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Todd McCarthy And Pete Hammond On The Hits, Misses, And Joys Of The 74th Cannes Film Festival – Deadline

Only Ten Months Until the Next Cannes.

The 74th Annual Cannes Film Festival is now behind us, and covering it all for Deadline were esteemed veterans in the critics community Todd McCarthy, Anna Smith, and Deadline Awards Columnist and Chief Film Critic Pete Hammond. Looking in the rearview mirror here are some wrap- up musings on how it all went down in what was certainly a historic and memorable Cannes.

First up, here are some thoughts from our Todd McCarthy, who has been traveling to the South of France for this annual rite of cinema for decades.

Todd McCarthy:

Will the international film industry be ready for the next Cannes Film Festival a mere ten months from now, assuming the event will return to its usual May date again in 2022? Will COVID be sufficiently snuffed out by then to ensure that the full load of usual suspects will return to the south of France? Will the many international buyers, distributors, producers, party animals, journalists and flim-flammers who didn’t come this year eagerly return after two years away from the Riviera to revive their old ways, or will they decide they can save their money and stay home?

Saliva, Sex & A Scene-Stealing Reveal: The ‘Covid Cannes’ Will Be One For The Record Books

Time, Covid-19, and the economy will answer that question. In the meantime, all you can say about Cannes 2021 is that it’s been a very strange year, beginning with last year’s cancellation and concluding with Spike Lee’s astonishingly goofy conduct presiding over the awards ceremony that proved contagious to many of the other guests who appeared onstage.

The festival requires something like an asterisk for its special status, the foreigners all deserve brownie points for having made the trip, and, one hopes, the international cinema and all who participate in it will next year be back in full force.

It was striking how many films from all around the world got made over the past year and change, given that the vast majority of them had to have been made under very strict health safety mandates. There can be no doubt that the international filmmaking population is a resourceful and resilient band of brothers and sisters.

So, despite the every-other-day Covid-19 tests and mandated mask-wearing and diminished partying and hordes of non-film business tourists traipsing up and down the Croisette, did the films at Cannes 2021 make it worth the trip? There were far fewer of the usual suspects among the press in attendance, and not nearly as many occasions to meet with film folk and guests of any persuasion. The Palais seemed empty other than for those quickly going to or coming from screenings—the missing press boxes took care of that–and this was the first year I didn’t even set foot in the Directors Fortnight or the Critics Week.

But I did see most of the competition—except for the winner!—and there I found plenty of interest, but not too much that might be considered great or close to it.

Of the 24 films in the competition, which is where I concentrated my attention this year more than ever before, at least 18 or so of them were very good or better, and absolutely worth seeing. Festival director Thierry Fremaux had a larger than usual pool of films to fish in, and came up with a list that featured only a few flops.

A Hero

A number of the goodies came from the usual suspects, distinguished auteurs who delivered once again with smart, classy, imaginative films that will be seen in the coming year by those who care about what we very broadly call art cinema.

Among these would be Asghar Farhadi’s tragi-comedy A Hero from Iran, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s embracing, three-hour odyssey, Drive My Car, Francois Ozon’s conventionally satisfying family drama of old age, Everything Went Fine, Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s vibrant look at fleeting youth in The Worst Person In The World, and, on a more modest level, from Chad, Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s LinquiThe Sacred Bonds, about a mother’s effort to secure an abortion for her teenage daughter in an Islamic society.

Then come the more controversial heavy-hitters. My personal favorite was Sean Baker’s wild, impudent and atmosphere-soaked would-be redemption comedy, Red Rocket, although this account of a rambunctious porn star who returns penniless to his native Texas won’t be to all tastes.

On the other hand, one of Cannes’ luvvies, Apichatpong Weerasethakl, showed up in the company of leading lady Tilda Swinton with Memoria, a contemplative consideration of the unknown that, for me, irrevocably slipped over the line to become parody of a high art film.

And now I must admit that, after Raw five years ago, I deliberately skipped Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane, already dubbed as the sex-with-a-car movie. We’ll all have to catch up with it now, of course.

