Delta Flight 82 – nonstop from New York to Nice, France – is to the Cannes Film Festival what a bus is to summer camp: Every year, film journalists and executives swarm into the economy section, while celebs like Oliver Stone and Faye Dunaway stretch out in first class and business. (“Is this coach?” Dunaway was seen asking incredulously a few years ago. Yes, Miss Dunaway, this is what 99 percent looks like.) A mini-reunion before the before the real work begins, Flight 82 is a chance for colleagues to re-connect, share stories and revel in the fact that, one year later, we all somehow still have jobs in journalism, or film or, in the case of critics, both.
Generally the flight goes smoothly, with most travelers conking out early to sleep through the overnight journey. But on Monday, when most Cannes attendees head out, the plane sat on the tarmac for three and a half hours, partly due to a maintenance issue, partly due to a paperwork bottleneck and partly due to Barack Obama: Earlier that afternoon, flights were temporarily halted in and out of JFK when Air Force One landed; things came to a similar standstill a few hours later, when Obama left. Turns out he had been attending a fundraiser at the West Village home of film impresario Harvey Weinstein – who just a few years ago acquired “The Artist” at Cannes, and who this year apparently didn’t wait for the festival to begin to remind everyone who’s in charge.
It remains to be seen whether Weinstein will pounce on films playing in and out of competition at Cannes, which gets underway Wednesday with a gala screening of “The Great Gatsby.” The most hotly anticipated movies playing here arrived with distribution already in place, including Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives.” (The big trend this year is for deals to be struck even before filming begins: Sony just picked up “Spinning Gold,” in which Justin Timberlake will play music executive Neil Bogart, based on the script and Timberlake’s involvement.) But some high-profile acquisitions could potentially be made during the festival, of films by such prominent directors as Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”), Roman Polanski (“Venus in Fur”) and Asghar Farhadi (“The Past,” a follow up to his 2011 sensation “A Separation”).
Then again, the U.S. market might be the last thing on the minds of hungry filmmakers and sales agents, all of whom seem to have their eyes firmly set on China, which along with Russia, India and Brazil has emerged in recent years as a staggeringly large and ripe market. The fact that “Gatsby” is opening Cannes almost a week after opening in the U.S. – which recently got “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek” after they opened in dozens of foreign territories – attests to the new reality of a distribution world that’s now as flat as … well, Tobey Maguire’s performance in “The Great Gatsby.” No less a distribution iconoclast than Steven Soderbergh – who has long championed collapsing the window between theatrical and in-home viewing – will be showing his new film here: The Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” which won’t be coming soon to a theater near you, like most Cannes debuts, but instead will be shown on HBO.
With buyers, critics and audiences clamoring for the next big thing, and with the movie industry itself in such tumult and ferment, a little bit of tradition offers welcome respite. Cannes has long reveled in nostalgia (this year the festival’s iconic image is of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward circa 1963), but this year old and new will come together in a particularly meaningful way with the drama “Max Rose,” which is being shown out of competition. The film, about an aging jazz musician, stars Jerry Lewis, who’s expected to walk the red carpet when the film has its premiere here next week. No doubt the cheers along the Croisette will be even stronger than usual from French fans who long ago considered Lewis not just a comedian but a great artist. When asked to choose between two things — old and new, art and entertainment — sometimes it’s possible to get both.