Here We Go! Back to the Croisette for the 2021 Cannes Film Festival
by Alex Billington
July 6, 2021
We’re back again in the South of France for the glorious and grand 2021 Cannes Film Festival. The fest reluctantly cancelled last year due to the pandemic and due to an inability to figure out how to come up with some kind of alternative festival (a virtual version or a delay or anything else that wouldn’t risk the safety of the attendees). Last year during the usual Cannes dates in May, I watched a series of Cannes Film Festival-esque films and wrote a tribute to the magic of the festival. This year we’re finally back in action. The biggest difference is that the festival is now taking place in July instead of May (but only for this year). It’s sunnier, there are more tourists around, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still ever-present. But… I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I had to come back. Just to see some films, catch up with old friends that I haven’t seen for a while, and relax in the Mediterranean (though there’s not much relaxing when I’m seeing four films a day).
The other important thing about the 2021 Cannes Film Festival is that they have made changes to prioritize the health & safety of attendees. Though the rules are a bit strange and hopefully the festival enforces mask wearing, because there is not much protecting us. Yes, I’m fully vaccinated. Yes, I’m following all the rules. Yes, I have masks and wear them everywhere. At last year’s Venice Film Festival in September, they ran an in-person festival with strict safety rules – temperature checks going into every cinema, masks enforced at all times, and so on. Cannes has implemented a similar set of rules, but with vaccines now available it feels a bit more lax. They want the festival to be all about the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, the big show, all the Cannes pizazz, and not so much about masks and safety. Which is unfortunate, but hopefully they still care enough to make sure nothing bad happens. They do require tests for those who aren’t fully vaccinated, but even the rules for these tests are a bit confusing (not all screenings need these tests, strangely enough).
Anyway – I don’t want to focus too much on the pandemic and worries about an outbreak, because this is a FILM FESTIVAL. We’re here to see films… of course!! This is my 11th year returning to Cannes. A number of my colleagues from America are leaving the country for the first time in nearly 18 months. Most people I’m seeing here haven’t traveled or gone anywhere in over a year. I can already sense there’s this desire to be here just because we all want to see each other, hug each other, and chat in person. And most importantly – go watch some films together, in a cinema, laughing and cheering and crying together as we delve into the Cannes 2021 line-up. When the official selection was announced, I wasn’t that excited at first. But now that the festival begins today and marketing has kicked in, I am much more excited about all the films that are premiering here. Cannes knows how to choose some gems, and some flops, but that’s usual for any festival.
My most anticipated films to catch at Cannes 2021: Wes Anderson’s latest feature The French Dispatch, which was supposed to debut at last year’s Cannes until they delayed it and waited to bring it back this year; Jacques Audiard’s Paris 13th District (aka Les Olympiades), I’ve been watching Audiard films at Cannes for a long time and almost always love them; Sean Baker’s Red Rocket follow-up to The Florida Project, not even sure what it’s really about but I’m in; The Story of My Wife from Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi, who won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival a few years ago for her beautiful film On Body and Soul; Norwegian director Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, because I love his last film Blind; Val, a documentary about Val Kilmer; Kogonada’s After Yang, one of the few sci-fi films here; Andrea Arnold’s Cow about, uh, two cows; any of the three animated films including Belle and The Summit of the Gods; and of course Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s latest film A Hero. Plus a few more gems in the line-up.
No matter what, no matter the costs, I love coming back to Cannes every year because this festival, different than almost any other fest, brings together so many people from all over the world. A few of my colleagues from America are here, as usual, but there’s also thousands of other press from almost every last country on this planet. I’ve written about this in the past after making friends randomly on the street. This year is a bit different, as the ongoing pandemic has kept many critics from attending, but plenty of others have (to use the cliche phrase) “moved heaven and earth” to get here. Whatever it takes, they had to be here. Safely, and soundly, they are back on the Croisette for more cinema. But this is the beauty of film festivals – they bring us all together. We will be moved by all of the stories being told on the screen, but we also can strengthen our bonds as humans striving to live our lives on this floating space rock. And that fuels me, year after year.
With the Cannes Film Festival now underway, I’ll be dedicated entirely to the festival and the films here for the next two weeks. Cannes 2021 runs from July 6th until July 17th, wrapping up on Saturday night with the awards. Follow my daily coverage and instant reactions on Twitter as usual @firstshowing, follow my photography updates as usual on Instagram @abillington, follow my reviews on Letterboxd, and check the site for daily updates on films + reviews. Back in 2016, I wrote an essay about Why I Can’t Stop Going to Film Festivals. What I said then is still true. It always is. I’m still totally addicted film festivals, and they still fill me with so much life and energy. I’m really looking forward to discovering some gems in the line-up this year, between the sidebars – Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week – and in the official selection. I have a good feeling about so many of the films already, and hope to discover some masterpieces. Here we go again.