Cannes Opening Night: Tight Security, Politics and Will Smith

Jessica Chastain'Ismael's Ghosts' premiere and opening
David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

The 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday night with a star-studded premiere of Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts.” Politics, and the ever-present specter of terrorism and Donald Trump loomed large amidst the odes to the cinematic experience.

No one mentioned the U.S. president by name, but there were allusions to his policies, particularly the ones that target artists and immigrants.

Director Asghar Farhadi — who made headlines after refusing to attend the Academy Awards last spring following Trump’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, including Iran, from entering the U.S. — suggested that Cannes, with its multiculturalism, stands in stark relief to the xenophobia taking place in other parts of the world.

“Cannes is a place where cultures speak to each other and respect each other,” said Farhadi. “It’s a place where people enthusiastically dialogue with each other about cinema and share memorable moments.”

The Iranian filmmaker said he hoped the 12 films playing in competition would shed light on the “human conditions” of people around the world.

Actress Monica Bellucci used her moment on stage to wave the flag of artistic expression.

“We are all stars in our own way,” said Bellucci. “Some stars are banned from shining and expressing themselves. Each star has to find back the freedom to speech and the light it deserves.”

On the red carpet, Susan Sarandon posed for pictures with Julianne Moore and her “3 Generations” co-star Elle Fanning. Jessica Chastain spent the most time taking selfies with fans who lined the barriers around the theater. Naomie Harris, a recent Oscar nominee for “Moonlight,” stunned in a gown that seemed to be inspired by rainbow sherbet. Not to be outdone, Will Smith injected some sizzle into the proceedings as he ran past the crowds, high fiving and signing autographs. While posing for photos with his fellow Cannes jurors, Smith tried and failed to get jury director Pedro Almodovar to dance and “get jiggly.”

Security was tight around the Palais des Festivals, the convention center where the premiere was held, with a phalanx of machine gun-wielding army officers parading the grounds and scanning the black tie and couture-wearing guests. The extra measures are being taken after a series of terrorist attacks have taken place in Europe, including an attack in neighboring Nice last spring that left 86 people dead.

“Ismael’s Ghosts,” a drama about a tortured filmmaker, received mixed notices. Variety’s Peter Debruge said the picture was “full of unintentionally comedic melodrama” and called it “something of a muddle in its current form.”

The film has been the subject of controversy after reports broke that two versions of “Ismael’s Ghosts” exist. The Cannes one, and an extended cut of the film, which is 20 minutes longer and will only screen for now at a single Paris theater.

In his opening remarks, Almodovar pledged to “devote my whole body and soul to this task,” saying he and his fellow jurors would be “subjective, passionate, and flexible.”

“When I see a film I’m passionate about, I think it belongs to me and I use it in my next film,” he added, earning a standing ovation.

On the red carpet, Chastain told a Canal Plus journalist, “Cannes is my festival.” The actress talked about her special relationship with the festival and said she was discovered in Cannes in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree on Life” in 2011, and was back for “Take Shelter” (in Critics’ Week) and “Lawless” (in competition).

Rising French singer Louana Emera, a former finalist of “The Voice” in France who made her acting debut in Eric Lartigau’s “La Famille Belier,” performed an original song with singer/actor Benjamin Biolay.

Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this report.