As the 75th film festival returns to the Croisette after two years of cancellation and compromise, Titane star Vincent Lindon and jury members were keen to emphasise the relevance of art – and crucial role of secrecy
The 75th Cannes film festival opened against a backdrop of international crisis as jury president Vincent Lindon mounted an impassioned case for the event’s ongoing relevance. Acknowledging the rumbling noises-off of the war in Ukraine and a persistent pandemic, the French actor said that, given the “turbulent times” in the world at large, the festival’s role was more vital than ever.
“Do you think the world will change if we stop Cannes?” he said. “No. If it would, then I’m sure we’d stop Cannes. But I think the opposite. At this festival we can be a mirror. And I think that culture is the most crucial piece of proof or evidence of what the world was like when we were living in it. So it’s very important. We have to do it.”
This year’s Cannes film festival has been billed as a rebirth of sorts, following its last-minute cancellation in 2020 and a compromised, Covid-shadowed edition last summer, and showcases new work from David Cronenberg and Baz Luhrmann, together with a premiere of the Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick. In a show of support for the conflict in Ukraine, the organisers have banned official Russian delegations while opening its doors to individual artists, many of whom are at odds with the Putin regime. The dissident Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, recently released from house arrest, has a film – Tchaikovsky’s Wife – screening in the main competition.
The surprise guest of honour at the opening ceremony on Tuesday evening was Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the audience by video link. Zelensky spoke about Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, quoted Apocalypse Now and drew parallels between fictional war and dictators and the one Ukraine now faces.
The presence of Lindon, a 62-year-old veteran of French cinema, at the head of the jury ostensibly signals a business-as-usual message for an event that has faced criticism for its lack of female directors and stubborn resistance to programming films produced by streaming platforms. But he presides over an eclectic nine-member panel that includes the Indian actor Deepika Padukone, Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi and the British actor-director Rebecca Hall.
At the jury press conference, the members suggested that the diversity of the panel reflected the industry as a whole. “We all grew up in different countries, remote places,” said the Swedish actor Noomi Rapace. “But I think that film is a kind of remote oxygen. It shows us things that we wouldn’t normally know or understand and speaks to those people even in the lowliest bubbles. It means that teenagers in Russia can see stuff they wouldn’t otherwise see. Films travel and communicate – and in this time that’s more important than ever.”
This globe-hopping aspiration appears to be borne out by this year’s movie lineup. Contenders for the crowning Palme d’Or award range from the Paris banlieue to a circus in Poland, the streets of Cairo to the holy Iranian city of Mashhad. Elsewhere the schedule makes room for Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, the first Pakistan-made film to play in official selection at Cannes.
Norwegian director Joachim Trier argued that the scope and quality of the programme showed that the industry – if not the world – remained in a state of good health. “Cannes represents the most sophisticated approach to cinematic storytelling on a big screen,” he said. “And cinema is going through a very vibrant time. So don’t believe the hype. People say that it’s dying. I don’t believe that for a second.”
Lindon won the best actor award at Cannes in 2015 and co-starred in Julia Ducournau’s explosive Titane, which took the Palme d’Or here last year. The grandson of a French magistrate, he admits that his role as jury president effectively returns him to the family business. But he insisted that his will be a consensual jury – open to debate and tolerant of dissenting views.
“Firstly, I detest any friction or tumult,” he said. “But I also agree with [French writer] Marcel Pagnol, who said something like, ‘I don’t want our opinions to be viewed as judgment’. Also, it’s culture, it’s art, so there is no vérité. You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to not like something even though it’s fantastic. When I was young, my mother used to tell me, ‘Don’t say that spinach is bad. Say that you don’t like spinach’. There are movies I don’t like but I still know they are masterpieces.”
After briefly materialising to speak to the press, Lindon will now sequester himself with his jury ahead of the prize-giving ceremony on 28 May. This, he explained, was Cannes tradition. “The rules are simple: keep the secrets. Don’t speak to your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend. Keep your thoughts between you and the eight other people. And it’s a privilege to keep a secret in this fucking time of social networks, when everyone knows everything and we know it’s going to be cloudy between 11.23 and 11.30 in Texas. So for the next 12 days we live the secret. That’s what I’m looking forward to. It’s why I love this job.”