Promising a return to the flashbulb fame, sensational headlines and supercharged catwalk glamour of its glory years, the Cannes Film Festival is back in full-blooded physical form this week after two years of pandemic-enforced disruption.
Bullish Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux is predicting around 35,000 guests will descend on the glitzy Riviera resort for this bumper 75th anniversary edition, while outgoing festival director Pierre Lescure has already promised “the red carpets will be sumptuous!”
Indeed they will. Over the next two weeks, an army of superstars is set to grace that iconic scarlet walkway leading up to the Palais overlooking Cannes marina, where most of the festival’s big gala screenings take place. This year’s VIP guest list includes Robert De Niro, Léa Seydoux, Idris Elba, Kristen Stewart, Tom Hanks, Mads Mikkelsen, Anthony Hopkins, Michelle Williams, Viggo Mortensen, Letitia Wright, Tilda Swinton and dozens more.
Here’s your Cannes 2022 cheatsheet...
After a few quiet years, major Hollywood studios and big American stars are returning to Cannes for some splashy blockbuster premieres. Leading the charge is Tom Cruise, who will jet in to launch his long-awaited Top Gun sequel Maverick in typically toothy, understated style. Anticipation is also feverish for Baz Luhrmann’s operatic Elvis Presley bio-pic Elvis, starring Austin Butler as the eponymous rock’n’roller and Tom Hanks as his slippery manager Colonel Tom Parker. With the maximalist director of Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby behind the camera, Elvis looks set to be a pyrotechnic visual feast. Fellow Aussie veteran George Miller, best known for the Mad Max series, will also be in Cannes to unveil Three Thousand Years of Longing, a fantasy drama co-starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton.
With Elvis as headliner, this year’s Cannes is shaping up to be quite a rock’n’roll festival. The genius of David Bowie, who shared a birthday with Presley, will be commemorated in director Brett Morgen’s collage documentary Moonage Daydream. This hot-ticket world premiere weaves a rich tapestry of previously unseen footage, live performances and archive interviews, many of them drawn from Bowie’s private vaults. Also rocking the Croisette will be Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, a portrait of rock’s piano-pummeling wild man directed by former Cannes prize-winner Ethan Coen, making his first feature without brother Joel.
Among the directors competing for the prestigious Palm d’Or will be several previous Cannes prize-winners, including acerbic Swedish social satirist Ruben Östlund with Triangle of Sadness, a darkly comic fable about fashion models on a doomed cruise ship captained by Woody Harrelson. Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, South Korea’s Zen master of designer violence, is also in the running with his stylish crime thriller Decision to Leave. And American heavyweight chronicler James Gray returns with Armageddon Time, a coming-of-age drama set against the Trump family’s influence on early 1980s New York, which co-stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway.
Although British films are absent from the main Cannes competition, the festival’s smaller art-house sections are packed with hotly tipped UK talent. Already generating great advance word-of-mouth buzz is Aftersun, the debut feature by Scottish writer-director Charlotte Wells, a poetically shot drama about an 11-year-old girl (dazzling discovery Frankie Corio) on holiday with her troubled father (Paul Mescal of Normal People fame). Mark Jenkin’s hallucinatory Cornish folk-horror experiment Enys Men and the British-Irish psychological thriller God’s Creatures, co-directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, are also likely to make a splash.
Of course, Cannes is almost as famous for lavish parties as it is for film premieres. As ever, the private hotel beach bars that line the Croisette will be throbbing throughout the festival, from early evening cocktails to late-night club events. A newly imposed 2am curfew has dampened this 24-hour party-people energy a little, but the biggest and rowdiest bashes generally happen outside the town anyway, in private villas nestled in the hills overlooking Cannes, or in remote luxury hotels further along the coast.
The cavernous Palm Beach Casino on the eastern edge of Cannes has an illustrious place in the festival’s history, not least as the site of the legendary Trainspotting launch party in 1996, a hedonistic orgy where Mick Jagger and Leonardo DiCaprio danced with Britpop royalty. Another stunning party palace is the futuristic “bubble house” in nearby Theoule Sur Mer, previously owned by fashion legend Pierre Cardin, the scene of many large-scale Cannes celebrations.
