Back in March, when this pandemic began to flare up in earnest, it looked as if Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux would be one of the last people in Europe to face up to the fact that it would last more than a few weeks. Frémaux and festival president Pierre Lescure held on to plans to stage the event later in the summer or early fall until mid-May, when they finally realized that there was no other viable option than to cancel. Now that Venice and a handful of other festivals have proven that we’ve learned enough about how to protect ourselves and each other to be able to pull off a public gathering, Frémaux and Lescure have returned to the Grand Théâtre Lumière to present a modest Cannes 2020 Special.
From last night through tomorrow, the Special is presenting four features from the official selection of fifty-six titles announced in June. Screen’s Melanie Goodfellow has been meticulously tracking the fate of every single one of those features bearing a Cannes 2020 label, noting that ninety percent of them have premiered at an array of fall festivals and a good number of them are slated for a theatrical release, virtual or otherwise. Only a few titles, such as Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, are being held by distributors waiting and hoping for better days.
The Cannes 2020 Special, in the meantime, has opened with Emmanuel Courcol’s The Big Hit, a comedic drama about an actor pulling together a production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in a prison and then taking the show on the road. Bruno Podalydès’s French Tech, another comedy, this one starring Podalydès’s brother, Denis, as a father coping with the round-the-clock demands of parenthood and the startup that’s just hired him, will wrap the event.
The other two films are Georgian writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut feature, Beginning, which swept four major awards in San Sebastián last month, and Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers, “another of her highly distinctive, tremulously sensitive movies,” according to the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. An adaptation of a novel by mystery writer Mizuki Tsujimura, True Mothers focuses on a couple who adopt a baby and are approached five years later by the boy’s birth mother—who may want him back. Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell finds that the film “covers an impressive amount of narrative ground, morphing from social issue film to domestic drama, romantic melodrama, violent urban thriller, and at last a quiet reflection of cathartic confrontation.”
Variety’s Ben Croll and Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione report that Frémaux told last night’s socially distanced audience—a thousand viewers in the Lumière, which seats 2,300—that the Special’s program of two French and two international features, two directed by men and two by women, represents the sort of diversity to which he and Lescure have committed the festival going forward. As for 2021, Frémaux tells Croll that he and his team have been working with local authorities to reserve three separate sets of dates in July and August just in case the seventy-fourth edition can’t take place in May.
Frémaux certainly hopes that it can, but he knows now that with this virus, all bets are off. The number of new cases is on the rise all across Europe, but France has been hit especially hard. With more than 50,000 new cases a day now, President Emmanuel Macron will be speaking to the nation tonight, and he’s expected to announce more curfews and tighter restrictions on freedom of movement—possibly even a second lockdown.
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