Cannes in transition: French festival celebrates 70 years amid changes


Technology and streaming services are changing the ways audiences experience movies.

Festival has allowed TV shows to premiere, and this year included a major virtual reality experience.

Awards will be handed out Sunday at the Palais.

Even though the Cannes Film Festival turned 70 this year, it seems to be wondering what its future holds.

Should it continue to add TV shows to its lineup, as it did this year with David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” and Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl”?

Should it allow movies such as “Okja,” which is being distributed by Netflix, to compete for the top prize, the Palme d’Or, even though such movies might not even get released in regular theaters? Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who’s the president of this year’s Cannes jury, thinks not, but others beg to differ, saying that technology is changing the way we view entertainment and that the festival must expand it if it’s to stay relevant.

And what about virtual reality? It’s not actually film. But this year, Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki teamed up to create an installation about immigration, called “Carne y Arena,” and it got in the festival’s official selection.

Who knows what will happen? But Cannes can celebrate its 70th with one of the strongest lineups in years — even if there were no major studio projects like “Up” or “Mad Max: Fury Road” getting the Cannes stamp of approval.

Instead, Cannes returned to its traditional emphasis on arthouse and European fare, with early favorites for the Palme d’Or being American director Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless,” Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square” and German director Michael Haneke’s extremely dark and ironically titled “Happy End.”

If Haneke wins, he’ll become the first director to win three Palme awards, and plenty of critics in Cannes think that’s possible, especially in an era when France is politically fortifying its alliance with Germany and the rest of the European Union. Then again, the Cannes jury that awards such prizes is always unpredictable.

Haynes’ film deals with two deaf kids, one in the 1920s and another in the 1970s, who go to New York alone in search of family. And while the kids are newcomers, you’ll immediately recognize one woman in a dual role: Julianne Moore.

Most critics thought “Loveless,” which screened early, was an early front-runner to be the most bleak film at the festival, with its theme of self-centered parents who offer no love to their son, who eventually disappears in despair.

But no one was quite prepared for Haneke’s “Happy End,” which is possibly one of the meanest movies ever made. And when it comes to mean, Haneke is the master. He does it well.

Then there was the quirky “The Square,” which deftly mocked the modern art world by focusing on a museum curator whose world begins to crumble around him.

Several high-profile projects, such as Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” and Roman Polanski’s “Based on a True Story,” were screening late in the festival and weren’t seen by press time.

Oddly enough, some of this year’s best movies weren’t even screening in the Palme competition. Instead, they were in Un Certain Regard, a prestigious but lesser section of films, at least according to festival programmers.

Fans of last year’s western “Hell or High Water” will be pleased to know that Taylor Sheridan, that movie’s screenwriter, is back as writer/director of “Wind River,” a compelling crime drama about a murder on the Wind River reservation in Wyoming.

Jeremy Renner stars as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer who helps an FBI agent, played by Elizabeth Olsen, solve the murder of a young Native American woman.

Unlike much of the high-profile Cannes films, “Wind River” has a tight, traditional script with snappy dialogue and no wasted moments or words.

Two other top films were Iranian director Mohammad Raoulof’s “A Man of Integrity,” which tracked venal corruption in a village that threatens the livelihood of a fish farmer, and Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Beauty and the Dogs,” which deals with a young woman’s quest for justice after being raped by police.

As with any year in Cannes, some films didn’t impress many critics. Serious fans of Jean-Luc Godard expressed problems with “Redoubtable,” the biographical movie about the iconic French New Wave director from Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”). But South Korea’s Hong Sangsoo’s “The Day After,” which dealt with a businessman’s romantic troubles, caused lots of walkouts and seemed destined to compete for the bottom prize.

And there’s no way to know where Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” will be viewed by the jury. Like the director’s “The Lobster,” it’s tonally masterful but extremely weird, and it’s bound to divide U.S. audiences. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman stars as parents of two children who start having paralysis and appear to be headed toward death, apparently because Farrell, who plays a doctor, once screwed up a surgery that led to a man’s death.

The awards will be handed out Sunday, with the annual pomp and circumstance at the Palais.

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