Cannes Closes Out Triumphant Mini-Festival Amid Social Turmoil in France, Mulls Political Stance in Future Editions

Ben Croll
·3 min read

The Cannes Film Festival closed out its three-day mini-festival in elegiac fashion on Thursday, as France grieved the terror attack in Nice and readied itself for a one-month lockdown due to go into effect early Friday morning.

Outside the Palais des Festival, a mournful black tarp draped the red carpet, while inside, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux led the evening’s attendees in a minute of silence. “This black carpet is to honor the victims of the Nice attack,” said Fremaux from the stage as he called the 1,000 festivalgoers to stand. “We want to honor the victims of all attacks, to protest what has happened.”

With that, the festival chief brought the short-film jury to the stage in order to bestow this year’s short-form Palme d’Or to “I’m Afraid to Forget Your Face” from Egyptian filmmaker Sameh Alaa. Fremaux then introduced the closing film, the quirky comedy “French Tech” from director Bruno Poladyles.

This unexpectedly somber screening marked an odd but fitting end to an ad hoc mini-fest, which from the very start was defined by improvisation in the face of rapidly changing conditions.

On Oct. 24, three days before the event was due to begin, France launched a nationwide 9 p.m. curfew, forcing festival organizers to abandon planned gala dinners and requiring local hoteliers to improvise on the fly. Over the course of the mini-festival’s three evenings, staff at Cannes’ Croisette Beach hotel — where most non-local attendees were hosted — delivered over 100 catered meals every night to festival guests stuck under strict curfew.

Then on Wednesday night, festival goers turned on their phones following a screening of Dea Kulumbegashvili’s award-winning religious drama “Beginning” to learn that France would begin a new lockdown on October 30 that would last — at minimum — until early December.

For members of the local industry present in Cannes, the announcement had far-reaching implications. “For those with films in hand, ready to show and sell them internationally, there will be some that can hold out and some that cannot,” producer Charles Gillibert (“Mustang”) tells Variety.

“The question is how to withstand the next few months,” Gillibert adds. “That means financial reorganization, investing in development, and rethinking pre-financing. It also means taking care of your directors, who have a hard time writing in [such uncertain conditions].”

Gillibert’s most recent production, the Cannes-selected family drama “My Best Part” from director Nicolas Maury, had just opened in France on Wednesday following a deliberate and long-planned promotional rollout. The new rules have completely upended these plans.

“We’ll re-release it following the lockdown,” the producer explains. “[Only], based on experience from the last lockdown, we know our numbers will never be as strong. Even with all the government support, it still results in sacrifice.”

Meanwhile, the social climate in France — which has seen three sets of religiously-influenced attacks in just over a month — weighs heavy on the mind of festival organizers as they consider how to position the event going forward.

“Cannes has always been political, and remains so now more than ever,” Fremaux tells Variety. “As a cultural actor, we have a lot of work ahead of us…We have to think about our education potential on social and political levels.”

“The situation gives us homework,” Fremaux adds. “Now more than ever, the festival — which was borne out of opposition to Hitler and Mussolini in 1939 — must remain true to its origins.”

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