Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday is at the Cannes Film Festival, which kicked off Wednesday with what she described as a “more muted” feeling than previous years. The festival runs until May 25 and Hornaday joined a live chat to talk about what she’s seen there so far – the movies she’s loved (Steve Carrell is “going to blow you away”), the ones that didn’t go over as well (“Yes, people did laugh, and whistle and boo”) and how the whole proceedings actually work.
Q: What’s it like there? Is it as glamorous as it looks in pictures? Is it like one big party or are people working really hard?
Ann Hornaday: It’s really people working very hard, with a few minutes every day of movie stars looking effortlessly ethereal as they climb the 22 red-carpeted steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere. Otherwise, it’s like a huge, over-crowded trade show dominated by people who spend way too much time sitting on their tushies in darkened rooms.
Here’s my routine: Up around 7 a.m., quick breakfast, then out the door to make an 8:30 press screening; once out of that, it’s a non-stop dash for more screenings (most of them held in the Grand Palais, aka our convention center), with *maybe* time for a quick espresso or sandwich in between, or a press conference, interview or impromptu conversation with a colleague that will often result in deciding to see a film that hasn’t been on my radar, which will then throw that entire day’s schedule into turmoil. In bed by 12:30 if I’m lucky. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…
Q: How does Cannes actually work? I mean, how does a film end up showing there? Is it all independent movies or is there studio stuff too? Is the point of showing there for the publicity or for the cred?
Hornaday: Thousands of films are submitted to Cannes every year, and they *say* that the screening committee sees all of them. Ultimately, the program is selected by festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux, with the imprimatur of the festival president (the outgoing president is Gilles Jacob).
As was quite evident this year, the program can often be a parade of festival favorites whose films seem to be programmed because they’re “friends of the festival” (op cit “Grace of Monaco” and “The Captive”). But, especially in sidebars like Un Certain Regard, Critics Week and Directors Fortnight, there’s lots of room for new and emerging talents.
And yes, big Hollywood films have been increasingly visible here in recent years, expressly at the behest of festival leadership. For those big mainstream productions (like “How to Train Your Dragon 2” this year), it’s all about publicity. For smaller films, it’s both publicity and credibility that can start off a strong festival circuit and maybe even awards nominations — all of which, ultimately, feeds box office.
Q: Every year during the Oscars, we hear the details regarding how the AMPAS nomination and voting process works. The Cannes process seems much less regimented. Can you unpack how this process works?
Hornaday: After the festival director selects what films will compete, a jury is appointed and they are obligated to see all the films, which they take very seriously. They really do see all of them, then they meet — I believe the festival president attends the meeting but does not take part — they vote, and the winner is determined by a majority. This year the jury president is Jane Campion. Her fellow jurors include Sofia Coppola, Willem Dafoe, the Iranian actress Leila Hatami and Nicolas Winding Refn.
Q: How do you decide which films to go to and which ones skip?
Hornaday: Generally I try to see what’s in competition, and I go by provenance — the director, writer, cast, etc. And yes, there’s almost always a trade-off, and the madder people are about missing great things, the better the festival has been programmed!
I learned long ago never to get too stressed out about missing things. I will most likely get another chance — maybe at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, maybe if/when the film comes out in theaters — and the best part of a festival is always that film you didn’t plan on seeing that just blows you away. One of those for me this year was a Swedish movie called “Force Majeur,” about a family’s ski vacation that goes awry. I just wandered in with no expectations and came away quite impressed.
Q: What’s the best film you’ve seen since you’ve been there? (And do you think it will come to theaters?)
Hornaday: I’ve seen lots of good films here: Today’s screening of “Foxcatcher” with Steve Carell (he’s going to blow you away); Mathieu Amalric’s erotic thriller “The Blue Room”; the aforementioned “Mr. Turner”; a film from Mali called “Timbuktu.” “Wild Tales,” an omnibus of antic vignettes of Argentinian life in the tradition of Pedro Almodovar.
But the great film I’ve seen here is “Winter Sleep,” by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It’s a 3-hour-plus deep dive into the life of a prosperous hotelier in Anatolia, based on a Chekhov story that just takes viewers to another place. So far, it’s made the biggest impact on me.
I don’t think ‘Winter Sleep’ has been picked up for US distribution yet, but I’m sure that it will.
Q: Did this Atom Egoyan/Ryan Reynolds film ‘The Captive’ deserve the booing it received from the Cannes audience?
Hornaday: As much as it breaks my heart to report this, yes, it did. An incredibly misguided, poorly executed misfire from Egyoan, whose work I’ve greatly admired in the past. ‘The Captive,” just seemed to have been concocted out of screenwriting-class ‘beats.’ You could hear the machinery grinding. That said, Reynolds was fine in the movie. He has nothing to apologize for.
Q: Ms. Kidman seems to be getting negative reviews for her portrayal of Grace [in ‘Grace of Monaco’] using what were referred to as her frigid features. [Ed: The question is probably referring to this Variety review.] Isn’t that how she always looks?
Hornaday: Ah, that’s interesting — if anything, I thought she was the strongest thing about an otherwise terribly lame movie…Although I *do* think she’s too old for the role. But she certainly does her best with material that really doesn’t do her any favors. She basically spends the film looking very tired and tense in gorgeous clothes. “Grace of Monaco” got the festival off to a strangely negative start, but things have started to look up by today, thank goodness!
Q: Is it true that people laughed when it was shown? Has that kind of reaction ever happened before at Cannes? You’d think people would only take a film there if they knew it was good – or at least passable…
Hornaday: Your words to the movie gods’ ears…If only.
Yes, people did laugh, and whistle and boo. And no, that’s not uncommon at all at Cannes, which is known for its tough audiences (and not just the ink-stained wretches of the press!). I never enjoy those moments. You just want to move along quickly, and hope for a better one around the next bend. Ouf.