Cannes 2018 Recap: The Festival Pushes Forward, Shaking Things Up
by Alex Billington
May 26, 2018
Looking back on Cannes this year, everything did turn out pretty well. No disasters, nothing bad happened, no big complaints, they actually let us bring in water to the cinemas this year (they didn't last year). At the start of the festival, I wrote about how they were entering a new era and starting out by making some major changes - and who knew how this would all affect us. Now that the 71st Cannes Film Festival is finished, the awards handed out, looking back on the experience - it was a great year. It went smooth, they showed a ton of outstanding films, plus a few bad ones. Even though it wasn't exactly perfect, they seemed to actually be making some good progress getting into a new era and slowly setting a precedent for the next few years. Dare I say, they're making the right steps. Little by little, they're cleaning up their act and still remaining relevant - even without Netflix films (for now). Don't listen to the naysayers, Cannes is as important as ever.
The coverage I saw of Cannes from big outlets and the trades seemed to skew negative - but that wasn't the case at the festival. That's not what it felt like being there. It all seemed like that extra negativity was just to drum up traffic, sit up controversy, create talked-about buzz because that was the pervading theme going into Cannes. With all the changes, could it still turn out okay. No selfies?! No way. But guess what - yes way! And it didn't ruin the experience. On the surface, the new decisions Cannes made were controversial but not that detrimental. And overall the festival still ran well. If anything, the most harm they did was not letting Netflix films play - everything else was actually a good step in the right direction. Yes, they do need those Netflix films - but Netflix is going nowhere and they will budge in the next few years. And nonetheless, there were a handful of remarkable films at the festival this year. I'm glad I had the chance to see a few of them.
Cannes also took steps forward and worked to show they're in line with all the current women's movements. They handed out flyers at the start with a special phone number to report harassment. The first Saturday (May 12th) was a big day - they screened a number of important films directed by/made by/about women, and also participated in the groundbreaking 82-women protest on the red carpet. 82 women marched together and stood together on the red carpeting in the evening (more on this here and here). This number was chosen because only 82 films directed by women have ever played at Cannes since it started in 1946. This is a depressing number, but this was an inspiring protest, a call-to-action that showed many women are out there and ready to bring more films. They just need to program them. It was a major event and I'm glad Cannes allowed this and supported it, even if they still had low numbers of women-directed films this year.
One of my favorite things about Cannes is catching up with all my friends from the film world, and making new ones along the way. This is something that has remained vital every single year, and I've written about it many times in the past. And I made some wonderful friends this time. I also enjoy hearing and reading about the experiences of other cinephiles, since everyone's experience is unique. One of the very best recaps this year is by David Ehrlich from Indiewire, who wrote about how important Netflix is and how Cannes need their films because "everything is cinema. Cannes is convincing proof of that." From David's article:
"And yet, for all of the defensive bluster in advance of this year’s festival, the movies that actually played there told a very different story. If there was one recurring theme that ran through the lineup, it was the urgent need of reconciling the seemingly impossible divides of our world. One film after another focused our attention on the borders that run between ourselves and between each other."
David touches upon a great point - the films this year spoke about how our world may be divided, and there may be differences, but as long as we can come together and figure out how to appreciate those differences, things can be better. Just like Sundance, the films premiering this year are a beautiful and brutal reflection of our current society - what is broken, what needs work, what is good, what is bad, what can be fixed, what can't be fixed. These are all important stories being told by filmmakers who are driven and passionate, and have something to say. Two opposites reflect this - Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is a fantastic film, a dark comedy with biting social commentary, and it's clear Spike Lee is pissed off and has something to say. On the other hand, Lars von Trier is also upset (and perhaps drunk) and so he made the serial killer film The House That Jack Built, a film that is totally depressing and dismal. It's not even good enough to discuss.
Not every film Cannes shows is going to be good. This happens, but the films they do play are provocative and challenging and unique and bold. Even if they're bold disasters, at least they're ambitious and edgy. And I enjoy taking a chance and seeing something that could be bad (or boring). By the end, I'd watched 33 new films. And it was tiring, but worth it. I wouldn't be anywhere else. I have to be in Cannes, seeing whatever they've brought to the Cote d'Azur and discovering gems, hoping to be blown away by something good (or bad). Even without Netflix's films, there was still plenty that impressed me, moved me, and left me floored.
This puts a wrap on my Cannes - 33 films in total over 12 days. Exhausted. But happy I could see such extraordinary, exhilarating, jaw dropping, moving, profound work from some of the best filmmakers from around the world.