Compartment No. 6
Sony Pictures Classics

The film that shared the Grand Prix (second place) with A Hero, Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6, is a very, very small piece that keenly tracks the opening of a relationship between a young woman and a truculent man thrown together in a compartment on a long train trip to the Arctic Circle in Russia. It’s quite good, but Palme worthy? I’d consider it more promising than a completely achieved work.

On the next level of very good films you should check out if you ever get the chance, I would forward Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s up-close study of a bi-polar dynamo, The Restless; Justin Kurzel’s sharply observed study of a mass-murderer-to-be, Nitram, with a disturbing best actor performance by Caleb Landry Jones; and three high-profile films by top directors that delivered strong pleasure, but nonetheless fell a bit short of hopes—Leos Carax’s emotionally tumultuous musical Annette, Wes Anderson’s endlessly twee The French Dispatch, and Paul Verhoeven’s medieval sexual hen-house melodrama Benedetta.


Very much mixed bags were French veteran Jacques Audiard’s black-and-white look at mixed-up young Parisians in Paris 13th District, a considerably more dynamic look at Paris life on the brink in Catherine Corsini’s hectic hospital drama The Divide, and Kirill Serebrennikov’s exhaustingly chaotic and mad conjuring of Russian life in Petrov’s Flu.

Cannes always shows loyalty to its darlings, directors who, once annointed, are almost automatically guaranteed admission with future films. The problem is that even the greatest filmmakers have their off-days.

Films that really shouldn’t have been in Cannes but were because of their directors’ status included Nadav Lapid’s frustrating Ahed’s Knee from Israel, Mia Hansen-Love’s vacant Bergman’s Island, Sean Penn’s tedious Flag Day, Italian veteran Nanni Moretti’s seriously under-cooked Three Floors, and two more French entries, Bruno Dumont’s France, and Ildiko Enyedi’s seriously overcooked three-hour The Story Of My Wife

And here is Pete Hammond’s take:

Thanks, Todd. As I pointed out yesterday in assessing the potential impact of this year’s long-delayed Cannes edition on the upcoming 94th Annual Academy Awards, I don’t think it will come close in terms of what the last live Cannes Fest in 2019 did with films that eventually earned 22 Oscar nominations debuting on the Croisette, including eventual Palme d’Or and Best Picture Oscar winner Parasite, the first and only time that has happened since Marty in 1955. And I don’t think the 2021 Cannes could even come close to the 2019 double feature that premiered on the same May 21 night when Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite both struck Cannes like a rocket (going on to a combined 16 Oscar nominations and 6 wins between them).

But as you point out this year, particularly considering the challenges of just getting films made in the past year and a half, Cannes undeniably had its pleasures.

Drive My Car
Drive My Car
The Match Factory

You concentrated on the films in competition, and of those that I saw, I really admired Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, which, at three hours, was the longest film competing, but one that actually just flew by for me, largely because of an exceptionally fine cast and a screenplay ( which won that prize at Cannes yesterday) with great insights on the human condition.

Yes, it was a movie that took its time (the title credit doesn’t appear until 40 minutes into it). But every moment was compelling. Hamaguchi, who won a prize earlier this year at Berlin for yet another film, is certainly a prodigious talent to watch.


On Friday, I caught up with Farhadi’s terrific new film, A Hero, and I share your enthusiasm. This return to Iranian cinema for the master is bracing as a very human story, but also an eye-opening view of life in that country at the present time, at least the life of its main character, Rahim, in a great performance from Amir Jadidi.

I think it is Farhadi’s best since A Separation. I also had a very good time with the fest opener, Annette, but was a little surprised the jury gave the Best Director prize to Leos Carax, since opening night films are usually forgotten. I think that shows that the originality of this piece, maybe an acquired taste for some, stands out. I also am glad I saw the wonderful Edgar Wright documentary, The Sparks Brothers, a few weeks before digesting Annette. 

I knew nothing about Sparks and the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who front it and are responsible for the screenplay and songs of Annette. They have thrived for over 50 years with a devoted following of fans in and out of the industry, and its nice to see them get their due. I gather you didn’t like Sean Penn’s Flag Day as much as I did, but no matter what anyone thinks of the film, you have to admit that Dylan Penn, the daughter of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, has certainly caught the talent of her parents.

