The Cannes Dispatch

July 13, 2021
We report from the half-way mark on the Riviera.

In the second week of the Cannes Film Festival, The French Dispatch has finally revealed itself to mostly glowing reviews. A homage to The New Yorker and to quality reporting in general, Wes Anderson’s latest French-set film has all his usual eccentric cast on board, including Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, though there are several new arrivals like Oscar winner Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet.

Murray is the editor of the French supplement of a fictitious Kansas newspaper, and we follow various stories that his intrepid writers pursue from the publication’s base in the hilariously fictional provincial French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé.

First up is Swinton’s art critic who tells about imprisoned murderer Benicio del Toro for whom his prison guard, Lea Seydoux, is his nude model and muse. McDormand’s investigative reporter explores student protests via Chalamet’s young activist with whom she is having an affair. Then, James Baldwin-esque black gay reporter Jeffrey Wright reveals to television interviewer Liev Schreiber, how his coverage of food preparation for the police led to his witnessing the kidnapping of the son of the police commissioner, Mathieu Amalric.

It’s all hilariously convoluted and “dizzyingly intricate” as Variety puts it. The film may not be a mainstream hit like Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it certainly will satisfy fans who have been long awaiting an update from the American, sometimes Paris-based, auteur.

Something that is unprecedented is that there will be no press conference for the film, which is usually mandatory when a film plays in competition. Seydoux was never going to be there in any case as she contracted Covid on the film she is shooting and will not attend the festival. This is naturally a bigger blow to her other three upcoming Cannes entries where she is the star: Bruno Dumont’s On a Half Clear Morning, Ildiko Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife and Arnaud Desplechin’s Deception.

So far in the competition the favourite seems to be Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World about a sexually active impulsive young woman (Renate Reinsve) who lives life without an anchor and cannot stick to one thing career-wise.

Leos Carax’s musical Annette may be something of an oddity, though proved surprisingly effective and visual in its telling. Written by the Sparks Brothers, Ron and Russel Mael, who also provide the music, the film stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a couple with a gifted daughter (mostly played as a doll) who compete in their respective careers; he, as a self-loathing, disturbed comedian and she as an opera singer. The film had no Australian distributor going into the festival, but this is bound to change.

The same might be said for two other competition films (without Australian distribution), which met with a middling response. Sean Penn’s Flag Day – a father-daughter story starring Penn’s own daughter Dylan Penn (whose character is based on real-life journalist Jennifer Vogel) – seems like a film made by a first-time director and not someone who made a classic like Indian Runner or even Into the Wild. Paul Verhoeven’s lesbian nun drama Benedetta has likewise met with much derision. “Carlini’s vagina is the closest the film ever gets to giving her character a believable sense of interiority,” notes Indiewire, while Variety calls it “a guilty-pleasure nunsploitation movie,” which “pushes the envelope on sexuality, but proves fairly conventional in most other respects.”

Two of the best films in Cannes have been documentaries screening away from the competition. Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground is gorgeous on the big screen as the Carol director goes back to the origins of the band, particularly giving credit to John Cale, who unlike co-founder Lou Reed is alive and kicking. Val, which has the iconic Hollywood actor Val Kilmer front and centre – though with his son Jack providing voice-over – traces the star’s career and his struggle with throat cancer. It’s a must see.

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