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) May 19, 2018
If anything, the biggest impact the 2018 changes had was that the festival was way more exhausting than years previous. As a member of the press, we get a "press screening" schedule and usually follow that for our day-to-day activities. Cannes made a big policy change this year and would no longer screen films before the "public" premiere - now everything was timed to show exactly at the same time. For the evening premieres that start at 10PM or Midnight, this meant the press would still have to wake up early to see these films at 8:30AM screenings. Combine that with three or four more screenings every single day, with the last big one starting at 7:30PM, it made for an exhausting 12 days. Yes, I know this is a petty complaint, and being tired is part of the festival experience. But it wasn't easy getting used to this new schedule and it made it harder to work, and still see everything, and get some food, maybe a bit of sleep. This is just the film festival lifestyle.
Nonetheless, I still love being at Cannes. It's the place where I go to learn more about cinema, to challenge myself and hopefully see films that challenge me. To grow and evolve by immersing myself in the art of storytelling. To express my opinion and feelings honestly, and also learn about different angles and views and opinions on film. I'm happy to see so many new outlets attending Cannes every year - one of my favorite up-and-coming film magazines is Another Gaze, described as a "Feminist Film Journal" that is printed as a paper magazine. They covered the festival on Twitter @anothergaze along with reviews online that I hope will eventually be published in the latest print version of the magazine. Even though I didn't always agree with them, I was glad to read different takes and I respect them so much. They are the next generation of vital critics and they are the voices we should be listening to, not all the same trades and snobby white men.
It's always an honor to attend the Cannes Film Festival every year. This was my 9th year and I'm happy to keep going back, year after year, not just because it's a beautiful town on the beach. Not just because they show all these great films. It's about the people there, the experience at Cannes, the feeling in the air, the discussions that take place on the streets and in the bars/restaurants. You never know who you'll meet in line, where they might be from, but they all have a story to tell. And they all have a reason for coming to Cannes. I met a bright young woman named Bree from Southern California who is on her way to becoming a cinematographer, and I hope in a few years she'll be back with a film she worked on. I met a man who is half French, half American, who teaches long-form journalism at a University in the US, seeing as many films at Cannes while he could. Because why not? Cinema is the best. And Cannes brings out the best in filmmakers.
I'm glad the 2018 Cannes Film Festival didn't have any problems, and everything went smooth. I'm glad I could enjoy all these new films. And I can't wait until everyone else gets to see them as well. My final 2018 recap will be a look at my favorite films of the festival. This wraps up my latest adventure to Cannes, and hopefully they continue to make even more steps forward from now on - including programming a diverse line-up, dumping old filmmakers like Godard, and always focusing on the finest films the world has to offer. You can find all of my reviews and additional editorials about the 2018 Cannes Film Festival here. This was my 9th year attending Cannes, and I look forward to returning again in 2019. C'est la vie! Cinema is my life.
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2018 festival with quick reaction. Links go to my own reviews.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Films:
1. Everybody Knows (dir. Asghar Farhadi) - Just Okay
2. Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu) - Liked It
3. The Eyes of Orson Welles (dir. Mark Cousins) - Liked It
4. Yomeddine (dir. A.B. Shawky) - Liked It
5. Leto (dir. Kirill Serebrennikov) - Loved It
6. Border (dir. Ali Abbasi) - Loved It
7. Sorry Angel (dir. Christophe Honoré) - Hated It
8. Cold War (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski) - Liked It
9. Arctic (dir. Joe Penna) - Loved It
10. Ash is Purest White (dir. Jia Zhangke) - Liked It
11. Girl (dir. Lukas Dhont) - LOVED It
12. Angel Face (dir. Vanessa Filho) - Hated It
13. The World is Yours (dir. Romain Gavras) - Loved It
14. Girls of the Sun (dir. Eva Husson) - Liked It
15. Three Faces (dir. Jafar Panahi) - Liked It
16. Fahrenheit 451 (dir. Ramin Bahrani) - Liked It
00. Sink or Swim (DNF) (dir. Gilles Lellouche) - Hated It
17. Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda) - Liked It
18. Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (dir. Wim Wenders) - Liked It
19. BlackKklansman (dir. Spike Lee) - Loved It
20. Climax (dir. Gaspar Noé) - Loved It
21. The House That Jack Built (dir. Lars von Trier) - Hated It
22. Long Day's Journey into Night (dir. Bi Gan) - Liked It
23. At War (dir. Stéphane Brizé) - Just Okay
24. Solo: A Star Wars Story (dir. Ron Howard) - Loved It
25. Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell) - Hated It
26. Mirai (dir. Mamoru Hosoda) - Liked It
27: Burning (dir. Chang-dong Lee) - Liked It
28. Dogman (dir. Matteo Garrone) - Loved It
29. The Gentle Indifference of the World (dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov) - Just Okay
30. Capharnaüm (dir. Nadine Labaki) - LOVED It
31. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (dir. Terry Gilliam) - Liked It
32. The Wild Pear Tree (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - Loved It
33. Happy as Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher) - Liked It
Those are the 33 films I saw this year. If you're interested in any, ask me for more thoughts on a specific film, as there were so many I watched and I can discuss more pretty much any of them. See you next year.