Cannes Film Festival 2021: Notes on returning to live screenings and the red carpet, with lurking thoughts of saliva tests
'The applause for the opening film Annette seemed to crack the auditorium open even before the screening began, a telltale sign of an emotional audience who have missed watching anything on big screen far too long.'
Firstpost is physically present at Cannes Film Festival 2021. We will bring you exclusive coverage from the annual gala, including reviews and all the activities taking place on ground.
Defying a pandemic that is still refusing to contain across the world, a determined Cannes Film Festival returned to the Croisette this week, in its 74th edition, after being forced to take a break last year. Though there are strict health regulations in place and administration is largely digitised, could the Cannes model become a prototype for film festivals in post-pandemic societies?
“Cannes is the world’s greatest film festival,” declared Spike Lee, at the opening press event, the first ever black filmmaker to be selected the festival’s jury president. This year also sees a female-heavy jury – only the second time in the history of the festival – comprising Mélanie Laurent, Mati Diop, Mylène Farmer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jessica Hunter – who would caste deciding votes on the film to win the coveted Palme d’Or. “A majority of women may choose different movies,” said Gyllenhaal at the press conference.
Europe is also in the throes of a busy summer – after losing one to the pandemic last year – and the air is peppered with the excitement of Euro 2020 football finals and Wimbledon. Amid this already crowded summer, Cannes is leaving nothing to chance except pushing the festival to July when the midsummer heat blazes down the French Riviera.
The return of red-carpet glory despite the sultry weather is a much-needed respite for global cinema that was battered by the pandemic last year.
Gambling over the falling infection rates despite growing risk of the Delta variant, the festival has tightened health regulations by introducing a strict testing regimen in place. It requires attendees to get a PCR saliva test – you salivate into a vial, 1.5 – 2 ml, no froth, only saliva – every 48 hours to enter the Palais. All this spitting into a vial business led Hindi journalist Pragya Mishra to report for Prabhat Kiran, "COVID ne Cannes ko peekdan bana diya" (COVID made a spittoon out of Cannes).
It must be noted that entry into most cinema halls is not as strictly regimented, and does not require a negative PCR test. Though she had issues conjuring up enough saliva for the test, Mishra says the major issue she faced this year has been the selection of movies to watch. It is a matter of too many choices because the festival has embraced last year’s unscreened titles to be included in the lineup this year. The promising lineup includes celebrated directors including Paul Verhoeven, Joanna Hogg, Todd Haynes, Wes Anderson, Asghar Farhadi, and Gaspar Noé.
Though the pandemic travel restrictions have prevented companies from around the world to travel to Cannes for business at Marché du Film, many European sellers are on the ground while the ones who were unable to travel have migrated to virtual booths to make the most out of the festival.
Majid Wasi, Head of Communications at the Doha Film Institute, who is at Cannes to promote the institute’s initiatives and funded projects, says he skipped festivals last year because he felt it was too early to get on a plane. Wasi says his friends from places like London and India could not make it due to quarantine regulations, and feels that these restrictions have contributed to the scant crowd size compared to previous years. “It feels kind of eerie to physically attend Cannes because we’re still in the middle of the pandemic. Even France was under lockdown not so long ago. But it’s exciting being back, I really missed the festival,” he adds.
The opening film Annette saw a 100 percent attendance, and the red carpet shimmered with the jury and talent in their sartorial best. It bears mention that jury president Spike Lee stole all the thunder with this bubble gum pink suit and hat, complete with pink-tinted glasses and trademark playful energy to match up with. Masks were largely done away with on the red carpet, even though some like Marion Cotillard were spotted wearing it briefly. Even as it was rumoured that kissing was off the list this year, there was no dearth of scenes of stars hugging and pecking each other’s cheeks.
A few hours before the opening, the festival marked its formal beginning by screening Mark Cousins’ documentary film The Story of Film: A New Generation. Inside the hall, the applause seemed to crack the auditorium open even before the screening began, a telltale sign of an emotional audience who have missed watching anything on big screen far too long.
The Story of Film spanned everything from the non-sectarianism of Amir Khan’s alien on earth in PK to the aliens interacting with earthlings in a different planet in the Russian film Hard to Be a God, and covered the richly fecund ground of cinema across genres. It was a two-hour long meditation on the shifting paradigms of movie making and watching. A befitting start to a universally loved festival.
(Also read — Cannes Film Festival 2021: Adam Driver owns the fantastical Annette with his charismatic presence)
(Also read — Cannes Film Festival 2021: Todd Haynes docu on The Velvet Underground shows a band defiant of artistic, cultural norms)
(Also read — Cannes Film Festival 2021: Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch is cleverly written and visually sumptuous)
(Also read — Cannes Film Festival 2021: In A Hero, Asghar Farhadi delivers a tale on ethics and integrity with a fairly engaging script)
(Also read — Cannes Film Festival 2021: Sean Baker's Red Rocket might be this year's charmingly understated films)
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