Phantom Cannes lineup a defiant statement of survival for festival that lives in the imagination

The Cannes 2020 branding may not mean much by the end of the year, but it’s a reminder of the wonderful alchemy that the festival can create

This was the phantom announcement of the phantom Cannes. A cancelled Christmas when all we got in our stockings was a list of the presents we’re not getting.

After the ending of the festival that never was, this was a ghostly – and rather fascinating – construction of the event that traditionally happens one month beforehand: the announcement of the official selection. These were the films that would have been at Cannes, and we’ll never know what categories they would have played in, when they were scheduled to play: which would have bagged the first weekend? We’ll never know how each would have gone down for each nailbiting red-carpet gala; we’ll never know how the alchemy of Cannes would have fizzed or not fizzed. Each of these films bears the Cannes brand or kitemark — which is perhaps a good deal for each contender, as it is usually only the final award-winners which end up associated with the festival. This is a bold, even defiant statement of survival from Cannes, a festival which refused to countenance the idea of putting its films online (the concept now being considered by Toronto) or delaying until the autumn, which would have meant the unthinkable diplomatic faux pas of colliding with Venice. Rather than do that, Cannes has decided on staying put on the biggest screen of all: the screen of our wistful imagination. 

It’s trickier to detect trends. Of the 56 films here, 16 are directed by women, two more than in 2019, but not a great advance – not compared to, say, Toronto, which is more strenuously committed to the ideal of gender parity. And it looks very much as if Cannes 2020 would not have been a very Hollywood-y festival, as the studios may well have been chary of committing themselves to a festival that wouldn’t happen. However, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (with Timothée Chalamet and Elisabeth Moss) and was due to play, probably as the opening gala, and Pete Docter’s hugely anticipated Pixar animation Soul, about a jazz musician voiced by Jamie Foxx who has lost his musical passion and is transported out of his body. Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut with Falling, the story of a conservative father coming to terms with his gay son’s family.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite.
Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite. Photograph: PR

It looked like being a big year for the British. Steve McQueen, who achieved his sensational breakthrough at Cannes in 2008 with Hunger, about the IRA hunger strikes, has two items on the Cannes 2020 fantasy-virtual list. Mangrove and Lovers Rock are both feature-length films from Small Axe, a TV anthology about the West Indian community of London in the 70s and 80s; this may have been due to screen as a double-part special, like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old To Die Young drama in 2019.

Francis Lee, who achieved a tremendous success with God’s Own Country, now tackles comparable LGBT issues with Ammonite, a 19th century period drama with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. First-time British feature director Ben Sharrock gets a Cannes 2020 listing for his Limbo, a drama about refugees waiting to be granted asylum on a Scottish island.

There is also, incidentally, great British interest in the Studio Ghibli movie which is included: Aya And The Witch, from director Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (who in fact initiated the project). It is based on the novel Earwig and the Witch, by the British author Diana Wynne Jones (who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, the source for another iconic Ghibli gem). This is another example of how Ghibli is deeply involved in classic English children’s literature.

Cannes 2020 is also set to be a very French festival, with many French film-makers pm the list, most prominently the veteran François Ozon, with his Summer of 85, a memory of tense teen years.

It’s so sad not to have a proper Cannes this year, and it will take an effort of will to remember for each film that it had the Cannes 2020 stamp when it comes out — and who knows how many of these films will simply disappear into the mists of non-release. It’s difficult to avoid a sense of anticlimax. But we salute the determination, and look ahead to Cannes 2021 with even greater yearning.

  • This article was amended on 23 September 2020. An earlier version misspelled Kate Winslet’s name.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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