Cannes marked its 75th birthday this year with a family portrait, but the result more closely resembled a cinematic Pokédex. Isabelle Huppert, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kristen Stewart, Mads Mikkelsen, Guillermo del Toro and 116 more stars and filmmakers from all over the world: in the Grand Théâtre Lumière earlier, festival-goers could catch ’em all, in an unsubtle post-pandemic show of strength.
“We don’t want to go to the past, but to look to the future,” creative director Thierry Fremaux told the audience. “We have to fight to help cinema get back in our lives after the pandemic. Cinema is still alive – cinema will never die.”
After its abandoned 2020 edition and pared-down 2021, Cannes was determined to get back to business: the cinemas returned to elbow-jostling full capacity, and the rosé and Nespresso flowed as freely as they had in 2019. From an enjoyably frenzied year, here are the high- and lowlights.
HIGH: Critical chaos
Every year, the magazine Screen International tracks the Cannes temperature with their daily Jury Grid, on which 10 critics (including your Telegraph duo, myself and Tim Robey) award star ratings from zero (bad) to four (excellent) to every title in the competition strand. At the time of writing, every film but two – Park Chan-wook’s double-murder thriller Decision to Leave, and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s stage-school drama Forever Young – has an average score of two-point-something, which suggests a bland line-up.
Not at all. There have been hits and misses everywhere: it’s just no one can agree which were which. This has been the most divisive Cannes in years, with heated argument around everything from Elvis to Holy Spider: even Decision to Leave, beloved as it was by the Screen jury, finished last on the rival International Cinephile Society grid. And the most commonly enjoyed-if-not-adored title, at least from anecdotal experience? The surgical body-horror Crimes of the Future. As my colleague Tim pointed out: “When David Cronenberg has made the film most people agree on, something has gone screwy.”
LOW: Lots of walkouts, but no boos
Well, in most cases, but not all. Before the festival, Cronenberg confidently predicted that some audience members would flee the auditorium within his new film’s opening five minutes, and he was proven right – much to the chagrin of everyone who didn’t score a ticket. (If you want to know why, it’s in my review.)
Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider, Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness and Alex Garland’s Men also prompted walkouts, but boos were unusually scarce: just a smattering at Arnaud Desplechin’s relentlessly shrill Brother and Sister, and the Dardenne brothers’ simplistic immigrant drama Tori and Lokita. Perhaps post-Covid, audiences are still a little reluctant to get too full-throated. One man was in fine voice, though: the newspaper seller outside the Palais, whose cheerful morning sales pitch for Libération – “Libé, Libé, Libé!” – has long been part of the festival’s aural fabric.
HIGH: The tunes
Speaking of which, this was a vintage year for needle drops: those moments in films where a familiar song sparks up on the soundtrack, infusing the images with its particular vibe. Brett Morgen’s sublime David Bowie doc Moonage Daydream, crammed with rare cuts from the late rock star’s personal archive, was a goldmine – and of course Elvis supplied an entire compilation album’s worth of remixes and covers.
But for DJ skills, even Luhrmann’s crazed jukebox epic couldn’t rival Aftersun, the outstanding debut feature from Scotland’s Charlotte Wells, and probably the Festival’s buzziest ticket. Blur’s Tender, Bran Van 3000’s Drinking in LA and Catatonia’s Road Rage were among the highlights of this 1990s-set father-daughter drama, plus a devastating deployment of Queen and Bowie’s Under Pressure at the climax.
James Gray’s Armageddon Time, set in 1980s New York, nimbly evoked time and place with The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, while in Ruben Östlund’s outrageous yacht-disaster comedy Triangle of Sadness, the inanity of influencer culture was summed up by having Des’ree’s Life burbling away on the sundeck on a never-ending loop.
LOW: The sex
After a historically raunchy edition in 2021 – Benedetta, Annette, Drive My Car, Paris 13th District, The Worst Person in the World, Mothering Sunday, and more – this year’s Cannes often felt as if it was still getting its breath back.
Only if you knew where to look was there tremendous sex to be had. Claire Denis’s languid erotic thriller Stars at Noon had Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn writhing sweatily in Nicaragua, while Mia Hansen-Love’s One Fine Morning paired off Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud to gloriously steamy effect. Seydoux was also a fixture in the gory-erotic tableaux of Crimes of the Future, in which Kristen Stewart breathily proclaims that surgery is “the new sex”. Cannes being Cannes, one suspects the old stuff will remain in fashion for a good while yet.
HIGH: The beach parties were back
Critics’ social lives are rarely worth bragging about, but Cannes goes a long way towards redressing the balance. For 12 days, journalists’ Twitter and Instagram feeds fill with blurry snaps of crammed marquees, which if they’ve been really lucky, feature 17 pixels in the top-left corner that may or may not be Shakira. That wasn’t the case in coronavirally subdued 2021, but in 2022, glitz returned in force.
Dining «au critique» at Cannes this evening, which means circling back to your hotel between screenings, sitting on the bed and eating an entire soft cheese like a rusk.
— Robbie Collin (@robbiereviews) May 19, 2022
For Top Gun: Maverick, there were fireworks and aerobatic displays; for Armageddon Time, a casino rooftop soiree; for Elvis, a synchronised drone light show, bottomless Negronis, and a live performance from 2021 Eurovision Song Contest winners Måneskin. Meanwhile, the charity auction at the gala thrown by amFAR, the foundation for AIDS research, saw one bidder drop $215,000 on an enormous metal sculpture of Emma Watson as a mermaid. The Hollywood money had returned…
LOW: so were the Americans
…and inevitably, Hollywood journalism with it. During the recent travel restrictions, the lack of American press on the European festival circuit has been – how to put this kindly? – a welcome breather. But this year saw a return to business as usual, with films’ Oscar prospects being war-gamed and woke credentials performatively scrutinised within seconds of the house lights coming up.
The biggest embarrassment came from the American Pavilion, one of many sponsored national hubs at the festival, which are typically used for meetings, seminars and Q&As. The film data journalist Stephen Follows discovered the AmPav’s small army of interns had each been charged around $4,000 by the Pavilion itself for the privilege of working there – a sum which covered accommodation, airport transfers, festival accreditation and so on, but not international flights or most meals. Students were given work experience placements, but some were also expected to wait tables and serve drinks in the pavilion itself – no-one’s idea of a multi-thousand-dollar Cannes experience.
Oh, and a personal gripe. This year saw an uptick in two disgraceful behaviours: people constantly checking their smartphones during screenings, and bringing takeaway coffees into toilet cubicles. Folks, we’re in the south of France. Let’s try to keep things classy.