Cannes Film Festival

Like you, Todd, I did not get a chance to see the film that won the Palme d’Or, Titane. But Deadline contributor Anna Smith did, and in her review for Deadline, she quite liked it. “There is much to decode regarding birth, maternity, independence, sexual preference, unconscious bias. While Titane is not as overtly feminist as Raw, having a central female character who is so hard to access — or even like — might be part of the agenda. Titane is ambitious, and not quite in Raw’s league, but it’s never dull. Ducournau has revved up the Cannes competition with an intriguing entry into the race,” she wrote.

For me, some of the great pleasures of Cannes are catching films not in the competition, which doesn’t always live up to the promise of the announcement when everything seems so new and fresh. I was fascinated by the latest compilation of films by Mark Cousins that provided a soft opening for Cannes earlier on the first day. The Story Of Film: A New Generation was a mesmerizing study of world cinema in the past decade, as well as a hopeful and optimistic tone poem for the future of cinema and movie theaters themselves, post-Covid-19. It is well worth checking out, and at two hours and forty minutes, certainly more easily digestible that his magnificent 2011 fifteen hour panorama, The Story Of Film. 

Matt Damon, Lilou Siauvaud
Focus Features

Tom McCarthy’s new film, Stillwater, played out of competition and features some career-best work from Matt Damon, plus a wonderful turn by the great French actress Camille Cottin, and fans of my favorite TV series, Call My Agent (check it out on Netflix) will instantly recognize her. She is luminous in this, and so, quite frankly, is young newcomer Lilou Siauvaud, a scene stealer as her daughter Maya.

Despite its title, which might indicate it is all about Oklahoma, actually 95% of it takes place in Marseille, as Damon plays a man trying to free his estranged daughter, who was convicted of murdering her roommate and has spent five years in a French prison. The setting made it a perfect choice for a prime Cannes slot that would guarantee a little star power, as well on the red carpet. It also happens to be a smart piece of adult entertainment, coming in a summer full of studio tentpoles like F9 that got its own Cannes spotlight at a beach screening one night. It opens in the US on July 30.

The Velvet Underground
Apple TV+

I saw a couple of excellent documentaries on commanding entertainment figures as well that premiered in Cannes. Todd Haynes makes a promising debut as a documentary filmmaker to add to his other cinematic laurels with this fascinating look at the power and social influence of the 60’s punk/rock band Velvet Underground, with such legendary musicians as Lou Reed and John Cale, a group essentially “managed” by none other than Andy Warhol.  And I really recommend Val, which will open stateside later this week and is a comprehensive look at the life and career of actor Val Kilmer, but does so largely through his own lens (he is credited as cinematographer) as he has chronicled his life with a video camera for the past 40 years or so, right up to his devastating battle with throat cancer.

It really is fascinating stuff, stunning behind the scenes footage, as well as poignant new moments. A fierce encounter he captures on tape with director John Frankenheimer on the set of the ill-fated Marlon Brando film in which Kilmer co-stars, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, is worth the price of admission all on its own.

The British film Mothering Sunday brought filmmaker Eva Husson back to Cannes in the new Cannes Premieres section, and is well worth seeing whenever Sony Classics decides to send it out there. With a cast including Colin Firth, Olivia Colman, and a couple of uninhibited and sometimes unclothed young stars, Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young, it is what I would call Merchant Ivory with an edge. But for me its prime joy, however fleeting, was to see Glenda Jackson in a return to the screen after pausing her film career for more than two decades to serve in the British Parliament.

I also caught Ari Folman’s latest animated gem, Where Is Anne Frank? which brings to life the fictional person, Kitty, that Anne Frank addressed in her diary, as she goes on a quest to learn what happened to her.

Spanning modern day and Frank’s life in hiding in the 40’s and afterwards, this is a film that not only is exceptionally well-made (Folman did the Oscar nominated Waltz With Bashir among others), but with rising Nazi sympathizers and anti-semitism across the world, it is an important movie that can reach young people in a way even Anne Frank’s inspirational story never has before. Hopefully, it gets a strong distribution deal that covers the globe.

And so that it a wrap. I will see you in Telluride, and hopefully in just 10 months, when Cannes rolls around again for its diamond anniversary in May 2022, pandemics permitting.

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