The 75th Cannes International Film Festival drew to a close on Saturday after two weeks of premieres, parties, red carpet glam and deal-making, with a strong dose of political protesting thrown in. The Palme d’Or win Saturday night for Ruben Östlund’s capitalism satire Triangle of Sadness —adding the Swedish director, who won here in 2017 for The Square — to the very small club of double Palme honorees (Ken Loach, Francis Ford Coppola and the Dardenne Brothers among them), capped the biggest event the cinema world has seen since COVID-19.
There was a lot riding on the festival this year. Not only did organizers have to pull off a maskless/testless fest in the middle of a still-raging pandemic, but Cannes coming just as theaters worldwide are reopening made the 75th-anniversary event a litmus test for the health of the movie industry.
Here are five takeaways from the Cannes that was.
Cannes is Back!
Cannes Festival boss Thierry Frémaux had promised that the 2022 diamond jubilee would mark a return to cinema celebration after two years of pandemic lockdowns. And Cannes delivered on all fronts: with wow-em blockbuster premieres and parties —the thunderous jet plane red carpet flyover for Top Gun: Maverick, the jaw-dropping drone display for Warner Bros.’ Elvis fête — buzzy arthouse features in competition (Decision to Leave, Triangle of Sadness) and out (Gina Gammell and Riley Keough’s War Pony, Charlotte Wells’ Critics’ Week debut Aftersun) and packed theaters adding to the sense that there just might be a future in this movie business thing.
News of the Death of Cinema Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
The theatrical business took a beating during COVID, even as streaming services surged. Many had counted out traditional movie-going and the independent ecosystem that supports it. But traditional buyers dominated deal-making in Cannes. Sony Pictures Classics bought Davy Chou’s Korean drama Return to Seoul and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Director’s Fortnight title One Fine Morning starring Léa Seydoux; A24 took North America for Aftersun and Lukas Dhont’s Jury Prize winner Close; upstart distributor Utopia scored domestic rights to Ali Abbasi’s Iranian noir thriller Holy Spider; IFC snatched up such Cristian Mungiu’s Romanian competition entry R.M.N., and the Vicky Krieps costume drama Corsage, and on and on. Digital exploitation will be a big part of the returns for all of those titles, but they’ll be on the big screen first before coming to a phone near you.
The War in Ukraine Will Not Be Ignored
The reality of the war being waged in Ukraine cast a shadow over this year’s festival. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the audience of the opening night gala via live video link, calling on filmmakers to “not to stand by idly” while his country burns. At the premiere of George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, a woman stripped nearly naked to reveal a body painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag with the words “stop raping us” written across her torso. The filmmakers behind Butterfly Vision, the only Ukrainian film in official competition, used their red carpet to unveil a banner protesting what they see as social media’s censoring of the Ukraine war. “Russians kill Ukrainians. Do you find it offensive or disturbing to talk about this genocide?” it read. All were a needed reality check that punctured the Cannes bubble.
Neon Scores a Palme d’Or Hat Trick
For the third consecutive year, Tom Quinn and Tim League’s specialty distributor Neon acquired the North American theatrical rights to the Cannes title that would win the Palme d’Or. This year it was Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s social satire Triangle of Sadness, following Julia Ducournau’s body horror drama Titane in 2021 and Bong Joon-ho’s world conquering comedy drama Parasite in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Critics in Cannes were fiercely divided about Triangle of Sadness, with some lamenting how Östlund had abandoned the subtlety and sophistication of his prior work for a blunter and more ribald brand of social critique — while others praised the film for doing just the same. Still, Neon could have a commercial winner on their hands thanks to Triangle of Sadness‘ timely and entertaining dunking on the mega-rich, as well as a winning turn from Woody Harrelson. The film stars a pair of fashion models who are left stranded on a desert island with a group of billionaires and a cleaning lady after a disaster strikes their luxury cruise. In the fight for survival, social and financial hierarchies are turned upside down — not unlike the themes of Parasite, which earned $53.4 million for Neon in North America and won four Oscars. Further cementing Neon’s status as the tastemakers of the American arthouse, the company also scored the rights in Cannes to Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda’s acclaimed drama Broker, starring the great Korean leading man Song Kang-ho (Parasite), who won Cannes’ best actor honor.
Are Donkeys the New Dogs?
When accepting the official competition’s joint jury prize for EO, director Jerzy Skolimowski didn’t just name-check all six donkeys that played the central character in his much-loved coming-of-age (coming-of-‘bray’ge?) drama, but ended his speech with a dramatic “Eyeore!,” bellowed at the top of his lungs. While almost certainly a first in any awards ceremony, film or otherwise, the shout out signaled the emergence of a new animal at the top of Cannes’ cinematic creature tree. For the last 21 years, the Palm Dog award has given on-screen canines top dog billing on the Croisette, celebrating the best four-legged performances at the festival. But EO‘s donkeys, for the first time on the Croisette, appeared to give the mutts’ best in show status a sharp hoof to the head. Coincidentally, while it was these beasts of burden who may have left Cannes as the ‘mane’ animal attraction, at the Palm Dog ceremony the day before it was a different Beast that landed the top prize. Brit, the silver poodle who played Beast in Riley Keough and Gina Gammell’s War Pony, claimed the golden embossed collar, with the co-directors accepting the prize via video link. Speaking before the ceremony, Palm Dog founder Toby Rose turned his snout up at the prospect of donkeys stepping on his dogs’ paws. “Each year an interloper species attempts to dislodge the king canine, and this year is no different,” he said. “Palme d’Onkey? I don’t think so.”