Is the Cannes Film Festival in Decline? Not to the French

Long before the red carpet was unrolled or a single film had screened, many in the press circled in on a narrative: The Cannes Film Festival, it was decided, was a festival in decline.

And the vast majority of those pieces had another thing in common: They were written outside of France. The disparity between views has never been clearer than it has this year.

While many in the international press groused about a festival in decline, their French counterparts once again seized upon the Riviera, covering Cannes with the same intensity of interest and breathless focus as others covered the Royal Wedding (if not more — Harry and Megs are over and done in a day, while this party lasted 12 days).

Also Read: ‘Shoplifters’ Wins Palme d’Or at 2018 Cannes Film Festival

While many in the press — TheWrap included, admittedly — longed for sizzle, there was the cast of “Sink or Swim” flashing their pearly whites up and down the Croisette.

Broadly appealing, chalk full of stars and likely to make a splash at the French box office, the film was exactly the kind of attention-grabbing title many in the press wished had an American counterpart at this year’s festival.

The middle-aged dramedy about a bunch of sad sacks who form a synchronized swim team has a real murderer’s row of bankable local talent, including arthouse leading man Mathieu Amalric (“Ismael’s Ghosts,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), comic star Virginie Efira (“Elle”) and heartthrob Guillaume Canet (who, alongside wife Marion Cotillard, makes up the country’s biggest celebrity couple)… and you’d better believe that all of them showed up.

Though the amiable crowd-pleaser won no points for originality, it offered the festival something of even greater importance: a dazzling red carpet, well-documented in the local press. While it offered critics little to chew on, it gave the French marketers the chance to plaster the Cannes logo upon the film’s poster, reinforcing the festival’s local prestige.

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Don’t you forget: This festival is very much a product of its native country. The French government actually created it back in the 1940s, and it remains by far the largest cultural event in a land that defines itself by culture — and devotes a substantial part of its GDP to such pursuits.

Cannes occupies an almost mythic place in the French imagination, in turn receiving private and public subsidies commensurate to that heft. Despite what gets reported back, that is its primary identity.

So many of this year’s major trends stem from that. Those who remember last year’s go-round can attest that festival heads Thierry Fremaux and Pierre Lescure made Netflix feel very welcome in town. The impasse that led to this year’s blackout was not because the two honchos suddenly changed their minds. No, their hands were more or less tied by the country’s powerful exhibitor and distributor interests, many of whom sit on the festival’s board of directors.

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Of course, Cannes has a powerful hand in shaping the film year — and years — to come. Think of it as the arthouse heavyweight championship, where promising new voices come to emerge as brand-name auteurs, and brand-name auteurs return to retain their title.

Some might not have heard of Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” before its Thursday premiere, but heaven knows we’ll all get plenty of opportunities to misspell that title once the awards race gets into full swing. Spike Lee’s “BlackKklansman” was the most open of questions only one short week ago. Now it has ironclad critical support and a Cannes Grand Prize to its name. No account of the 2018 film year will be complete without it.

And Lee’s Grand Prize arrives, in a sense, at the expense of his “She’s Gotta Have It” partners at Netflix. Because if the festival wants to continue shaping the film year, it also has to let itself be shaped by larger local forces. Like letting French bigwigs call some shots. Like, say, programming “Sink or Swim,” and letting its glow of prestige shine down upon a film that will no doubt make exhibitors happy once it hits wide-release at the end of the year.

And hey, the film isn’t half bad! It has a fun hook and likeable stars. It’s the kind of project you can absolutely see the studios remaking in a couple years’ time.

But unless something changes soon, don’t expect to see the remake in Cannes.

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‘Shoplifters’ Wins Palme d’Or at 2018 Cannes Film Festival

Hirozazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” has won the Palme d’Or as the best film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

The film was the seventh by the Japanese director to screen in Cannes, and the first to win the festival’s top prize. The story of a close-knit family who live on the edge of homelessness and resort to petty crime to stay alive, the film won near-unanimous raves since it debuted midway through the festival.

