CANNES, France – “Can we start now?”
I suspect the moment the programming committee of the Cannes Film Festival in 2021 heard the first song in Leos Carax’s “Annette” – an infectiously energetic, fourth wall breaking overture that reaches gonzo heights that the film never really reaches again – its fate as the opening night film has been discontinued. “So can we start?” Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard sing. “Can we start now?” The ensemble is pointed, announcing, rather than asking permission, that the film, festival (which has canceled its 2020 edition) and life as regular Cannes visitors know it, will begin. Reader, it started.
Written by Carax and the art pop duo Sparks, “Annette” is a curiosity that met with a wildly divided reception, but the first number left no one unmoved. After the exhausted end of Cannes on Saturday, the exciting beginning feels back for a very long time, but there could not have been a more hopeful, unifying moment than this anthem of impatience played in this context. The only possible dissidents may have been the team that presented Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” which had much praise for the coveted spot but premiered later that week and received an unusually cool reception (despite how delighted I was about it would have .) ). Presumably that will teach Anderson to say, “Let’s get this show on the streets!” or a “Let’s go everyone!” Song at the beginning of all future films.
“Can we start now?” was by far not the only catchy tune that has crept into the subconscious of the collective participants in these past hot, hectic and happy days. Since all festivals are kaleidoscopes of moods, genres and tempos, Cannes in 2021 was at least partially a musical after so much silence.
I let the croisette hum “Be My Baby” by Vanessa Paradis for days after hearing it was used with such jagged, incongruous effect in Nadav Lapid’s brilliant, horrific “Ahed’s Knee”. I jumped out of Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir Part II” – clearly the best film of the festival that wasn’t actually at the festival as it is part of the separate Directors ‘Fortnight – to the sounds of Eurythmics’ “There Must Be An Angel” . which is used for such a transcendent effect. I irritated my roommates with showers from Desireless’s 80s euro mega-hit “Voyage Voyage” after I was totally enchanted by Juho Kuosmanen’s strangers-on-a-train romance “Compartment No. 6”. To my annoyance, and no doubt to those within earshot, it was only replaced with ‘N Syncs’ heroically empty “Bye Bye Bye”, a recurring theme in Sean Baker’s grandiose, deceptively casual “Red Rocket”.
Since I had no love for comic operetta, I spared everyone my version of the Gilbert and Sullivan singalong that appears in Justin Kurzel’s extremely tense and disturbing true mass filming story “Nitram”. I also didn’t try to emulate the budding Moroccan rap stars of Nabil Ayouch’s gruff, not quite tightly dark enough hip-hop musical “Casablanca Beats”, much to the relief of the rap genre.
But Cannes was not all about singing and dancing; it made a nice line in body horror too. And a press corps, constantly aware of the dictates of biology because of all the drooling in tiny tubes and all the brain-tickling nasal swabs we had to endure during our mandatory 48-hour coronavirus tests, was ideally prepared to deal with this earthy one , more gruesome clumsy element. We’ve done this most obviously with Kirill Serebrennikov’s widely admired, feverishly deranged “Petrov’s Flu,” a wildly imaginative head trip that plays like a post-Soviet “Ulysses” that is so vivid in pictures that when you look at it you wish you had several more masks on.
In a less unpleasant, much suggestive note, Paul Verhoeven’s tongue-in-cheek trashy and garish nunploitation drama “Benedetta”, in which Virginie Efira, the Italian nun from the 17th mortification of the flesh, includes many more scenes of his satisfaction.
But aside from the unforgettable lewd use Benedetta’s lover finds for a small, well, dildo-sized statue of the Virgin Mary, the moment from this film that sticks in my mind the most was a relatively reserved line. “Your worst enemy is your body,” Benedetta is told when she comes to the monastery as a child and has to exchange her fine silk for a scratchy sackcloth. “It’s best not to feel too at home in it.” This terrible admonition reminded me of Tatiana Huezo’s lofty “prayers for the stolen,” in which mothers in a cartel-controlled Mexican village make their teenage daughters look boyish with short haircuts and oversized clothing to protect them from the ever-present specter of kidnapping and rape .
But the nun’s words also addressed a fundamental skill that many of us suddenly had to relearn in Cannes: that of being outside, in a body, in the world with all its dangers. I have heard of four different incidents in which bodies that were not used to the physical demands of visiting the festival after almost 18 months of trekking just between the sofa and the refrigerator gave away their owners. A toe was broken, a kneecap lost its anchorage, an arch fell, and an ankle was sprained – I know the latter because the ankle was mine. The day before the festival started, nosing my phone happily without noticing a crack on the notoriously uneven pavement of Cannes, I fell as flat as Sean Penn’s “Flag Day” a few days later.
While many of us have struggled with physical horrors of our own, “Benedetta” – the kind of film in which a random character pulls a heavy breast out of her bodice and Charlotte Rampling contemptuously squirts milk in the eye – also made the subgenre of childbirth a horror. The most surprising example of Cannes was a documentary film: Andrea Arnold’s “Kuh”, which revolves around Luma with strict formal rigor, a good-looking Holstein Friesian woman who is kept permanently pregnant and thus suckling on a British dairy farm. But also in Valdimar Johannsson’s classic, funny Icelandic fable “Lamm”, in which a silent couple on a remote farm raises the surprisingly sweet hybrid offspring of a ewe and a malicious mythical creature, this vein of horror is the theme. And finally, the subgenre found its apotheosis – although it is not the milk, but the engine oil that is expressed in the breast – in Julia Ducournau’s amazingly bold, hyper-styled “Titane”, which was awarded the Palme d’Or, by far the most impressive choice for this grand prize in recent memory.
Cannes was sometimes a fast-moving car that we could poke our heads out of and scream for joy like the irrepressible little boy in Hit the Road, the delightful debut film directed by Panah Panahi, the son of the revered Iranian writer Jafar Panahi. Sometimes it was a different kind of road movie, like Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s exquisitely watched drama of a gently momentous connection “Drive My Car,” a film that takes three hours and not a minute too long to hesitantly tease out a trust-based relationship during the daily drive .
In short, around the time of the European Championship finals, especially among English and Italian participants, Cannes became a sports documentary.
But above all, Cannes 2021, like Joachim Trier’s beloved “The Worst Person in the World”, was a beautiful, imperfect romance for me. There is a moment in the film when Julie (deserved Cannes award winner Renate Reinsve), who has decided not to cheat on her boyfriend, is deeply attracted to a stranger she just met at a party with plays him a game of “everything but”. They tell their deepest secrets. They watch each other pee. And at dawn they share a cigarette in the garden, one blowing smoke into the other’s mouth in slow motion, which gives the festival its sexiest scene and a sigh of longing for a time when such an act would not be colored with transgression, if none of the participants had thought of the words “air transmission”.
Cannes in the Corona time is also Cannes before Corona and Cannes after Corona, because it’s about cinema, which is still the medium I love because it can drive me into simulated pasts and hurl me into imagined futures. And sometimes to envelop myself in the exact moment, to let me breathe in an image like smoke and to let me feel it breathe back.
This was an event nobody dared believe in for so long and now it’s over. For twelve days we paused our lives and found to our surprise that despite twisted ankles, personal conversations without mute buttons and a level of moment-to-moment uncertainty can simply become an ongoing feature of life, something of the old rhythm remains, something of the old pleasure is waiting to be rediscovered.
Can we start now? I think – I hope – we can.