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Cannes 2023 Recap Part One: Fremaux Under Fire, Awards For Asia & Africa, Arthouse Glimmer Of Hope

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When storm clouds and rain were lashing Cannes in the first week, it was easy to think of all the negative forces impacting the market – global streamers upending international distribution, only to savagely cut spending when it hit their bottom line; writers on strike in the US, soon to be followed by directors and actors, and the first evidence of US indie productions, supposedly on sale in the market, being shut down as a result.

Then the sun came out and the mood lifted. Deals were being done – Netflix, Mubi, Neon and Sony Picture Classics all had their chequebooks out – Asia was back, Africa had a seat at the table with seven films in selection, and the Middle East seemed to be shaping up as a major funder of arthouse content. This two-part edition of Streamlined looks at the major trends, from the perspective of industries outside the US/Europe, and summarises all the news reported in the trades during the festival (sales announcements, of which thankfully there are many, will follow in Part Two).

1. Fremaux Under Fire

You almost had to feel sorry for Cannes head Thierry Fremaux by the end the festival. First, he was attacked by press over the choice of opening film Jeanne du Barry, billed as Johnny Depp’s comeback following his defamation fight against ex-wife Amber Heard; then had to answer French actress Adele Haenel’s criticism of the festival as a safe haven for sexual predators.

Then there was an altercation with a policeman and Spanish director Victor Erice’s grumbles about the selection process, not to mention drama over the online ticketing system, with accusations related to priority access badges and black market trading flying around.

But then isn’t all this just par for the course at Cannes? The festival certainly felt splashier and trashier than ever before, but perhaps we’ve just forgotten what it was like before the pandemic. For me, it was all a bit plus ca change, although the ick factor kicked in early with the official selection of HBO series The Idol, starring Johnny Depp’s daughter as a scantily clad pop star.

We get it – this is France and not your politically correct North America – and The Idol allowed for double Depping and a hot party. But I can’t imagine many women were feeling empowered as they watched Lily-Rose Depp applying an ice cube to her nether regions.

The Idol
The Idol

2. Asia & Africa Triumph At Awards

Asian films and talent, in particular from Japan and Southeast Asia, had a lot to celebrate at this year’s edition of the festival. Japanese winners in Competition included Koji Yakusho, who was awarded best actor for his turn as a toilet cleaner in Wim Wenders’ German-Japan co-production Perfect Days, and Yuji Sakamoto, who took best screenplay for Monster, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose films rarely come away from the Croisette empty handed. Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or for Shoplifters in 2018 and was also in Cannes last year with Korean-language film Broker, which won best actor for Song Kang-ho.

Perfect Days
Perfect Days

Two debut features from Southeast Asia also won major awards – Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu’s Tiger Stripes took the Grand Prize in Critics Week, while Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell, from Vietnamese director Pham Thien An, which premiered in Directors Fortnight, scooped the Camera d’Or.

These two wins are no surprise to anyone who has been tracking the region, home to a growing band of internationally savvy filmmakers and producers, who have been able to realise their ambitions through co-production and a network of European and Southeast Asian regional funds. Indonesia is the latest country to join this funding nexus, announcing the launch of a matching grant scheme in Cannes (see more below).

And that was not all for Asian talent – France-based Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung won best director in Competition with French production The Pot-Au-Feu (La Passion De Dodin Bouffant), while best actress went to Merve Dizdar for her turn in Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses.

Africa did well in Un Certain Regard – the Jury Prize went to Moroccan filmmaker Kamal Lazraq’s debut Hounds, about a father and son caught up in a kidnapping plot; best director went to Morocco’s Asmae El Moudir for documentary The Mother Of All Lies, about the 1981 bread riots in Casablanca; the New Voice Prize was clinched by Belgian-Congolese rapper Baloji for Omen; and the Freedom Prize went to Sudanese filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia. The Mother Of All Lies also won the Golden Eye documentary prize, jointly with another doc from an Arab woman filmmaker, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters.

3. Glimmer Of Hope For Arthouse Cinema?

Of course, it’s Cannes, and it’s easy to get swept away by the buzz around films that may never reach a cinema outside of their home country, but this felt like the first market in a while in which there’s more breathing room for theatrical buyers and arthouse content.

Among the encouraging trends – box office is slowly recovering in many territories; streamers appear less keen to take films off the table in global all-rights deals; and there’s more collaboration between streamers and theatrical distribution. Netflix splashing out $11m for North American rights to Todd Haynes’ May December is an example of how streamers are not always gunning for worldwide rights.

Martin Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon, which premiered in Cannes Out Of Competition, is an example of streamers and theatrical working together – Paramount Pictures is releasing the film theatrically worldwide before it streams on AppleTV+.

Similarly, Mubi is a streamer that buys multiple territories on films that it positions in theatres in some territories. Mubi’s Cannes acquisitions included Aki Kaurismaki’s Cannes Jury Prize winner Fallen Leaves, UK filmmaker Molly Manning Walker’s Un Certain Regard Prize winner How To Have Sex, Chilean English-language title The Settlers and Spanish-language The Delinquents.

Fallen Leaves
Fallen Leaves

In other big theatrical deals in Cannes, Neon bought North American rights to Justine Triet’s Anatomy Of A Fall (marking its fourth Palme d’Or winner in a row following Parasite, Titane and Triangle Of Sadness), and Sony Pictures Classics took multiple territories on animated feature They Shot the Piano Player, directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal.

In Cannes Recap Part Two, Streamlined will look at China’s return, Saudi funding and diaspora audiences in North America.



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