In his review at TheWrap, Ben Croll called the film “his richest film to date” and added, “Not only does ‘Shoplifters’ skillfully entwine several disparate threads he’s explored over his prolific career, it does so with the understated confidence and patient elegance of an artist who has fully matured.”

Magnolia Pictures acquired U.S. distribution during the festival.

Also Read: ‘Shoplifters’ Cannes Review: Is the Seventh Time a Charm for Hirokazu Kore-eda?

Spike Lee took the runner-up award, the Grand Prize, for his explosive and barbed film about a black policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, “BlacKkKlansman.”

Nadine Labaki won the Jury Prize, essentially third place, for “Capharnaum,” a tale of a young boy who sues his parents for bringing him into a hard world.

French cinema legend Jean-Luc Godard won a special Palme d’Or for “Image Book,” his experimental essay in sound and image. The first such award in Cannes history, it was given, said jury president Cate Blanchett, for the 87-year-old director’s “continually striving to define and redefine what cinema can be.”

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Pawel Pawlikowski won the best director award for “Cold War,” his decade-spanning drama about a troubled romance set in the aftermath of World War II.

Samal Yeslyamova was named best actress award for her performance in the Russian film “Ayka” as a new mother struggling to support herself and her baby, while Marcello Fonte was named best actor his performance as a mild-mannered dog groomer swept up in violence in “Dogman.”

The screenplay award was a tie between Alice Rohrwacher for “Happy as Lazzaro” and Jafar Panahi and Nader Saeivar for “Three Faces.”

“Girl,” a drama about a transgender teen directed by Belgian Lukas Dhont, won the Camera d’Or, which is given to the best debut film from any section of the festival.

Also Read: ‘Girl’ Film Review: Transgender Teen Drama Is a True Cannes Discovery

The film that was the clear favorite of critics at the festival, Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” did not win anything. That marks the second time in three years that a Cannes jury headed by an Australian opted not to award a film that had set a new record for the highest score in the history of ScreenDaily’s Cannes critics’ poll.

In 2016, “Toni Erdmann” set a record in that poll but was ignored by the jury headed by Australian director George Miller.

Blanchett served as president of the jury, which also included actors Chang Chen, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, directors Ava Duvernay, Robert Guediguian, Denis Villeneuve and Andrey Zvyagintsev and singer-songwriter Khadja Nin.

The 21 films in the main competition also included David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake,” Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows,” Christophe Honore’s “Sorry Angel,” Jia Zhang-Ke’s “Ash Is Purest White” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree.”

Three were directed by women: Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun,” Rohrwacher’s “Happy as Felice” and Nadine Labaki’s “Capharnaum.”

Also Read: Critics’ Groups Give Top Cannes Awards to Korean Drama ‘Burning’

In the 71-year history of Cannes, only one woman, Jane Campion, has won the Palme d’Or — and she did so in 1993 for a film, “The Piano,” that tied with Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine” for the award.

In addition, Agnès Varda was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015, while actresses Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos were singled out in 2013 when “Blue Is the Warmest Color” won the Palme, though director Abdellatif Kechiche was the official winner of that award.

Going into Saturday’s ceremony, Rohrwacher and particularly Labaki were considered strong contenders to become the second woman to win the award.

The winners:

Palme d’Or: “Shoplifters,” Hirokazu Kore-eda
Grand Prize: BlacKkKlansman,” Spike L”ee
Jury Prize: “Capharnaum,” Nadine Labaki
Special Palme d’Or: Jean-Luc Godard, “Image Book”
Best Director: Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Best Actor: Marcello Fonte, “Dogman”
Best Actress: Samal Yeslyamova, “Ayka”
Best Screenplay: (tie) “Happy as Felice,” Alice Rohrwacher and “Three Faces,” Jafar Panahi and Nader Saeivar
Camera d’Or (best first feature): “Girl,” Lukas Dhont
Best Short Film: “All These Creatures,” Charles Williams
Short Film Special Mention: “On the Border,” Wei Shujun

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