CANNES, France – On Wednesday, the 75th Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet for Tom Cruise, as French fighter jets roared overhead, streaming trails of red, white and blue. Once again, the festival and Hollywood had joined forces to proclaim their shared values: liberté, égalité, fraternité, publicité! — while delivering a militaristic spectacle that instantly became global news. The message was deafening and strategically clear: After a few difficult years, Cruise was back in force and so was Cannes.
Cruise was at the festival for a special screening of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to his 1986 blockbuster breakthrough. While his performance at the world’s most prestigious film festival may seem odd, it suited this event, where cinephilia is deeply rooted. sit. And while that love is genuine, Cannes has always counted on stars to generate public relations and keep capital flowing. Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend” was in competition at its first festival in 1946 (it won), a few months after France and the United States signed an agreement to open France to American products, including movies.
“Show me the money!” as Cruise said in “Jerry Maguire,” one of the films featured in a video tribute to the star on the night of its premiere. In over 13 minutes, this highlight reel bounced around Cruise’s decades-long career. It also soon entered semiotically confusing territory when it kicked off the triumphant opening of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which plays memorably in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” when the ape-man realizes that a bone is a weapon. can become. Was Cruise the new man or the star child? I wondered. Or was this a nod to Kubrick, who directed Cruise in “Eyes Wide Shut”?
Whatever the case, Cruise took over Cannes on Wednesday, answering questions at one event and lingering on the red carpet at his premiere, smiling at fans and signing autographs. By the time he stepped into the Grand Théâtre Lumière, the 2,300-seat theater in the festival’s headquarters, the showing was running late and the audience—watching the red carpet entrances live on the big screen—was pumped. After the festival director, Thierry Frémaux, summoned the star to the stage, Cruise thanked everyone and noted that he could see everyone’s faces (“no masks”), leading to loud laughter.
I didn’t participate, not that anyone would know the difference, as I was wearing an N95 mask. This is the first Cannes I attend since 2019; it was canceled in 2020 and resumed in person the following year with various Covid-19 protocols. Recorded announcements before screenings continue to encourage festival-goers to disguise themselves, but face coverings and regular negative tests are no longer necessary. And while the number of visitors is apparently higher this year, both the festival and the surrounding streets feel markedly less populated than in prepandemic times.
In terms of public health, the absence of Covid protocols is questionable, even if it is in line with the easing of restrictions across France. If Cannes is eager to get out of the pandemic, it’s partly because it relies (financially and otherwise) on continuity, including in its role as a defender of cinema. Streaming, the pandemic, a war in Europe – the show will go on and it will be projected. “We love movies on the big screen,” Cruise said just before Frémaux presented him with an honorary Palm d’Or. The day before, Forest Whitaker – he and Cruise were in “The Color of Money” – also received one.
Aside from the cruise, the first few days of the festival (it ends on May 28) have been relatively uneventful, despite the moans of those in attendance struggling to navigate the online ticketing system. While ticket sales have improved, at least for journalists, I’ve heard several programmers started checking out links here in their rentals. That may sound funny, but it’s annoying, because being with other people, masked or not, is crucial for Cannes, where films are not only shown and discussed, but also bought and sold. And, as the pandemic has underlined, it can be really nice to be with other people.
The festival’s relatively calm atmosphere is also partly a function of the films screened to date. Other attendees were more favorable than me about Michel Hazanavicius’ zombie comedy “Final Cut,” which opened the festival on Tuesday and confirms that some things, including humor, cannot be translated. The film was easily overshadowed on its big night by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the audience by satellite. Zelensky quoted from “The Great Dictator,” the 1940 film in which Chaplin denounced Hitler. The following year, it was denounced in the United States Senate as belligerent propaganda.
In Cannes or in Hollywood, politics is always part of the film mix, whether it’s a lengthy ode to the military-industrial complex like “Top Gun: Maverick” or a critique of Russian mythology like “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”. Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, “Wife” tells the story of the marriage between the composer, Pyotr (Odin Biron), and the younger Antonina Miliukova (a wonderful Alyona Mikhailova), the title character. Totally unsuitable for each other, the two soon find themselves in a hellish coexistence before going their mutually unhappy path. He becomes a national monument; she descends into poverty and mental illness.
Serebrennikov (“Leto”), who has been the subject of official Russian censorship, takes a relentless approach to this material. Although the film starts with a smile and beautiful dresses, the mood and visual style change once Pyotr and Antonina get married. What she doesn’t understand—which she can’t grasp, partly because the idea is incomprehensible to her—is that Pyotr isn’t interested in women. He lives in a world of men, a world that nourishes him artistically, intellectually and, although the film is discreet, sexually. A sense of claustrophobia descends and the palette dulls amid the buzz of flies.
“Tchaikovsky’s Wife” is easier to admire than to love. The film’s relentless grimness may be brutally true, but it doesn’t leave the viewer much breathing room either. By the time Antonina languishes in a hovel with her tuberculous lover, who masturbates while coughing blood all over his pillow, you may be wistfully wishing for a little “The Nutcracker” to ease the pain. But Serebrennikov has created a complex film to grapple with, one that explores bigotry, repression and — at a fundamental level — the cruel price some are forced to pay when a culture elevates its great men.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, The Eight Mountains revolves around a friendship between two boys – one from the city, the other from the countryside – that begins in their rural childhood. As they grow older, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) go their separate ways, reuniting, failing, succeeding and stumbling again. With pastoral beauty, a deep sense of longing, allusions to the economic crisis of 2008 and a few too many montage scenes, the film explores questions of identity in a world where everything has been reduced to its economic value.
In ‘Scarlet’, director Pietro Marcello bridges time through the story of a World War I veteran and his daughter. The dead are still littering the fields when Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry, a bewilderment) stumbles home, returning to a small village with few friendly faces. His wife is dead and his daughter, Juliette, is being cared for by a local woman, Adeline (the wonderful Noémie Lvovsky), who lives in a small enclave outside the village. There, Raphaël – a talented craftsman who works with wood – settles into a small, homely community and painfully tries to resume something like normal life despite his harrowing losses.
“Scarlet” is a fascinating, slippery film full of lyrical beauty, barbaric deeds, moments of magic and unexpected hope. The first half focuses on Raphael, a huge, unwieldy man with a protruding forehead and hands the size of hams. As Juliette grows (and is eventually played by Juliette Jouan), the narrative center of gravity shifts from father (a product of the 19th century) to daughter (a woman of the 20th). As in ‘Martin Eden’, Marcello takes an expansive, visually adventurous approach to a story about people and the historical forces that define, imprison and sometimes liberate them. I’m still struggling with the movie and would love to see it again.