CannesFilm Festival 2011: How Hollywood invaded
It's the showcase for serious cinema—yet the festival is also in thrall to America's most populist schlock.
Cannes has been the world's greatest film festival for 64 years—and one reason it continues to flourish is its willingness to accommodate the glamour and glitz of the movie world alongside cerebral films made by serious-minded directors from all over the world.
The organisers of Cannes understand the allure of star power: of ravishing actresses in stunning frocks and handsome actors in bespoke tuxedos strolling along a red carpet to a world premiere. Stars somehow look even more gorgeous in Cannes—maybe it's the Mediterranean light—and it's mostly their images that will be photographed or beamed across the world, reinforcing the festival's glamour.
This is why each year at Cannes the normal proceedings of an otherwise high-minded film festival suddenly come to a halt, as the promotional machines for mega-budget Hollywood movies hit town and briefly take it over. Crucially, these films receive "special screenings" and stay firmly out of competition for the Palme d'Or.
At this year's festival (which starts next Wednesday), Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz will monopolise the public gaze as stars of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, om the presence of these global stars, while the distributors of their films use the festival as a glittering launch pad.
Still, it's notable that so many American films that have "invaded" Cannes in recent years have been so ropey. They arrive with a huge fanfare but often disappoint.
Last year was a good example. Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, was not only welcomed to Cannes, but opened the entire festival. It's safe to say the film was no one's finest hour. The other American invader was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and, while leading man Michael Douglas swanned around town looking every inch a major movie star, this Wall Street sequel won little affection or respect.
But then the pattern was set a few years previously. It's often remembered that in 2007 Jerry Seinfeld, promoting his animated Bee Movie, dressed up as a bee and abseiled down the front of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. It's harder to recall much about the movie itself.
In 2006, The Da Vinci Code opened Cannes to widespread scorn; most of the audience at the press screening were too dispirited even to boo. As its star Tom Hanks admitted later: "he reception couldn't have been worse. "
Visiting critics'eyes had collectively rolled the previous year, when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith blew into town—thankfully the last of the series. Indeed, there's a tendency for franchises past their artistic sell-by date to use Cannes as a springboard: it happened in 2007 with Ocean's 13 and the next year with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Pirates 4 continues that tradition.
Two years ago, Disney took over the Carlton Hotel to promote A Christmas Carol 3D, starring Jim Carrey and Colin Firth. The hotel's imposing frontage was covered with fake snow, creating a winter wonderland in the middle of May; part of its ground floor became a wintry grotto leading to a vast press conference hall. That year, the Palme d'Or went to Micha