The Cannes Film Festival came down hard this week on a hapless blogger who published a faux competition lineup. But, as Thierry Fremaux made clear, Cannes is a serious business and tomfoolery will not be tolerated.
Ah, Cannes. It’s that special time of year again when speculation mounts about the films which will make it into competition on the Croisette, and, with the lineup announcement set for April 19, we only have a fortnight to wait. Cannes is a very important event, there is no doubt about it. That Cannes takes itself very seriously was also never in doubt, but we got a whiff of just how seriously this week when festival director Thierry Fremaux came down hard on a French blogger who had created a bogus competition lineup as an April Fool’s Day prank and claimed it was accidentally leaked by the festival.
“It’s disgusting,” Fremaux responded with outrage to Hollywood website Deadline.com. “There is a code of conduct for Cannes and it must be respected.” Fremaux wasn’t getting much respect from Deadline’s smartass commenters, many lambasting what they perceived as the festival’s pomposity. Screen had chosen to cover the blogger’s prank with rather a lighter touch, and I was amused by the faux list which included several films that couldn’t possibly be ready in time for Cannes. Sadly for him, the blogger now presumably joins Lars Von Trier on the festival’s Persona Non Grata blacklist.
Such hype and high-jinks of course are part of the hysteria that Cannes stirs up each year. The festival’s self-importance reflects the elevated role of culture in French politics and society; risk-taking film-makers are treated as true artists, and lionized in a way that no other festival can quite mirror. The vaulted traditions of Cannes – the dress code, the “montée des marches”, the mandatory standing ovations – bathe it in a sanctified glow which for 12 days in May turns us all into cinephiles, referring to films by their director’s surname (“the Malick”) and pulling every available string to get tickets for a four-hour experimental film which in any commercial venue would play to empty houses.
But that’s perhaps why Cannes is so beloved by those who attend year in, year out. The spotlight is shone on films that push the art, and that intensely bright focus on Haneke, Assayas, Audiard, Reygadas and the other auteurs de Cannes is infectious and exciting.
It is also felt in the concurrent market, often kickstarting healthy commercial prospects for these films in the world’s arthouses. Yes, there are tens of millions of dollars being signed off for next Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone projects at the same time, but the stamp, or brand, of the festival can fuel sales of the art films dramatically. Take The Artist, for example, which was launched last year in competition. Or Uncle Boonmee, Gomorrah, Hunger, 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days and many more. These were all unknown quantities which benefited from their Cannes selection exponentially.
So, while I chuckled at the hauteur displayed in response to a cheeky poisson d’Avril, I am the first to admit that the Cannes team has a mighty responsibility in its epic selection process. Unlike most of the world’s film festivals, the Cannes programmers are watching movies first before any other programmers and they have to rely on their own expert vision to make the necessary decisions.
They are well aware that each selection is an endorsement which can make the difference between a film going into theatres or not, into profit or loss. That they usually get it right is a testament to that vision.