Cannes 2021: film festivals return to normal
Despite a grueling testing process, revisiting the French Riviera was worth the wait
I am experiencing a multitude of emotions as I sit at Nice airport, at the start of the 74th Cannes Film Festival after 12 absolutely crazy days. Arriving on the Côte d’Azur and seeing festival-goers and holidaymakers frolic in the sun, unmasked, was a powerful reminder of the freedoms we took for granted until March 2020, which were taken from us.
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Entering the Palace, the main venue of the festival, sparked another emotion – fury – as we were told that even doubly vaccinated delegates, if not from the EU, would have to undergo a Covid test every 48 hours and present the negative results. to security to be allowed entry. The testing process was lovely – peddling and spitting into a funnel attached to a tube to collect a fair amount of saliva. But, as with all things in this era of a pandemic, we’ve gotten used to it too.
Once inside the cinemas, masks had to be strictly worn throughout the screenings. As each screening began with the animation of the Cannes logo, it was greeted with thunderous applause, signifying the hope and relief that we returned to doing what we love – experiencing cinema in a theater. And, when the opening credits started rolling on Asghar Farhadi’s film A hero at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, tears came to my eyes from the pure joy of being there to experience it.
And so for the movies… As people expect me to work for a living, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked. A hero, another Farhadi review of a cross-section of Iranian society, sees a master working at the height of his powers. Wen Shipei Are you alone tonight? stars the formidable Sylvia Chang and Eddie Peng, is another addition to the burgeoning Chinese neo-noir genre, and pays homage to many filmmakers including Jia Zhangke, Wong Kar Wai and Edward Yang, to name just three. Stars including Timothee Chalamet, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray were out in force for Wes Anderson’s The French dispatch. Léa Seydoux had to cancel her visit because she tested positive for Covid.
I watched the burning film by Bangladeshi filmmaker Abdullah Mohammad Saad Rehana with our own Anurag Kashyap and we were both shocked at the power of the film. The film is a systematic dismantling of the patriarchy and features a formidable central performance of Azmeri Haque Badhon, one of Bangladesh’s best actors. The film earned a standing ovation and Badhon was overcome with emotion upon the reception he received. Rehana already going places, that’s all I can reveal at this point.
Rahul jain Invisible demons, a formidable – and frightening – look at pollution in Delhi, also received a standing ovation. The film is a worthy follow-up to its Sundance winner Machines. Like Saad, Jain also moves. Marc cousins The Storms by Jeremy Thomas is a free look at Oscar-winning producer Thomas (The last emperor, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, crash) eclectic career. It was a pleasure to talk to them at length after the film.
Not all movies were good, so let’s leave it there and move on to that other side of Cannes, the parties. From sales agent parties to private barbecues in the hills to a noisy karaoke night in the Philippines, I’ve managed to show my face to a few, for purely anthropological reasons, I hasten to add. And at the after party which followed the world premiere of a French film, in which we embarked because my filmmaker friend knew the director’s sister, as we do, I felt another emotion: fear . People were crowded, without masks, near a hotel rooftop terrace, and for my part, I was grateful that the festival had us tested every 48 hours.
The 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival ends on July 17
Naman Ramachandran is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs.