AAH, May. In France, one of the most anticipated months of the year. For students, there are only a couple of weeks till summer break; for those working, it’s the month with the most bank holidays (five!); and for movie addicts it’s the Cannes Film Festival. Cannes isn’t the only film festival in the world but it’s definitely THE one, as proven by the invasion of world media that suddenly rush to the French Riviera just to talk about films. But do the French actually enjoy it?
For the critics lucky enough to attend, the Cannes Film Festival – the 68th edition runs this year, 2015, from May 13th to 24th – is twelve days of pure cinematic joy. They’re watching movies day in and day out, and can discover some really wonderful indie titles, while pounding out reviews. Yet for film lovers, it can be quite frustrating as, unlike other festivals such as Sundance or Deauville, it’s quite closed to the public. Okay, so the city of Cannes and Cannes Cinéphiles offer some lucky residents accreditation or tickets to see films in competition but meanwhile, for those not living in Cannes, well it’s a matter of patience and tears. Except maybe if you’re unemployed and thus have lots of time to spare standing outside the Palais de Festival every morning with other desperados holding “Tickets wanted” signs in the hopes that someone gives his ticket away; otherwise there’s not much chance to see the films until they’re officially released.
While la Croisette transforms into a moving billboard for the film studios – where else could you suddenly see the Expendables cast riding atop of a tank – Cannes can be quite a nightmare for the locals, a disruptive world that they’re forced into. You can’t drive easily and you can’t park. Suddenly, for no reason, an entire road will be closed because they’re preparing a festival event and your little café, where you love to sip your daily café crème, is suddenly overrun with crowds of people on computers or with tons of magazines talking only about DP, directors, shots, actors ... etc. And even if you can avoid the journalists, you’ll have to endure the passionate celebrity hunters.
You see them every single year with their chairs, their stepladders, their cameras and, of course, their little notebooks for autographs. They wait all day long in the hope of seeing someone famous – even though many of them have no idea who they are. Celebrities … perhaps the main reason why Cannes is widely followed by many media outlets worldwide; a compact paradise for fans and photographs but also the stars climbing the famous stairs.
More than for its prestigious Palme d’Or award, the festival is well known for its red carpet, that brief moment when it becomes the centre of the universe.
A spotlight so significant that many celebrities attend it without staying for the screening, but make sure the pics get out via social networks. This is why we can see more and more reality TV personalities at Cannes, making the festival more about showing off than celebrating films. And the French audience also shares this feeling. Many admit that they don’t read the reviews of the film but avidly watch celebrities on the red carpet.
So what about the films, the reason why this festival was created? Well, despite being one of the most prestigious film festivals on the planet, Cannes isn’t that helpful for the movies themselves.
To receive a prize in Cannes, including the Palme d’Or, doesn’t equate to box-office success. Most of the winners tend to be a commercial failure in France once they’re released. Of course, there have been some exceptions. The Artist, the big surprise of the 2011 festival, was a commercial success, seen by, according to CBO box-Office, more than 3 million people in France but its Best Actor and Top Dog prize in Cannes had nothing to do with it. The film mainly benefitted from its popular duo Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius, as well as from its distributor Harvey Weinstein, well known from bringing small films to the firmament.
Blue is the Warmest Color, which won Cannes in 2013, had about one million viewers and was the most profitable film of the year but, in terms of box-office success in France, it was less than Les Profs (3 million), 9 Mois Ferme (1.997 million) or Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table! (2.156 million). None of these enjoyed the Cannes spotlight. Moreover, Blue is the Warmest Color was heavily helped by its political theme, LGBT rights, just as France passed its same-sex marriage law (exactly the same way Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, winner of the Palme d’Or in 2004, was boosted by its theme and the political situation at the time of its release).
With a few exceptions, movies selected at the Cannes Film Festival seem to suffer from the curse. And the trend isn’t limited to French cinema, even American films experience it. Foxcatcher, awarded with the Best Director prize in Cannes, totally failed at the French box-office despite its great cast (Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo), positive reviews and its five 2015 Oscar nominations. Ditto for Maps to the Stars, for which Julianne Moore received the Best Actress award last year, was only seen by about 100,000 moviegoers – surely a surprise for a film directed by David Cronenberg and starring (supposedly) bankable stars like Moore and Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame.
So can we presume that official films selected at Cannes are just simply not good? Absolutely not. In fact, when asked, the French admit they give the cold shoulder to these films mainly because “they seem boring” or “too intellectual” and they’ll only put you to sleep.
In the end, apart from the image of celebrities, Cannes is mainly a professional event that leaves the rest of the world slightly neglected – and in the case of local residents, flustered.