The Cannes Film Festival continues until Sunday, but as film buyers and sellers begin to depart, critics are taking a deep breath at the mid-point to assess the notable people and trends that have marked the festival so far.
Just last month, the straight-to-Netflix release of “Sandy Wexler” seemed to reinforce the idea that one-time box office draw Adam Sandler planned to spend the next few years making nothing but lazy, low-brow comedies for the streaming service. And then Noah Baumbach’s stellar “The Meyerowitz Stories” materialized out of nowhere, offering Sandler his best role since “Punch-Drunk Love” (which competed in Cannes 15 years earlier), and though Netflix bought it, Cannes proves a performance this good belongs on the big screen.
The Virtual Reality Revolution
“Carne y Arena,” a six-and-a-half-minute VR installation created by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, turns out to be the revelation of the festival. It’s neither a carny novelty nor a techno gimmick but a miraculously artful experience that places you right in the middle of the pre-dawn Sonora Desert, where you don’t just watch a group of border-bound immigrants make their way through the shrub brush, you become one of them. It’s like going into a nickelodeon a hundred years ago and seeing a glimpse of the future.
Cannes in the Age of Trump
Due to the basic fact of how long it takes to make a movie, the films at this year’s festival couldn’t offer specific commentary on the last six months of political upheaval. Yet the deeper forces driving the Age of Trump — the feeling that the wheels are coming off, that the West is turning into a place where empathy is crushed by metaphysical selfishness — has been all over the movies at Cannes this year, echoed in the lacerating divorce drama of “Loveless,” the story of a clueless museum curator’s unraveling in “The Square,” the Elvis-as-metaphor-for-the-decline-of-America documentary “Promised Land,” and the tale of a spiritually arrested mother and daughter in “The Florida Project.”
The Price of High Security
Given the terrorist attacks that have occurred in France over the last two years, few would begrudge the new Cannes security system, with festivalgoers obliged to pass through metal detectors on their way into each screening. Yet the time-consuming security ritual added a note to Cannes that can only be called dispiriting. As a glum prelude to every movie, it seemed to contradict the essence of why we’re here — to experience the cinema as a sanctuary of freedom.
Michael Haneke wowed Cannes critics once again with “Happy End,” but the Austrian master already has two Palme d’Or trophies to his name. Meanwhile, if the award were given today, Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square,” which is running circles around the competition, should get it. Though a tad unfocused at 144 minutes, this darkly satiric, deliciously Hanekian morality play examines not only the tricky unwritten rules of various social situations, but the role of art in testing the limits of our comfort.
In a year without a single Hollywood studio film in Cannes, everyone seems to be talking about new players Amazon and Netflix. Meanwhile, the same company that just won the Oscar for “Moonlight” has a staggering four titles in the lineup: “Good Time,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” “Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “A Prayer Before Dawn.” It just goes to show that at a time of great uncertainty in world film distribution, one American theatrical outfit is still gambling on daring fare.