Postcard from Cannes #1: Blood, sweat and tears

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The 75th Cannes Film Festival is well and truly underway. The red carpet has been rolled out and fans are standing by to catch a glimpse of their idols. The opening ceremony on Tuesday evening underlined just how much the event is an emotional rollercoaster.

The festival could be summed up in three little words: blood, sweat and tears. Cinema, like life, has its ups and downs, its successes and failures. Nor does it always turn out the way we want it to.

Sweat you ask? Well, just think about all those hours, weeks, months filming, preparing, editing, organising, promoting…and then getting the city of Cannes ready for an onslaught of visitors from around the globe.

I’m also thinking of those men in their black T-shirts marked "Staff", many of them on their knees, carefully rolling out the red carpet in the blazing heat of the sun. Journalists and passersby got all worked up trying to capture this micro-event.

Then there’s the love. The opening ceremony was so charged with emotion, you could nearly reach out and touch it. Nothing like a bit of drama to set the scene, n’est-ce pas?

The MC, actress Virginie Efira, in a long sparkling silver gown introduced Forest Whitaker to rousing applause, so much so, in fact, that he was unable to interrupt to say a few words. But when he did, the theatre fell into a respectful hush.

He was visibly moved at receiving the Honorary Palme d’Or for his achievements as actor, director and producer.

He noted how important it was to be a voice for those who have none, standing up to tell stories in spite of barriers and difficulties.

"For the Sake of Peace", a documentary about ordinary people defending peace efforts in South Sudan, does exactly this. Directed by Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin, it was produced by Whitaker and made its debut at Cannes.

Weapon of mass emotion

Then, the members of the jury - four women and four men - were called to the stage in all their finery.

Hailing from India, the UK, Italy, US, Sweden, Norway, France and Iran, the eclectic group each gave polite bows, waves and nods of the head, before taking their places on the golden thrones to the side of the stage.

Vincent Lindon, the president of this year’s jury, described the cinema as "a weapon of massive emotion", a term which fit the bill nicely for what is shaping up to be a momentus festival for so many reasons.

In his speech, he spoke of his privilege in a world where there is so much suffering and pain. He hailed culture as vital. "Not something in the margins, but rather in the centre" of life.

Awarded Best Actor back in 2015 for "The Measure of a Man" ("La Loi du Marché"), Lindon appeared to be holding back tears as he thanked the audience and the organisers for choosing him as jury president.

Earlier in the day at the press conference, when asked about his role, he smiled and said he didn’t like the term "judgement", but rather that he would watch all 21 films in competition with the "eyes of the child" he was once was, dazzled by the big screen.

All you need is love

Keeping on the topic of love, musician Vincent Delerme serenaded the public with a piano ballad Que je t’aime, made famous by rocker Johnny Hallyday, encouraging everyone to join in, his instructions in English raising a few chuckles.

Then came the blood. The very real, and the fake.

The MC had prepared a more somber discourse towards the end of the ceremony, acknowledging the plight of Ukrainians caught up in the war.

The conflict was very much on the minds of the organisers when they issued their invitations, and many directors from Ukraine will present films at special screenings during the two weeks.

"Can cinema change the world?" Efira asked. Perhaps not, but "it can change your perception of it", suggesting that cinema has a capacity to carry messages that would not otherwise be heard.

We need another Charlie Chaplin

Lights in the colours yellow and blue lit the sides of the theatre and a hush came fell over the audience as she went on to introduce the Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelensky, who made a speech via video link.

He spoke of the tragedy unfolding everyday in his country, at the hands of a "dictator". He exhorted the public npot to turn a blind eye and not to remain silent.

He called on the film industry to remember the power of cinema, citing the example of Charlie Chaplin, with the film "The Great Dictator" in 1940.

It was instrumental in raising awareness among the public of the dangers of Nazism in Europe and the spectre of collapsing democracies.

"Don’t lose hope", he concluded.

Finally, the lights went down and it was time for the opening film, the première of "Final Cut!" ("Coupez!"), directed by Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius.

Interestingly, shortly before the opening of the festival, the director changed the original title "Z comme Z". He said he wanted to avoid any confusion with the letter "Z" used as a symbol painted on Russian tanks present in Ukraine.

Laughter as relief

Hazanavicius' hilarious, wild ride of a film featuring frustrated actors, angry directors and zombies with the necessary buckets of fake blood is a sneak peek behind the scenes of a shoot – a homage to the huge human effort and undertaking that filming involves.

Adapted from the cult Japanese box office hit "One Cut of The Dead" by Shinichiro Ueda, it covers the usual ground found in B horror movies, but it takes surprising twists and turns, drawing some unexpected outbursts of laughter from the spectators.

Starring Romain Duris and Berenice Béjo it was a heartfelt nod to filmmaking in all its glory – the blood, the sweat, the tears, of joy and sometimes sadness. All the things Cannes has in abundance!

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