by Alex Billington
May 29, 2017
What can I say about the Cannes Film Festival that I haven’t already said so many times before? I love this film festival, and no matter what, I keep going back because I can’t help it. I am drawn there. Even if I don’t love every single film, even if I miss a few of the good ones, even if I feel exhausted, I’m happy to be there. Maybe it’s the magic of the Côte d’Azur. The sun, the water, the fresh air, fresh bread every morning, rosé wine every night, delicious food. This must be the recipe for a great life: friends and films in France. This festival has been going for 70 years and I’m sure many others know this recipe. It surely worked for me. The festival may be over, but the memories will last, and the films will begin their march all over the world – to other festivals, eventually to your local cinema, and of course on your TV (and mobile phone) in due time.
One of the films that played this year was Michel Hazanavicius’ Redoubtable, an amusing satirical take on famous French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and his life in the 1960s. The story focuses on his relationship with actress Anne Wiazemsky, who first starred in his 1967 film La Chinoise before dating him for several years. Set in the late 60s, it takes place around the civil unrest in France while Godard juggles his political & filmmaking desires. At one point, Anne and her friends decide they want to attend the Cannes Film Festival and he reluctantly agrees. Upon arrival, he joins with other filmmakers and forces the festival to cancel (this really happened in 1968 after it opened with Gone with the Wind). He then spends the rest of their trip in a fancy house on the Côte d’Azur. It’s a funny moment of friends and films in France, except without the films.
I was lucky to make new friends from Spain and Italy and Germany in Cannes, and they were a vital part of my experience at the festival this year. I stayed in a nice flat up the hill with three Spanish cinephiles, and one Italian journalist. Last year I stayed with a batch of journalists/critics from Sweden. There are a handful of Americans who attend Cannes, but I love that the festival attracts a diverse crowd of cinephiles from all over the world. I had never met any of the people I was staying with before arriving, but by the end of the festival (and after 10 days sharing the same flat) we were all good friends. Nothing but love. It’s exciting to hear different perspectives, learn about their backgrounds, and argue/discuss different films with them. One woman (Mercedes) works as a camera woman on the red carpet; another (Aïda) is a critic for Premios Oscar. Not everyone comes to Cannes and just watches films for 10 days straight, there’s different jobs to be done.
Cannes isn’t just about the films. Yes, the red carpet is the center of attention. And reporters from every country desperately try to get famous actors on camera so they can say they have an exclusive interview to air that night. It’s always my mission to remind everyone to keep their focus on the films – because that is what we’re all really there for, right? All the filmmakers, and even the distributors, the buyers, the critics, everyone is there because of the art of cinema. It makes me sad when I meet people who only had time to see one or two films, and I always push them to see more. Catch a few others while they can. Sure, it’s tiring but it’s part of the experience. But the people at Cannes are also part of the experience – meeting & making new friends, arguing about the merits of films & distribution (is Netflix good or bad?), and discussing life itself.
This year a few of my colleagues from America attended the Cannes Film Festival for their first time, which is always exciting, even for me. I get very nervous when this happens because I want them to have a great time. It’s always overwhelming and totally exhausting attending a film festival for your first time (especially one as prestigious and crowded as Cannes). But I hope with some guidance and a good heart, they’ll enjoy their time and return next year. I adore Cannes, and even though I’ve had some bad years, or years where I don’t love that many films, I’m still back year-after-year. Perhaps it’s the prestige, perhaps it’s the chance to see these films at their world premiere, perhaps it’s just my love for the Côte d’Azur and the experience of a festival in the South of France. Whatever it is, I hope every cinephile who comes to Cannes has a good time.
The two first timers this year were Tomris Laffly, writing for Film Journal; and David Ehrlich, writing for Indiewire. Both have been writing fervently about films during the festival and I highly recommend reading their coverage. Not just for their thoughts on attending Cannes for their first time, but also for their thoughts on the films playing. These two are some of the most intelligent, thoughtful, fascinating critics working and always have something interesting to say – even if you don’t agree with their opinion. Ehrlich’s rave review of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is worth your time, mentioning how the film “[flows] through history like the fluorescent chemical dye of a magnetic scan.” Laffy’s review of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is also worth reading. She raves: “I take comfort in knowing that we have a director who thoroughly understands and is willing to deeply engage with the social realism of today’s America, one film at a time.”
Here’s to another great year at Cannes. I always go out of my way to talk about the other people I meet at the festival, and not just the films, because they are just as important as the movies. Anyone who has been to festivals knows this. If you’re not sharing an apartment with them, you’re saving seats for them, queuing for screenings next to them, grabbing lunch with them, attending parties with them, and reading their thoughts on the films as well. I’ve written about this many times before at Cannes, at Sundance, at Telluride, at every film festival. This really is the recipe for a great life – making friends, bonding over cinema, and watching the finest films premiere on screens just feet from the Mediterranean Sea. If you aspire to have this kind of life, then start now. Start reading, writing, and talking about films. Make it your mission and it will happen. And I will see you on the Croisette next year, happy to chat about the latest film you’ve seen that you loved.
You can find all of my reviews and additional editorials about the 2017 Cannes Film Festival here. This was my 8th year attending Cannes, and I look forward to returning again in 2018. C’est la vie! Cinema is my life.