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Cannes report live from the French Riviera by former Miss Universe

01 June 2022 - 12:26 By Margaret Gardiner
Artwork gracing the side of a building.
Artwork gracing the side of a building.
Image: Margaret Gardiner

Last weekend the 75th Cannes Film Festival came to an end.

After two years of Covid-19 dictated a pullback, the venerable festival threw caution to the wind and, without social distancing or mask requirements, went about business as usual. The cacophony of phlegmy coughs that filled the air in closely packed screenings was enough to give the timid reason to run.

The common phrase for organisers was: “We’re out a person, please be patient”.

As one organiser of an important pavilion commented: “They’re acting like Covid-19 is over. It isn’t. It’s still a thing. It has grounded a large number of our staff. Nobody cares.”

She was heavily pregnant and speaking from behind the optional mask.

In the Palais des Festivals en Congresses of Cannes, at a non-premiere event, journalists were packed in side by side despite the balcony above being empty.

Some organisers cancelled events as a precaution while people whispered this could become a superspreader, but most went ahead blindly.

Sidewalks teemed, the red carpet pulsated, and huge yachts — huge floating mansions — hosted the elite. Business was brisk and the beautiful and privileged dripped diamonds and designer wear. The wannabes stood in desperate nonchalance trying to access the exclusive plages — the extensions of the grand hotels that kidnap the beach across La Croisette and the promenade, and turn it into tented exclusive spaces where studios welcome the stars and security keeps out those not famous enough to be invited.

The writer, Margaret Gardiner, at Cannes.
The writer, Margaret Gardiner, at Cannes.
Image: Earl Gibson III

That said, we experienced joy sitting in the dark once again with people who love film, stories and vibrant characters. Other than the Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, there was nary a super hero or action movie to be seen. Sure, some of the fare could have been judiciously edited from two hours plus to a nice 90-minutes without damaging the story arc, but for the most part, the leisurely build of nuance and character were on display to the polite applause before each film and often to standing ovations once they had ended.

There are the big films: George Miller’s 3000 Years of Solitude, Elvis, which anointed Austin Butler as a star and brought out Priscilla Presley; and the critical buzz surrounding Armageddon Time, the James Gray directed film with an all-star cast including Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway and a personal exploration of a generation in pursuit of the American dream. Claire Denis’s The Stars At Noon, which shared the Grand Prix with Lukas Dhont’s Close — all with mixed responses, rapt endorsements and smug derision in French accents.

Austin Butler stars as Elvis Presley in Elvis.
Austin Butler stars as Elvis Presley in Elvis.
Image: Earl Gibson III

David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future had a continual patter of people leaving the cinema — the gore and mutilation with sexual overtones is not for the squeamish. But, if you sat through it, the thought of what people do for beauty — laser, implants, injectables — is not that far from some of what the cast embraces.

There’s the interesting idea that since we have ruined our planet and cannot dispose of all the plastic clogging our world, we should evolve to consuming plastic as food. Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart star in the film.

Most of the audience admired the acting in Marion Cotillard’s film Brother and Sister directed by Arnaud Desplechin. In the film ferocious, bitter language deliberately wounds its characters. Faces reflect emotions that are at odds with the words said. Intrigue keeps you involved, though for some the rat-tat-tat of twisted dialogue was not entertainment at all. I thought it was brilliant.

Of course the festival is about discovery of the little film and two gems stood out. The Blue Caftan by Maryam Touzani and Charlotte Wells’ debut film Aftersun.

The former is a triangle of a love story. A gay husband, an ailing wife and a young apprentice to assist in the elaborate embroidery, and kaftan stitching that the public no longer values. It is a many layered story with unexpected reveals and a reminder of the denigrated role of women in many countries, where they can’t walk alone or do much without a man as a chaperone or the permission of a husband.

Aftersun stars Paul Mescal (Normal People and The Lost Daughter). It’s a gem of a film. Look for it. A divorced father and daughter go on holiday to Turkey. You get the feeling he can’t really afford the trip. The father is wounded but covers the broken places most of the time. His daughter, played powerfully by newcomer Francesca Corio, behaves like the stable adult on the verge of being a teenager.

The film slips into the father’s flashback of when he was his daughter’s age, and she re-examines the holiday from the advantage of adulthood, trying to understand what she missed. The story is based on the director’s holiday with her own father. It’s a poignant tale that received a two-minute standing ovation.

No Cannes festival would be complete without the glamour aspect. Parties throbbed until sunrise. The amfAR Gala was populated by models wearing as little as possible, which made me wonder when men would feel the need to appear in public in their undies draped in chiffon? Empowerment is about choice, yet women continue to show everything and men nothing at all.

Joe Alwyn, Claire Denis and Margaret Qualley.
Joe Alwyn, Claire Denis and Margaret Qualley.
Image: Earl Gibson III
Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart.
Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart.
Image: Earl Gibson III

The red carpet proper belonged to mature women. Maybe because this is Europe and wrinkles are permitted on men and women alike. Isabelle Huppert stunned in a Balenciaga emerald green concoction. The heeled boots and leggings were all-in-one beneath a high thigh slit. Helen Mirren and Andie MacDowell danced a long arm to music playing on the red carpet while the paparazzi flashed.

An actual flasher in the form of a Ukranian protester disrobed to her panties on the carpet, revealing a message printed across her breasts: “Stop Raping Us”. Ukrainian colours were used as body paint.

Sharon Stone changed her gown on the red carpet supported by two good-looking men who unhooked her cloak-like skirt and revealed a stunning sheath that showed off the 64 year old’s svelte shape. The weather varied from asphyxiating humidity to thunder and lightning with fat rain drops.

By the time the winners were announced at the close of the festival, it felt like life had returned to normal. There were no clear favourites, though Butler is likely to get a lot of critical acclaim for his portrayal of Elvis.

The stars disappeared in their private jets, I took my final sip of champagne while watching the snow capped Alps from the plane window and then eased my chair into a bed as passengers continued the symphony of coughs. Cannes continued despite Covid-19. I closed my eyes pulled my duvet to my chin, adjusted my mask and felt, for the first time, there might be an end in sight and that life could again be lived.

• Entertainment journalist Margaret Gardiner is a former Miss SA and was the first South African woman to win the Miss Universe Pageant. Follow her on YouTube or Instagram.

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