The Cannes Film Festival was cancelled because of COVID-19, but has nevertheless awarded its seal of approval to 56 films, which will premiere at other festivals.
Originally, the Cannes Film Festival would have taken place in mid-May. The world's most important film industry event was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, a disaster for the organizers, as artistic director Thierry Fremaux and his team had already invested a lot of work.
Rescheduling for summer was out of the question because of the many contact restrictions still in place. So were plans to hold the festival later in the year — Cannes did not want to compete with the other big festivals in September, including Venice and Toronto. At some point it was too late anyway, as organizers at the other festivals would by then have snapped up the most prominent films and directors. Competition between major festivals is tough.
The fact remained that the Cannes organizers had already put in a lot of work, including viewing the more than 2,000 films that were submitted this year, Fremaux said in Paris on Wednesday. The festival was cancelled— but there was no way the French festival organizers were going to sit back and simply watch other festivals present the best films of 2020. After all, the Cannes festival sees itself as the world's leading festival of international cinema.
So they decided to present a "best of" selection: 56 films were chosen this year for a so-called Cannes seal of approval. Of course, most of these films will premiere at other festivals, but the audience might remember that, under normal circumstances, they would have been shown in Cannes in May.
Disregarding the usual categories, 56 films were selected. Since they weren't going to award a 2020 Golden Palm, competition in any form was not necessary. The selection was presented in the French capital, listing 14 films by directors who have already been to Cannes, 14 newcomers, 15 debut films, three documentaries, four animated films, a joint work by several filmmakers and five comedies.
Strikingly few US films made it onto the list. Cult director Wes Anderson is one of the filmmakers whose work was chosen, with The French Dispatch, a story set in post-WWII France, depicting events in a US magazine's editorial office. Four other US productions also received the Cannes seal of approval. Among them, the animated film Soul by Pete Doctor, chief creative officer of Pixar, is bound to get a wide release.
Another remarkable fact about the Cannes selection is that it includes two works by British artist and director Steve McQueen. In his two new films, Lovers Rock and Mangrove, the Oscar-winning director of the 2013 drama film 12 Years a Slave deals with the discrimination of dark-skinned citizens in London in the 1970s and 80s. He dedicated the films to George Floyd, who was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, and all the other "black people who have been murdered, visibly or unnoticed, for what they are, in the USA, England and elsewhere," as the African American director explained on Wednesday.
From a German perspective, it is gratifying that Oskar Roehler's Enfant Terrible is also in the line-up. It is a cinematic biography of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982 and would have turned 75 this year. Enfant Terrible is one of the few films that journalists have seen in press screenings shortly before the coronavirus lockdown.
Oliver Masucci convincingly plays the incredibly prolific German director in his early years. "Bavaria Filmproduktion is proud to present two of the greatest German film icons in one film: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose work has influenced filmmakers around the world, and Oskar Roehler, one of the most innovative filmmakers and authors of the country," producer Markus Zimmer said in a statement.
The Cannes seal of approval lists a noticeable number of French directors. According to Fremaux, however, this is not a sign of national pride but an expression of the strength of French cinema.
Director Francois Ozon, incidentally an avowed admirer of Fassbinder's, leads the French ranks with Ete 85 — the story of a homosexual friendship in Normandy set in the 1980s.
Cannes also had an eye on world cinema. Films from Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon as well as a production from the Congo were stamped with the Cannes seal of approval.
Not surprisingly, South Korea is also represented with two productions, as the cinematographic nation is currently in an artistic peak phase. Last year, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite was the big winner of the Cannes Film Festival.
The next months will show how the 56 films carrying Cannes' seal of approval perform at other festivals and at the box office. Fremaux and his team are bound to watch it all with mixed feelings, hoping that in 2021, the filmmakers from all over the world will again saunter down the Croisette and present their films on the famous red carpet.