The Cannes Film Festival takes pride in being a festival marinated in tradition. That’s why its poster, each year, is an offbeat glamour shot of some ’50s/’60s movie star, often European (this year it’s Claudia Cardinale), whose iconic image calls up The World That Once Was. So when Cannes, of all festivals, decides that it’s time to think different, you can generally take the significance of that to the bank. Looking over the festival’s official selection of 49 films that was announced today, tradition is there in abundance, but so, if you look closer, are the harbingers of the future. Here are five:
1. The symbiosis of film and TV. The festival will show two episodes of David Lynch’s Showtime-backed reboot of “Twin Peaks,” as well as the second season of Jane Campion’s television mystery series “Top of the Lake.” It’s a decision that provoked the festival’s general delegate Thierry Frémaux to protest a little too much when he said, “It’s because those two series are signed Jane Campion and David Lynch, who are filmmakers and friends of the Cannes Film Festival, that we are showing their work.” Well, yes. But if you ignore the whiff of a double standard embedded in that remark (it’s Lynch and Campion, so it’s still…you know, cinema), this remains Cannes’ way of cracking open a door that’s only destined to get pushed open wider when bold filmmakers who don’t happen to be lifelong friends of the Cannes Film Festival do revolutionary work in TV.
2. The power of women filmmakers. Twelve of the 49 features announced in the Cannes line-up are directed by women. That’s a solid, inspiring, progressive number — though if this were just a numbers game, we could contrast it with the depressing lack of inroads made in recent years by women filmmakers in Hollywood. The beauty of the Cannes line-up is that it’s a testament not simply to the numbers, but to the supreme aesthetic imperative of having half the human race — or maybe I should say: both halves of the human race — wield power in moviemaking. From Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (the same story told in the 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film, only now from the female POV) to Agnès Varda’s “Visages, Villages” to Lynne Ramsay’s war-veteran drama “You Were Never Really Here,” Cannes, this year, is a showcase of sensibility that points to where the greater movie world is heading.
3. The new cred of virtual reality. It’s now a multi-billion-dollar business, one that might just be carrying the seeds of a new art form. But what VR needs now, more than ever, is the seal of credibility that only a celebrated world-class creative talent can bring it. Enter Alejandro G. Iñárrutu. Coming off “The Revenant” and “Birdman,” the director will present, at Cannes, a six-and-a-half-minute virtual-reality installation of his own devising entitled “Carne y arena” that promises, at the least, to be an eye-catching novelty or, just maybe, a game-changing new reality.
4. The rise and rise of Netflix and Amazon. This may sound like an old story, since the new distribution powerhouses of the 21st century had made themselves an influential part of the establishment by the time of last year’s awards season. But it’s worth noting that two of the most sizzlingly anticipated headline films at Cannes this year are under those banners: Todd Haynes’s “Wonderstruck” (Amazon) and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” (Netflix). Does that mean that the Baumbach film will even get a full-scale theatrical release? One guesses that the answer will be yes; one thinks it’s possible that it might be no. Yet the very fact that the question could be raised at all demonstrates that the Cannes lineup is at the cutting edge of a new world.
5. The absence of a single Hollywood studio film. This represents a major break from the past, and perhaps it’s an intentionally symbolic one. Maybe the Cannes programmers, over the years, have read one too many snarky comments about some top-heavy studio megalith attaching itself to the opening of Cannes (or is it Cannes attaching itself to some top-heavy studio megalith?), for mutually beneficial publicity purposes. Or maybe a studio picture will still wind up getting slipped into the programming at the last minute. Nevertheless, the symbolism is haunting: It’s Cannes making a pointed statement, in the franchise era, that the Venn diagram of “art” and “Hollywood” has no more overlap left. If so, that’s one sign of the future that I hope turns out to be an illusion.