Cannes Film Festival 2021 highlights: Sun, stars and saliva


The Cannes Film Festival is drawing to a close, and despite the pandemic it managed to gather a larger number film stars in the sunshine for the obligatory photo opportunities.

This distinctive line-up of director Wes Anderson and actors Timothee Chalamet, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray for their film The French Dispatch proved irresistible as a meme.

Jessica Shortall described the line-up as “Tiktok-LinkedIn-Instagram-Twitter”, while Philip Bump dubbed them “Z, X, Millennial, Boomer”.

Sara Wallace Goodman spoke for many of us when she described the stars’ fashions as: “Zoom presentation attire, remembering how I dressed before Zoom, imagining how I’ll dress after Zoom, how I’ll actually dress after Zoom.”

That picture became one of the viral moments from the prestigious festival, but there were plenty of other talking points.

‘We’re experts in saliva’

The Covid safety procedures included saliva tests for those outside the EU’s Covid tracking system.

In other words, attendees had to dispense with any delusions of glamour and spit into a pot.

The Wrap’s Ben Croll wrote that booking a test was “painless enough”, but “the process of generating enough saliva, however, requires a bit more finesse” – describing being handed a vial to fill, which was checked for quality and quantity.

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks said a medic sternly told him: “Only the liquid is good. The froth doesn’t count.”

Vulture’s Nate Jones added that the French event had “become an odyssey of spit”, while Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh described “audible sighs of frustration among those waiting in line when they realised just how much saliva the lab needed from them”.

Hollywood actor Matt Damon and Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin added some star wattage for Stillwater, which got a five-minute standing ovation.

Variety’s executive editor Ramin Setoodeh said Damon was brought to tears by the applause. He plays an American oil rig roughneck who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she says she did not commit.

IndieWire’s Anne Thompson said Todd McCarthy’s film got “solid” early reviews and that the director “effectively draws the audience into this shut-down man’s dawning awareness of an emotional life beyond the confines of Oklahoma oilfields”.

Empire’s Ian Freer said the film “mashes up quest-for-justice, father-daughter dramatics, fortysomething romance and mid-life introspection for a refreshingly adult drama”.

The Spectator’s Stephen Arnell said this year’s festival was “a bumper event with a wealth of backlogged movies on offer for film-starved cineastes”, with Val – a documentary chronicling the highs, lows and cancer battle of US actor Kilmer – as his top pick.

He also highlighted the musical Annette, which opened the festival, but suggested it would be “something of a Marmite experience for cinema-goers”.

It stars Adam Driver as edgy comedian Henry, married to renowned soprano Ann (Marion Cotillard), with a newborn daughter Annette who is actually a puppet with strange abilities.

Variety’s Richard Lawson called the film “daring and garish”, but Screen Daily’s Jonathan Romney said it was “an audacious folly that comes across as grandiose and joyless”.

Tatler’s Danielle Lawler also recommended Annette along with The French Dispatch, which she called an “ensemble of epic proportions” with a cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan.

She called the film, which is based on a collection of short stories originally published in The French Dispatch magazine, “a dreamy blockbuster for these times”.

Flag Day, directed by Sean Penn and starring the actor alongside his daughter Dylan and son Hopper, was also highlighted. It is based on a young woman’s relationship with her father, who she discovers led a double life as a conman.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney said it “succumbs to Penn’s worst indulgences, loading up on big actor-ish explosions of volatility rather than trying to get to the lost soul of a desperate man and the yearning of a daughter”.

But Deadline’s Pete Hammond added that it would be “remembered as a dazzling showcase for the acting talents of his daughter”.

Regardless of what is happening on screen, there will always be more interest in what’s happening on the red carpet.

Actress Sharon Stone wore a Dolce & Gabbana dress bedecked in flowers for the screening of The Story of My Wife, about a sea captain who makes a bet in a cafe with a friend that he will marry the first woman who walks in.

Stone’s co-star Lea Seydoux was unable to attend because she contracted Covid, so Stone, a veteran of the Cannes red carpet, having attended for Basic Instinct in 1992, made the most of the limelight. She was variously described as stunningdazzling and stealing the show in the most beautiful dress at Cannes.

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