THB #376: Cannes... From A Distance
I’m not at Cannes. Been there a bunch. Not the last few years.
I love going to Cannes. But as a guy who won’t share a room or an Airbnb, the price for a trip to watch movies without my family is pricey and inconvenient. When my kid is a little older, the more expensive trip on which my wife and son can enjoy the south of France with me while I am not in the dark will be a lot more attractive.
But I already digress…
There are a few things to know about Cannes that have not changed, from before my visits started, while I was going regularly, and since.
1. It’s Wednesday, a week into the festival… the festival is, for all intents and purposes, over for Americans, especially the media.
Like so many festivals, most visitors now treat the event like a long 5 -day weekend, not the 10-day event that it is. Americans started leaving Cannes yesterday and by tomorrow, it will be the trades and others with great staying power.
The final competition premiere for press is usually Thursday morning, the jurors seeing it that night.
There will be the awards and Elemental will close the festival on Saturday. There will be a small number of reviews of the Disney film, which premieres in America on June 16 and have an all-media screening on the 10th, 2 weeks after Cannes (that’s dramatic foreshadowing).
2. Cannes is not a significant festival in terms of opening movies in America.
Every year, there are competition movies purchased for American release. This does matter. But in terms of opening a movie out of the public event of Cannes - or really, Sundance and Toronto - it just doesn’t have the impact outside of the bubble that is needed.
There have been many variations on handling Cannes movies domestically. The only Cannes Palme d'Or winner to win the Best Picture Oscar is Parasite… which was re-launched in America by Neon in the fall festival window. Triangle of Sadness was nominated this past Oscar season. Those were the 2 Palme-winners nominated this last decade. The decade before, it was Amour and The Tree of Life. The decade earlier, The Pianist and Pulp Fiction. Before that, The Piano.
That’s 7 nominees in the last 40 years… with 1 win.
Besides Parasite and Triangle, there are only 3 titles in the last decade that launched at Cannes that ended up with Oscar Best Picture noms: Nebraska, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Hell of High Water. In the case of Mad Max, Warners did a full domestic release roll-out before going to France. 11 years ago, there were 2 Cannes films nominated, but one launched at Sundance (Beasts of the Southern Wild). The other was Amour.
It’s not that Cannes is a problem - necessarily - but that it just doesn’t make the kind of impact in America that opens a movie. I remember Mystic River in 2003, which not only premiered at Cannes, but was in competition. Warners avoided all evidence of such when it was opened in October with a slot at the New York Film Festival.
That same summer, The Matrix Reloaded played the Croisette day-n-date with its theatrical release in America. A year later, Kill Bill, Vol 2 was at Cannes a month after its domestic release.
Cannes does matter in Europe. And they have a number of films every year that open in Europe right on the heels of the festival (sometimes during the festival), not unlike Toronto or Sundance and U.S. releases.
But in almost every case, a film that goes to Cannes is there for its international imprimatur and has to do a ground-up marketing push here at home.
3. Standing Ovation timing is, almost always, utterly meaningless.
The idiocy of every headline including the length of the standing ovation at the end is just clickbait bullshit, first and last. If you are looking at your watch or phone to time the ovation at the end, you don’t deserve to be in a room of people who are passionate about film.
I wish I could blame Josh Dickey, who once obsessed on this at Sundance until everyone shut him down. But he has returned to the shores of entertainment journalism at The Wrap, not The Penskes, so I cannot.
4. The only danger of going to Cannes is screening too far ahead of the U.S. release and suffering bad reviews that poison the well.
Honestly, I don’t know what Disney was thinking by having Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny at Cannes with 6 weeks before release and no LA/NY screenings to expand the pool of voices about the film when it played Cannes.
Interestingly, Paramount opened the last Indiana Jones movie at Cannes, in 2008. But not only did they play Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for media at the same time it premiered at Cannes, but it opened in theaters 4 days after the Cannes premiere. It ended up with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 77, but it didn’t matter. There was not enough time for people who had already decided they wanted to see it to have their heads turned by bad buzz. It opened to just over $100 million domestic, which was then only the 10th time this had occurred. It would be the 2nd best opening of that year, behind only The Dark Knight, which had what was, then, the biggest domestic opening ever.
Good luck, Indy… I hope those critics in France were just overstuffed with baguettes.
Wes Anderson had his 3rd Cannes premiere this year with Asteroid City, all in competition. The first film, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), opened in America 9 days after Cannes in limited and did great for 6 weeks before successfully going wide, with a $45m domestic total. The second Cannes premiere, 2021’s The French Dispatch, took almost 3 months until U.S. release, wrestling with COVID at the time, and only got to $16 million domestic. The media had already decided it was one of his less good films in their opinion and it might have cost $10 million in domestic box ofice or more. (I disagreed.) This year’s entry, Asteroid City, premiered in Cannes yesterday and opens in America in 3 weeks. Fingers crossed.
The 2 titles in competition this year that are expected to make a big impact in America and/or the awards season are the Jonathan Glazer Jewish Holocaust drama, The Zone of Interest and Todd Haynes’ May December. A24 made the former, Netflix picked up the latter. Neither has a release date in America at this point. I would expect that both will wait until the fall festivals.
There is always some ennui when I am not in the South of France for this festival. What more can you ask for as a film lover. And it’s not just the competition films, which they make really easy to see, but the other strands of the festival, where there are even more delights. It’s a beautiful garden of cinema. God bless the people who can convince their bosses that the trip is a must-do.
The Hot Button is a looks forward to seeing everything that played in Cannes this year.