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Cannes Film Festival Opens With More Netflix Drama and Too Few Female Directors (Again)

This story about the Cannes Film Festival first appeared in TheWrap’s Cannes magazine.

When competing for the Palme d’Or, “franchise” can be a four-letter word.

Sure, Cannes might program some out-of-competition would-be blockbusters here and there (this year’s entry is the Elton John biopic “Rocketman”), but examples of the F-word find little welcome in the discerning main competition of the world’s high temple of cinema — at least, not since “Shrek 2” somehow blustered its way in back in 2004.

Which makes it all the more ironic that the 2019 Cannes Film Festival feels in so many ways like a sequel to last year. We pick up the same storylines right where we left off. The war with Netflix rages on, with the streaming service staying away for the second year in a row. Female directors remain woefully under-represented. And certain hot-ticket titles (say, James Gray’s “Ad Astra”) remain conspicuously absent.

Also Read: Heavyweight Cannes Lineup Ties Record for Female Directors in Competition

In true sequel fashion, this year takes what worked so well last time and replicates it on a larger scale. Eight filmmakers, from critical favorites Céline Sciamma and Ira Sachs to intriguing wild cards Ladj Ly and Mati Diop, will make their competition debuts — a staggering number for a festival that has earned a reputation as an old boys club.

Of course, many of those old boys are here, as well. After dropping the axe on a number of longtime fixtures in 2018, Cannes extended the olive branch this year, ushering familiar faces such as Pedro Almodóvar and Jim Jarmusch back into the mix.

For some, the thought of catching up with so many eminences grises doesn’t quite get the blood flowing. The fact is, rooting for Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers to win a third Palme d’Or is a bit like rooting for the New England Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl — it would make for an interesting statistic, if not a rousing story.

Also Read: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ to Premiere in Cannes After All

And above all else, we return to Cannes for the stories. Not just those on screen, but the stories of careers made or broken at this very festival, because nowhere else in the world does a single ecstatic ovation have the power to change a director’s life.

Take Xavier Dolan. When the brash young filmmaker returns to present “Matthias & Maxime,” it will be due in no small part to the spontaneous, mid-film applause he drew with his 2014 competition debut, “Mommy.” At “Bacurau” director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Palais premiere, many of us will flash back to his 2016 red-carpet protest calling the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff a “coup” — and we’ll wonder if the outspoken director will offer a repeat performance now that his country has swung further to the right.

These stories are the very fabric of this festival. Rife with so much mythology and so much history, Cannes is its own kind of Expanded Cinematic Universe. The storylines play out year to year, introducing new characters, promoting supporting actors to leads while shuffling others off stage. Like all serialized narratives, the festival rewards attention and fosters obsession.

As in certain never-ending franchises, each entry is in dialogue with all that preceded it, and all that will follow.

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