With Cannes 2021 now underway, Ben Flanagan looks back at the festival's most memorable filmic appearances to date...
What a wonderful dream is the Cannes Film Festival. To promenade on the Croisette! To toast festival director Thierry Frémaux from a Miramax-owned yacht! To queue for three hours to witness the latest Tarantino film, a fortnight before general release!
I’ve never been to Cannes, but like any self-respecting cinephile, I am not immune to two weeks of incomparable summer cinema gossip, where anyone can win the film world’s top prize (as long as they’re male), where you might get banned for outing yourself as a Nazi, where Shrek 2 can battle for the Palme against Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Lucretia Martel, only for them all to lose against Fahrenheit 9/11.
Cannes is a wild world of rituals, rules, and quirks that separates it from other top festivals. This has made it an irresistible spot for filmmakers to mine for material in inventive and self-reflexive ways. As the latest incarnation unravels overseas, here are some of the Cannes Film Festival’s greatest film appearances…
Femme Fatale (2002)
Brian De Palma’s majestic, dream-logic ode to classical cinema begins in the only way it could: with an elaborate diamond heist that takes place on Cannes opening night. A year before Femme Fatale premiered at the Palais des Festivals, its director was there filming icy star Rebecca Romijn infiltrate the festival hub, seduce a starlet, and steal the diamonds clasped around her breast.
With its winking references to the cat burglars of Hitchcock and Feuillade, De Palma ramps up his Mission: Impossible moves by using Cannes as a hallucinatory, labyrinthine vessel for fame and ambition. As a film premieres, its director’s girlfriend is busy off with Romijn. In De Palma’s increasingly tense shots of an empty cinema seat, he brilliantly mocks red carpet etiquette and stuffy rules for female attendees, while giving viewers a tour of one of the world’s great cinemas.
An Almost Perfect Affair (1979)
Michael Ritchie dropped his Bad News Bears semi-satire for this duologue set against the backdrop of the Cannes Film Festival. In his usual form, Keith Carradine plays a moping, bedbound filmmaker who can only get up to get down with Monica Vitti as the wife of a film producer. His new film is awful, and she is a nobody in the industry. Their hookup belies a further romantic alienation that reflects late-1970s despair, and the casting of Carradine and Vitti, both regular Cannes attendees in films for Altman, Antonioni, and more, gives a sheen of verisimilitude that offsets the film’s slightness.
It’s a kind of Before Sunset on the Croisette, where the festival is all but forgotten, until, as it should, a filmic disagreement causes their climactic falling out. Ritchie successfully isolates the pair from the film industry, and in capturing the simple joy, laughter, and lust of its characters, An Almost Perfect Affair tries to remind us that film stars are human after all.
Claire's Camera (2017)
The always prolific Hong Sang-soo reached his peak output in the first six months of 2017, when he unveiled three films, two of which premiered at Cannes. Claire’s Camera is a less autobiographical film than The Day After, but it gives one of the South Korean auteur’s most vivid evocations of a place. That place is Cannes, during the film festival.
Hong’s talky style of depicting obnoxious, sozzled characters reaches a great height here with a star turn from that multiple Cannes Best Actress winner, Isabelle Huppert. In a rare comic role, she plays a zany schoolteacher who helps a freshly sacked film assistant, Kim Min-hee, to rediscover herself. The biting, workplace-abuse-alluding satire of the industry is soon eschewed, much like the usual sights of the Croisette, to show us the true mundanity of Cannes itself. Through Hong’s clean photography of personality-free streets and tourist-trap restaurants, Claire’s Camera captures the drab side of the Riviera Jewell.
Festival in Cannes (2001)
Henry Jaglom’s ostensibly insider account of two weeks in May is perhaps the most accurate depiction of the festival on this list, and not because of quality. Shot and set during the festival, Festival in Cannes stars Greta Scacchi as an actor turned filmmaker who teams up with a shady producer-financier (played by producer-financier Zack Norman) to secure funding for her passion project while at the festival. Their dream star – festival perennial Anouk Aimée, playing a version of herself – is caught between taking the part, or another offer.
This hastily made, ugly-to-look-at film has barely a hint of intrigue, and its self-absorbed industry players are more asinine caricatures than satirical bullseyes. With a host of celebrity cameos including Faye Dunaway and Jeff Goldblum, no doubt secured through Jaglom’s New Hollywood hanger-on status, Festival in Cannes banks on name recognition to sell its cynicism. Nonetheless, its overt shallowness exposes the sleazy, miserable underbelly of dirty favours and handshake deals on the Croisette.
Mr. Bean's Holiday (2006)
There are many wonderful elements to the second cinematic runaround of Rowan Atkinson’s iconic Mr. Bean character. The exquisite expressiveness of Akinson’s slapstick performance. The “Mr Boombastic” lip sync scene. The way that classic British comedy auteur Steve Bendelack manages to re-render the style of Jacques Tati for a 21st century palate. But most innovative must be the film’s depiction of the Cannes Film Festival.
Bean’s vacation antics in France lead him further and further south, where his love interest, Sabine, is due to present her debut performance in a pretentious art film by nefarious filmmaker Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe, in one of his most viscous performances. Bean parties on the actual 2006 red carpet of Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth premiere, before triumphing over the establishment by plugging in his trusted video camera to the cinema screen, so that his holiday clips match with Clay’s smug voice over. It looks remarkably like the output of late-Godard, and as Bean and Clay become the toast of Cannes, it is clear that Mr. Bean’s Holiday is, like the festival itself, total cinema.
The Cannes Film Festival 2021 is currently underway.