UPDATED: On the heels of the Cannes Film Festival’s much-anticipated press conference, Variety’s Elsa Keslassy sat down with artistic director and delegate general Thierry Fremaux. Among other things, Fremaux talked about the colors and themes of this year’s official selection, the pool of women filmmakers repped in the lineup, Jean-Luc Godard’s comeback in competition, the eventual selection of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” films that didn’t make it and movies that might spark waves at the festival.
Many films in the official selection — notably David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” Andrew Hulme’s “Snow in Paradise,” Panos Koutras’ “Xenia,” Wang Chao’s “Fantasia” and Jaime Rosales’ “Hermosa Juvenitud” — look to say something about contemporary society. Was that a conscious decision?
It’s important for Cannes to not stray from reality. There are a certain number of films that evoke in a very convincing way the world in which we live. I always say, when people tell me how political and engaged Cannes is, that it’s because of the kinds of films that are presented to us. We didn’t select from Sissako’s film because it deals with the war in Mali; we took it because it’s a beautiful film. We’re happy to be able to say that cinema is an art which is constantly evolving on the artistic aspects and in connection with the real wold. And I think that for Cannes spectators who are locked in for 10 days and disconnected from reality, it’s a good thing for them to see the world on the screen.
Last year, you predicted accurately that Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” and Francois Ozon’s “Young and Beautiful” would spark waves. What movies do you anticipate will stir a controversy this year?
Last year, many films explored the theme of intimacy. This year, there are many films that are removed from the intimate sphere and are instead grounded in reality and I can’t think of any films that will particularly create controversy, but it’s the journalists and audiences who will decide. What comes out of many films is their universality. When we see the solitary character of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep,” anyone can relate to him. It’s not just a Turkish movie. When we see Sissako’s film, we can’t tell ourselves that it’s a film about the war in Mali, but rather that it’s a film about Africa and other societies. And when we watch Cronenberg’s movie “Maps To The Stars,” we can relate to what we see even if it’s happening in the U.S..
You mentioned during the press conference that Keren Yedaya’s film “Harcheck mi headro” was also controversial. Why is that?
It’s a film about incest.
You always say you don’t care about the gender of filmmakers, but this year you made a point of claiming you had 15 women directors in the official selection. Did all the criticism make you change your mind and did you take gender into account this time around?
Actually, I cheated a bit when I said there were 15 women filmmakers in the selection, because two of them directed “Party Girl” (the movie that opens Un Certain Regard). But the fact that we have so many this year is a pure coincidence. We’ve always shown films directed by women. The only time we didn’t have any in competition was two years ago. And again, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed all year round and not the day the official selection is announced. … Can you imagine us telling a director, “Look, you made a beautiful film but we’re going to take a film directed by a woman instead”? These are stupid considerations.
What about Abel Ferrara’s film, “Welcome to New York”? Did he decide to pull it out from the selection process for “personal reasons”?
Are you referring in some ways to Fatih Akin? Do you think it was his choice to pull out from the race?
No, I don’t think so. But what have you decided regarding “Welcome to New York”?
Ferrara is finishing the edit now and we want to see the film once again, but if we choose it, we don’t want to announce it here and now. We’d rather have people talk about Jean-Luc Godard today.
Godard is always a very difficult and divisive figure, but the festival has really stuck by him, especially this year with one film in competition and also his omnibus in Special Screenings. What do you think of Godard’s relevance at this moment in cinema history?
Godard is one of the most important directors in the history of film. He’s comparable in terms of notoriety and importance to Fellini, Chaplin and Kubrick. We’re happy he’s still around and making a comeback in competition at 83. Secondly, “Goodbye to Language” is an extraordinary modern film. Godard has always been an inventor of forms and narration and his film continue to explore these boundaries. It’s a piece of poetry and we’re truly proud and moved to show it.
There seems to be a lot of discussion and criticism over what didn’t get in this year, which usually points to a strong and competitive selection. Would you say that’s the case?
A few hours before the press conference started, I was getting text messages asking me whether we could find room for films, but Cannes’ brand is concentrate on fewer films. We only show about 20 (in competition) — well, 18 this year because it ends a day earlier. This year, I insisted on the fact that we’re showing films by emerging directors, because the work of Cannes is to put new directors on the map.
There were some speculations about Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” getting in. Did you pass on it?
No, that film has now been slated for a release in December so of course it wasn’t ready.
Pierre Lescure has a very dynamic role in the French film industry. What kind of president will he be, and what impact do you anticipate he will have on the festival?
I’m very happy to welcome Pierre Lescure and I look forward to working with him. Like Gilles Jacob, he will be important for certain things but won’t have a significant impact on the festival itself.
You mentioned that the British filmmakers you were showing in the official selection, such as Ken Loach, were seldom celebrated at home. Why is that?
It often happens that the films we show in Cannes — and I’m thinking of Apichatpong Weerasthakul, who won the Palme d’Or with “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” — are not popular in their own countries because they are auteur films, not popular movies. Cannes isn’t a festival for commercial and media-friendly films even if the festival itself is very media-friendly and popular. The role of Cannes is show the state of film art; for popular films, there’s the Marche du Film, which is thriving.
U.S. and Latin American films are fairly underrepresented this year. Why is that?
Yes, American indie cinema isn’t as well represented this year, but last year it was extremely present in the official selection and we’ll see how it will turn out next year. A Mexican journalist just asked me why there weren’t any Mexican films in the lineup and I had not even noticed. Mexican cinema remains of course very important to the festival.
How did you work with Charles Tesson at Critics’ Week and Edouard Waintrop at Directors’ Fortnight this time around?
Very well indeed! With Edouard (Waintrop) we get along and like each other, but of course we argued on some films!
(Justin Chang contributed to this report.)