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Cannes Correspondences #1: Festival Takeoff

Introducing the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the second edition held during the pandemic.
Daniel Kasman
Notebook is covering the Cannes Film Festival with an on going correspondence between critics Leonardo Goi and Lawrence Garcia, and editor Daniel Kasman.
Top Gun: Maverick. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.
Dear Lawrence and Leo, 
It’s so good to be back! Three years away from this strange and unique festival called Cannes, and I must say I missed it. The absolutely premium venue for the year’s most prestigious international cinema, seeing these premieres at Cannes on huge screens and with crowds carries with it the electricity that makes film—and moviegoing—so thrilling.
Of course, Cannes being Cannes, this giddy delight (or harrumphing indignation, depending on the quality of the movie), while beautifully framed by the Riviera beachfront, is surrounded, nay, choked by the wheelings and dealings of the Marché—the simultaneous film market that makes up the largest amount of people at the festival. There, films both premiering at the festival and not are negotiated over, sold, and bought. It’s from these mostly secretive meetings and deals that the films you see in theaters or on streaming services many months or years later are greenlit or secured. Then there are the attendant parties, also official and not, that inevitably follow both big-name film premieres as well as big egos and big-money spenders. Art and commerce, united as one—here, a place that touts the sublime creativity of art cinema, one cannot forget that film is predominantly a commercial art, and that these premieres, so eagerly sought by passionate audiences, are equally here to attract dollars as much as they are attention. 
Thus I see no discrepancy, only honesty, in the festival premiering Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, a long-delayed release of a movie shot so long ago it may appear as a fantasy film for an entirely unintended reason, proposing a world without the Ukrainian invasion or global pandemic. Yet here is a film no doubt exemplifying not just bombastic money spent in order to vacuum up even more money, but also heaps of dollars thrown at cinematic spectacle. In this way, Cannes in its second pandemic iteration (the 2020 festival was canceled) is underscoring the joy of returning to theaters, whether it be to see Tom Cruise towering over you or be confronted with Ruben Östlund’s no-doubt darkly satiric follow-up to his Palme d’Or-winning The Square. (If only the festival had taken things to the extreme and placed Cruise as the head of the competition jury, instead of French actor Vincent Lindon!) On the Hollywood end of cinema—admittedly not why I’m here; count me eager for films by Denis, Cronenberg, Skolimowski, Reichardt, and The Fits makers Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer—I myself am more excited for a new James Gray film, as well as George Miller’s return to the Croisette. Three Thousand Years of Longing, a mysterious production starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton and showing out of competition, is Miller's first film after he knocked everyone’s socks off here years back with Mad Max: Fury Road.
I remember standing in an interminable line listening to the ecstatic buzz that followed that film’s premiere in 2015, kicking myself for arriving half a day too late to catch the premiere. (Looking at my screening log, I think my first film that year was Son of Saul—lesson learned.) Long lines are one of the hallmarks of Cannes, a non glamorous fact of logistics requiring anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour before a screening to be spent tapping toes and getting sunburned before summarily being scanned, X-rayed, bag-searched, and possibly patted down by the suited contractors tasked with festival security, a cadre likely picked for their total lack of interest in the movies they’re so diligently protecting. It’s an experience of the Cannes official selection that has been seemingly “curated” to abstract the film presentations from the humans programming and running the festival, an opposite approach to most festivals, which put their team front and center in order to personalize the experience and answer the entirely reasonable questions, who the heck chose these movies and why. (Questions moviegoers should also be directing at their commercial multiplex and not only to spaces more friendly to the diversity of the art.) Here, in pre-pandemic editions, the closely-guarded festival experience frequently reduces the process of attending one of the most important film events of any given year to a French echo of an American-airport-style gauntlet of security theatrics.
But—but! I missed it. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed it. It’s where I would see you both. It’s where I’d cross paths with other wonderful film professionals from around the world—critics from Argentina, the former head of an Austrian archive, a festival programmer from Japan, a writer from China, an editor from Norway, a distributor from Mexico, and occasionally a teenager (usually French or American) who seems like they shouldn’t have a badge or ticket to this particular screening.  It is this convivial atmosphere of community and excitement that I’ve been missing for these long years, an in-person sharing and connection that is impossible to replicate merely via Twitter, emails, and other such cloud-based cinephilia. As anyone who has also ever been to nearly any other festival will tell you, Cannes is about as far away from a community-oriented festival—either the community living in the area, or the ersatz community I’m speaking of, assembled for an ephemeral experience—as could be. And yet here we are, together. 
I hope that we can build together a portrait of what the cinema can do today, as what’s happening here must be connected to the world outside. I can’t forget that this is my first time on the European continent since the invasion of Ukraine, which is a little over a day’s journey by car or train from this preposterous bubble of, in order of local importance, red carpets, rosé, and movies. There are a few Ukrainian films in the selection, and a new one by Russian filmmaker and dissident Kirill Serebrennikov in competition.  I’m most interested in yet another archival documentary from Sergei Loznitsa, whose productivity belies his films' acute and urgent relevance. His two recent films, Babi Yar. Context, about a massacre in Ukraine during World War 2, and Mr. Landsbergis (for my money, a candidate for the best film of the year), about how Lithuania achieved independence in 1990, underscore the absolutely essential work this filmmaker is doing to revive and question the complexities of the Soviet Union and how its legacies and suppressed histories live into the violent present.
I don’t expect many films at this festival to be so directly engaged with the teetering balances of power and injustices in the world, as Cannes tends to prioritize more audience-friendly art cinema (yes, believe it or not, there’s a spectrum, and the art movies premiering here, for reasons likely clear from my mention of the Marché earlier, tend to be more accessible than some of the more challenging—and sharp-edged—works at other fests). But I nevertheless have high hopes. The lineup looks strong. Attendees are ready—possibly desperately so—for public cinema to make a resurgence in popularity and relevance. I am certainly ready. I look forward to what you see here, and most importantly, to reading what you think.


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