Postcard from Cannes #1 : Fiction is reality and reality is fiction

By Ollia Horton - RFI
Europe  REUTERS - Sarah Meyssonnier
© REUTERS - Sarah Meyssonnier

The Cannes Film Festival officially opened on Tuesday evening with a cheeky speech by hostess Camille Cottin, an emotional homage to Hollywood icon Meryl Streep, and a disconcerting deadpan film about making a film. You could call it a perfect cocktail to kick off the 77th edition of the international event.

Drops of rain fell as guests, stars and jury members posed on the red carpet in front of the Palais des Festivals for the opening night.

But it wasn't enough to dampen the spirits of the crème de le crème who filled the plush velvet seats of the Louis-Lumière theatre for a ceremony simultaneously broadcast in over 700 cinemas across France.

At 7.15pm sharp, the hostess of the soirée, Camille Cottin – of Call My Agent fame – appeared on stage, in a long black gown, slightly breathless from all the excitement.

“You may not be aware of this, but you are about to enter a parallel universe called the Cannes Vortex…where you plunge into darkness to find light”, she smiled mischievously, accompanied by the Worakls orchestra.

Living and breathing cinema

Without skipping a beat, she listed all the sorts of crazy things that happen in Cannes: sleepless nights, living and breathing cinema.

“We watch films all day long and we discuss them all night long. Nobody speaks the same language, yet we all understand each other. (…) It sounds insane, but it's true.”

On a  more serious note, she pointed out that although many cinema traditions would be upheld, there would be one notable exception – "no more 'casting couch promotions' in the company of powerful movie men… thanks to the adoption of the #MeToo law,” she said, referring to the international movement calling out sexual abuse in the industry.

She then solemnly introduced the eight-member jury – four women and four men, who took their seats on the stage to warm applause.

Ebru Ceylan from Turkey, Lily Gladstone from the United States, Eva Green and Omar Sy from France, Nadine Labaki from Lebanon, Spain's Juan Antonio Bayona, Italy's Pierfrancesco Favino and Japan's Kore-eda Hirokazu.

Then came a punchy medley of clips from films to “introduce” Greta Gerwig – the president of the feature film competition jury and only the second woman director to hold the post.

Sparkling in her long grape-purple gown with plunging neckline, the American director and actor responded humbly by saying she felt honoured to be worshipping a “sacred art” in the “temple of cinema”.

Modern Love

She was moved by the dazzling performance of singer Zaho de Sagazan, who came to sing David Bowie's Modern Love, the worldwide hit and the soundtrack to Gerwig's film, Frances Ha (2012).

The audience was then treated to a neat flashback of best-of moments in the half-century career of Hollywood icon Meryl Streep, who was presented with an honorary Palme d'Or by French film star Juliette Binoche.

Binoche came on stage in a bright red dress with her hair slicked back as if she'd just come back from a dip in the sea.

She unfolded a few pages of script and recited her speech like a nervous school girl, her words sprinkled with laughter and tears.

“Your face and your voice are part of our lives. You made us feel emotions. You made us grow. When I see you on screen, it's not you I see, it is a flow that goes through you," Binoche said.

"And that is what being an actor is all about. But in reality, it is much more. It is a link created by your presence, letting beauty come to you. What flows through you in an instant is intent, thought, energy, love, truth."

Film within a film

Streep was visibly moved, and also complimented Binoche on her stunning cinema career – especially for her role in La Passion de Dodin Bouffant (The Taste of Things), which won Best Director at Cannes in 2023.

“When I was in Cannes 35 years ago, for the first time, I was already a mother of three,” Streep recounted. “I was approaching 40 and I thought my career was over. At the time, for an actress, that was a reasonable prediction. The only reason I'm here tonight is because of the wonderful artists I've worked with...”

After a quick group photocall – the lights dimmed and it was time for the opening film, Quentin Dupieux's Le Deuxième Acte (The Second Act)…

Starring Vincent Lindon (Jury president in 2021), Léa Seydoux, Raphaël Quenard (Césars award for best actor), Louis Garrel and Manuel Guillot, it is a surreal voyage into a kind of filmic no-man's land – a film within a film with a slightly futuristic edge.

Disconcerting to say the least, with lots of twists and hilarious off-beat moments – the quartet swing wildly from being “themselves” to being their “fictional” selves and back again – taking the audience precisely into the vortex Cottin predicted.

Click here to see RFI's coverage of the Cannes Film Festival from 14 - 25 May, 2024.