclosed location in Europe” after recently escaping Iran.

“I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran,” he wrote in a statement.

On Ukraine, Cannes confirms its continuing support for the local film scene for the third consecutive year, with the screening of The Invasion directed by Sergei Loznitsa and documenting the country’s struggle against Russia’s all-out war.

But Cannes’ longstanding commitment to freedom of expression and filmmakers living in exile may hit a wall this year when it comes to taking a stance in the war on Gaza.

Cannes festival delegate Thierry Fremaux said at a pre-festival news conference on Monday that “polemics” are “something we want to avoid”.

“This year, we tried to have a festival without any controversies,” he said.

Fremaux, who had invited Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to give a speech at the opening ceremony in 2022, insisted this week that films were chosen based on their quality rather than their political agenda. He also dismissed a question on a possible anti-Israel protest.

Israel’s latest war on Gaza, which has to date killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, has overshadowed several recent European entertainment and cultural events, with protesters eager to raise attention to their calls for a ceasefire.

Over the weekend, demonstrations denouncing Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest gripped Malmo. Two months ago, British film director Jonathan Glazer called Israel’s attacks on Gaza an act of “dehumanisation” upon winning an Oscar for best international feature for his Holocaust film, The Zone of Interest.

Asked how the film industry should support Palestinian cinema, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, head of the Doha Film Institute, said, “Amplifying Palestinian stories is crucial to our work as a cultural organisation and our commitment to accurately portraying their experiences and humanity.”

DFI will show five feature films at Cannes’ side competitions, including To a Land Unknown by Palestinian director Mahdi Fleifel.

“It is now more important than ever to support their voices,” said Alremaihi. “In an era of inaccurate narratives and with the ongoing attempts to silence the global outrage against the atrocities, it is crucial to keep providing a platform to those fighting against the oppression through their art.”

The Palme d’Or for this year’s edition of the film festival will be awarded on May 25.

Source: Al Jazeera