Back to Cinema Heaven - Kicking Off the 72nd Cannes Film Festival
by Alex Billington
May 14, 2019
Bienvenue au paradis du cinéma! The 72nd Cannes Film Festival kicks off this week down in the South of France, and I'm back here again for my 10th time. This year is just as exciting as every other, and I am so happy to be back. Every May cinephiles from all over the world pack up their bags and make the trek down to the Cote d'Azur for two weeks of cinema heaven, basking in the Mediterranean sun while watching films made by some of the best filmmakers and storytellers out there. It's exciting to be here in Cannes because it's a fantastic time to catch up with old friends, make new friends, watch new films, discuss & discover old films, and enjoy all the splendors of international cinema. I've been writing about Cannes for years, telling so many different stories, and I always hope to encourage more people to join in on the fun and make it over to the fest. It's an incomparable experience to be in the seaside town where cinema history has been made.
My first year attending the Cannes Film Festival was in 2009, and I owe it to Eric Lavallée from IONCinema for being the first to bring me here. He convinced me to go, and offered me a place to stay in the apartment he rented, and showed me the ropes - including some sneaky tips and tricks. The rest is history – I've been addicted to the festival ever since. I skipped it one year, in 2016, because I was living in New York City and couldn't afford the trip (between travel and housing and all the other costs). It was depressing, I missed it a lot. It was hard to read coverage from my colleagues without feeling jealous, or just sad that I wasn't there to see all these films as well. So I vowed never to miss it again (as long as it doesn't break my bank) and this year marks my 10th time back at the festival. I know the town well, between my favorite places to eat and all the grocery stores/markets and other shops, and there's a certain feeling of comfort coming back here again.
It's always hard to judge any festival's line-up before it begins, but there's quite a few films I'm particularly excited about seeing at Cannes this year. Obviously there's Quentin Tarantino's latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (watch the trailer), plus Terrence Malick's latest, A Hidden Life (which is rumored to be a bit different than his other recent films). And there's also Ira Sach's latest film, Frankie (watch the trailer), Bong Joon-ho's latest Parasite (watch the trailer), and a few sci-fi films like the Brazilian drama Bacurau (watch the trailer), Jessica Hausner's Little Joe, and Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium (with Jesse Eisenberg & Imogen Poots). I'm even looking forward to Werner Herzog's odd Japanese film Family Romance, LLC (watch the trailer), and especially Xavier Dolan's latest Matthias & Maxime. Before the festival this year, I caught up with two major films I hadn't seen from directors playing at the 2019 festival: Robert Eggers's The Witch (he's premiering his latest film The Lighthouse), and the Dardennes Brothers' The Kid with a Bike (which played at Cannes 2011 but I didn't see it; their latest film is playing this year - Young Ahmed).
One of my favorite things about this festival is the atmosphere, the whole vibe here. It's the warmth of the town, the sun shining down on us, the beaches nearby and the crowds of people - a mishmash of film critics, filmmakers, industry members, celebrity spotters, tourists, police, festival workers, locals, and all kinds of others. Best of all it's the discussions and chats - everyone I meet or catch up with during the festival just wants to talk about cinema. And not only high brow international films, any and everything. I've already had chats about Detective Pikachu and Avengers with some of my colleagues in the first day. And I expect to dive deeper into discussions about life and society and philosophy in the midst of all my chats about films, because that's what happens when you meet up with intelligent cinephiles from all over the world, and stand in line for hours waiting for the next screening. But it's delightful, and inspiring, and just makes me happy.
I love coming back to Cannes every year because this festival, different than almost any other fest, brings together so many people from all over the world. Many of my colleagues from America are here, but there's also thousands of other press from almost every last country on this planet. I've written about this in the past after making friends randomly on the street. I'm staying in an apartment with a mix of Italian, Spanish, and French critics who I've never met before arriving, and in one day it has already been exciting to talk with them about movies, and the world, and so much more. This is what cinema can do - bring us together, unite us, and connect us in ways we couldn't have imagined. We fall in love with the stories being told on the screen, but we also can strengthen our bonds as humans striving to live our lives on this floating space rock.
With the Cannes Film Festival now underway, I'll be dedicated entirely to the festival and the films here for the next two weeks. Cannes 2019 runs from May 14th until May 25th, wrapping up on Saturday night with the awards. Follow my daily coverage and instant reactions on Twitter as usual @firstshowing, follow my photography updates as usual on Instagram @abillington, follow my reviews on Letterboxd, and check the site for daily updates on films + reviews. Back in 2016, I wrote an essay about Why I Can't Stop Going to Film Festivals. What I said then is still true. It always is. I'm still totally addicted film festivals, and they still fill me with so much life and energy. I'm really looking forward to discovering some gems in the line-up this year, between the sidebars – Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Week – and the official selection. I have high hopes and good feelings about so many of the films already, even though we've barely seen any footage yet.