But the most coveted party destination during Cannes is the Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc, perched on a rocky promontory close to Antibes. A favourite former haunt of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Prince, Jack Nicholson and others, this magnificent Art Deco landmark hosts the festival’s most glitzy gatherings. This year it will welcome back the long-running amFAR charity gala raising money for AIDS research, which promises performances by Christina Aguilera, Ricky Martin and Charli XCX plus a glittering guest list including Robert De Niro, Cynthia Erivo, Vanessa Hudgens, Kate Hudson and more.
That said, the hottest ticket in Cannes this year is likely to be the Elvis launch party. After all, Luhrmann has a reputation to uphold as a legendary bacchanalian host. The celebratory bash for his 2001 Cannes premiere Moulin Rouge! has gone down in festival foklore as one of the most ostentatious ever staged, with Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Rupert Murdoch and a cast of thousands dancing to Fatboy Slim in a vast, velvet-lined recreation of the fabled Parisian Moulin Rouge club.
Cannes Film Festival over the years - In pictures
Cannes thrives on scandal and sensation, both on screen and off. Canadian body-horror director David Cronenberg has a track record of provoking extreme reactions at the festival, most notoriously with his auto-erotic car-sex shocker Crash in 1996, earning disgust from Jury president Francis Ford Coppola and a ban from British cinemas. Almost three decades later, Cronenberg is promising to revolt audiences again with Crimes of the Future, a dystopian sci-fi thriller starring Léa Seydoux and Viggo Mortsensen as an avant-garde art duo who treat surgery as pornographic performance. “I do expect walkouts in Cannes, and that’s a very special thing,” Croneberg gleefully predicted in Deadline magazine last week.
For all its glitzy image, Cannes also has a long tradition of political protest, reflecting more serious events in the wider world. In recent years, the festival has become a focus for the #MeToo movement, with Julia Roberts and Kristen Stewart both kicking off their high heels on the red carpet to challenge archaic, sexist dress codes. “If you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress, you can’t ask me either,” Stewart told reporters. In 2018, Jury president Cate Blanchett led a march of female film-makers to the Palais to highlight the shamefully tiny percentage of women who have been honoured during the festival’s long, male-dominated history.
Progress remains slow on this front. The small number of female-directed films in this year’s main Cannes competition, just five out of 18 titles, has already sparked criticism. At least the make-up of the festival’s main Jury seems more inclusive, with veteran French actor Vincent Lindon presiding over a gender-balanced group that includes British actor-director Rebecca Hall, Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, Indian screen star Deepika Padukone and Sweden’s Noomi Rapace.
Of course, the most urgent political issue in Cannes this year will be Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, which already proved controversial weeks before the festival even began. The opening film, zombie comedy Final Cut by director Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist), was forced to change its original French title Z (Comme Z) after the letter Z became a blood-stained symbol of Russian military aggression.
There will be no Russian pavilion in the “international village” areas behind the Palais in Cannes this year, and no Putin-linked oligarch superyachts moored in the nearby marina either. But while other festivals have issued blanket bans on films from Russia, Cannes is making a more nuanced statement by including the period drama Tchaikovsky’s Wife by exiled director Kirill Serebrennakov, a brave anti-Putin figure who fled house arrest and censorship in Moscow.
A handful of Ukrainian directors will also screen films in Cannes this year including Sergei Loznitsa, a prolific and outspoken critic of the Putin regime. “We don’t want to boycott Russian artists,” Cannes boss Thierry Frémaux told Screen magazine, “We want to express the strength of our support for the Ukrainian people and our opposition to the war of aggression being waged by Vladimir Putin.”
With its heady blend of parties and politics, scandals and sandals, heavyweight veterans and rising stars, the 75th Cannes film festival promises to be a wild rock’n’roll rollercoaster ride. The red carpet is already looking sumptuous, let’s just hope the films are too. Once more unto the beach.