French dispatch: Notes from a busy week at Cannes
More than 12,000 people are at the festival this year. It’s a breath of fresh air amid the pandemic, and a reminder that cinema remains our constant, says Anupama Chopra.
“Emotional oxygen” is how Swedish actor Noomi Rapace (who is also serving on the main competition jury at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, alongside Deepika Padukone) described cinema. It’s an apt description.
Two years after a global pandemic almost decimated, certainly reshaped and permanently altered the business of movie-making, the world’s premier film festival is pumping the oxygen back into it. Cannes has returned with force, the films here ranging from Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick (which is playing out of competition) to the latest work of auteurs such as South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, Canada’s David Cronenberg, France’s Claire Denis and Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda.
More than 12,000 professionals from 110 countries are here for the Cannes Market, where India is the first-ever Country of Honour. There will be 1,200 market screenings and 150 events. Standing in line for a screening, I heard someone say: “It’s the busiest Cannes they’ve experienced in a decade!”
According to Variety magazine, approximately 400 Indians are attending the Cannes Market with those in the most prominent roles including union minister of information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur and Deepika Padukone. At the jury press conference, Deepika spoke of the power of cinema and how, despite the heavy responsibility the jury has in deciding who wins the most coveted film prizes, they would forget the burden, enjoy the creative process and embrace the experience. Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier, a fellow juror, added that they were going to have “interesting and difficult conversations”.
The opening ceremony was spectacular, with American actor Forest Whitaker, who was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or lifetime achievement award, getting a standing ovation, and a live satellite video address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who referenced Apocalypse Now and The Great Dictator in the context of the Russian invasion of his country.
For me, the first few days have been a flurry of screenings, meetings and interviews. I kept my annual date with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, a Cannes veteran who first came here with Devdas 20 years ago. She was resplendent in an all-pink suit and vertiginous heels. Just before we started the interview, she bumped into actor Eva Longoria, who gushed about how much Aishwarya had helped her in her first year at the festival.
I also chatted with actors such as Tamannaah Bhatia and Pooja Hegde, both of whom walked the red carpet and are attending for the first time. Aishwarya insists that the red carpet is only as much pressure as one allows it to be, but I think it takes nerves of steel to look dazzling and survive that kind of scrutiny.
One of my favourite Cannes interviews was with Shaunak Sen, director of the brilliant documentary All That Breathes, which is showing as a special screening and is the only contemporary Indian film in the official selection (the others are restored classics and a student short). Shaunak is considering fiction. I hope the powers that be in the Hindi film industry take note.