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Saliva, Sex & A Scene-Stealing Reveal: The ‘Covid Cannes’ Will Be One For The Record Books

The Cannes Film Festival wrapped on Saturday night with one of the zaniest prize ceremonies on record, punctuating what had already been a surreal two weeks on the Riviera. Capping off the proceedings was the Palme d’Or win for Julia Ducournau’s audacious genre title Titane which anoints the French director as only the second female ever to take the top gong — and that’s a big deal for a festival that has struggled with issues of parity in the past. That the Palme was inadvertently revealed by jury president Spike Lee at the start of the ceremony only added to the atmosphere.

Overall, the refrain we heard from attendees throughout these past two weeks — particularly those who are veterans of the event — was, “This just feels weird.” That was mostly a reference to being on the Croisette in July rather than May — and with a throng of summer vacationers to boot — as well as, for many, being the first major trip they’d made to an industry gathering since Covid began. Then again, there weren’t that many industry types in town, save for ones with films in the official selection and a handful of hungry buyers. There was market activity, but not the usual on-the-ground frenzy.

Otherwise, the films — a seeming abundance — kept festgoers busy (and while the new online ticketing system threw up some hurdles at the start, once you got the hang of it, things settled). There may not be any major Oscar contenders from the competition on the level of 2019’s Parasite, but there is plenty to chew on.

Critics were generally pleased with the selection; five we spoke to from different brands were impressed with the quality, and people raved about the Un Certain Regard strand. Festivals sometimes throw up themes, and though it may have been a coincidence after such a long time of social distance, there was a lot of sex this festival — from Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District to Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta to eventual Palme winner Titane.

After being forced to cancel the 2020 edition, organizers pivoted through Covid hurdles and landed here in July. Funnily enough, we ran a headline on the day of the lineup announcement in June that read, “Cannes Analysis: A Lineup Full Of Promise & Big-Name Auteurs Has Starved Critics Salivating.” Little did we know how prescient that headline would be. As it turned out, attendees from outside the EU — fully vaccinated or not — were required to take a Covid test every 48 hours. Mandatory to gain access to the Palais’ Bazin and Bunuel cinemas, the spit-test literally had folks forced to salivate into a vial, a task that proved challenging for many in searing heat (and perhaps after a few glasses of the ever-present rosé). One astute source gave us a good tip to stimulate saliva by looking at pictures of food on our iPhones. 

The testing was relatively innocuous and results generally were received within a six-hour time frame, but there was also confusion at a certain point when a mid-event change to the festival’s Covid protocols materialized allowing non-EU visitors to collect a ‘health pass’ that would allow them to avoid renewing negative tests every 48 hours. In short order, that was reversed with the fest telling Deadline it had been a “misunderstanding” and that some health passes had been granted “by mistake.” We know of at least one person who was able to continue using their erroneous pass. Ultimately, the festival said the postitive testing rate was 0.4% (or about 70 people).

What’s more, it was never really clear what the mask protocol was. Talent on the red carpet uncovered their faces, but others were asked to mask. Inside the Lumière it seemed to be a free for all with little enforcement. And somehow Adam Driver lit a cigarette after the Annette screening in the Palais — it has been illegal to smoke indorrs in this country for over a decade, so go figure.

Michael Buckner

Outside the Covid of it all, and as we noted coming into the festival, the Croisette and its major hotels and piers were devoid of the usual posters touting upcoming films, and that remained the case throughout. It was difficult to ascertain a normal Cannes vibe. Parties were scarce, though some were held in villas and Deadline had its annual cocktail event which was well-attended. 

The Carlton was closed for a gut-renovation, so the JW Marriot stood in for junkets. One of the biggest was for international press only for Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch which had arguably the starriest cast in town. 

At least one moviegoer was moved to tears outside the competition — the reception for Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater made star Matt Damon well up. 

The actor the next day perhaps best summed up the 2021 Cannes experience when he explained, “I’m really glad we’re here this year. We’ll look back and remember launching the film out of Covid. To be in a room with 1,000 other people who are strangers but who are part of the same community because we love the same thing was such a great reminder of why we do this.”

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