FilmCannes 2024

Cannes 2024 opens with tears, #MeToo, a Palme d’Or for Meryl Streep and plenty of Irish

Cannes Diary: Juliette Binoche was choked up, Meryl Steep was classy and Greta Gerwig didn’t hold back

The Irish have arrived

The morning flight out to Nice on the first day of the Cannes film festival always reminds me of that scene at the train station in The Great Escape when each escapee arrives to find all the others lurking behind newspapers.

Here’s Grainne Humphreys, director of the Dublin International Film Festival. Will Fitzgerald, programmer of Pálás Cinema in Galway, is over there. Colm Bairéad and Cleona Ní Chrualaoí, respectively director and producer of the Oscar-nominated An Cailín Ciúin, were lugging already much-used formal wear. And Thomas Martin, Irish writer of such classy TV as Raw and Ripper Street, was celebrating the arrival of Lorcan Finnegan’s The Surfer to the midnight screenings section. Martin sees whispers of John Cheever’s The Swimmer – and of the film version with Burt Lancaster – in his script for the Irish-Australian co-production. He never imagined it would end up at Cannes.

“Yeah, it’s everything to me,” he says “It’s the top. It was an absolute moon shot for me. It’s the absolute pinnacle of cinema. I love French cinema and was hugely invested in European cinema. This is bigger than ... I was going to say the Oscars but it’s better than Hollywood for me.”

Still less could he have imagined that the film would end up starring Nicolas Cage.


“It seems strange, but he was always in my head from the beginning,” Martin says. He is keen to stress that the film is no sort of Point Break. It is a philosophical piece that touches on loss and fatherhood. “Nicolas Cage was brilliant to work with,” Martin said. “He’s really well read and he’s a complete cinephile and really threw himself into the script and all our references for the film. His passion for his craft was infectious. It was a total thrill to get his feedback on the script and see him bring it to life!” The Surfer premieres shortly after the witching hour on Sunday morning.

A very French opening ceremony

You will find nothing more French than the opening ceremony at the Cannes film festival.

On the surface it looks like any other glossy film event. Plenty of celebrities. Blasting music. An abundance of the lachrymose. But there is an inherent weirdness to it that the British or the Americans wouldn’t tolerate.

Host Camille Cottin, best known for her role in Call My Agent, was warm in bringing Greta Gerwig to the front of the stage. Nothing wrong in that. This year’s president of the jury is a popular figure.

“This is holy to me,” the director of Barbie said. “Art is sacred. And films are sacred. I can’t believe I’m getting the opportunity to spend the next 10 days in this house of worship.”

Then it got really peculiar. Cottin announced they had a present for Gerwig. They weren’t giving her an honorary Palme d’Or with just three films under her belt? Were they? They weren’t. The French singer Zaho de Sagazan delivered a weirdly sensual version of David Bowie’s Modern Love ­– to which Gerwig famously run-danced in Frances Ha – while advancing on her in faintly predatory fashion. Gerwig, who is a very good actor, looked delighted with the whole thing.

Celebrating Meryl Streep, classy as always

Almost as odd as the musical tribute to Gerwig was Juliette Binoche’s – undeniably heartfelt – paeon to Meryl Streep, who really was getting an honorary Palme d’Or. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done in this fashion. The French actor delivered her address while reading from a pile of crumpled paper and standing three feet from the honoree. Reaching “you changed the way we think about women in cinema”, Binoche became so choked up she could barely continue.

All of which was rather sweet in a world where such things are usually anything but peculiar.

Streep addressed a bizarre anomaly in the opening of her acceptance. She wanted to thank those “who weighed in on the decision to invite me back to Cannes after 35 years.” (my italics, but she did give it some comic welly). It is a peculiar fact that Streep has, indeed, not been at Cannes in any official capacity since she won best actress for Cry in the Dark in 1988. It hardly seems possible. “I was already a mother of three, I was about to turn 40 and I thought that my career was over,” she said of that win. “That was not an unrealistic expectation for actresses at that time. And the only reason that I’m here tonight and that it continued is because of the very gifted artists with whom I’ve worked, including Madame La President.”

Gerwig did indeed direct her in Little Women. Meryl always has been a classy act.

#MeToo isn’t going away

The #MeToo controversy continues to boil around Cannes. Several of the accusations that led to Harvey Weinstein’s downfall hung around events at this festival. A few weeks after the overturning of a conviction against the producer in New York, rumours circulate of a list detailing 10 men in the French industry guilty of abuse. Reports in French papers allege the festival has set up a crisis management squad to respond to any such scandal. There are also rumours of a strike that could hugely disrupt the event.

Gerwig, president of the jury, dealt with the issues adroitly at the press conference.

“I certainly support labour movements,” she said. “And we’ve certainly gone through this now in our unions, and I hope the festival and the workers can form an agreement that is good for them and supports them and supports the festival because it’s very important that people have protections and a living wage.”

Addressing the #MeToo concerns, she observed: “I have seen substantive change in the American film community, and it’s important to expand the conversation. I think it’s only moving everything in the correct direction to keep those lines of communication open.”

We regret to tell you that, though we’ve only had one big premiere, the standing ovation chatter has already begun. Trade papers really did bother reporting that the highly amusing French comedy The Second Act (reviewed below) was treated to a “lukewarm” 3.5-minute standby. So we’re now applying thermometers as well as stopwatches to the standing? This has to stop. We’re not watching American sport. Not everything can be adjudged by statistics. More interesting was the muttering of discontent when the Netflix logo appeared. Cannes’s relationship with the streaming giant remains uneasy.

Lapping it up: Dog star ‘pawses’ for photographs

Review: The Second Act

The Second Act
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Director: Quentin Dupieux
Cert: None
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon, Louis Garrel, Raphaël Quenard, Manuel Guillot
Running Time: 1 hr 20 mins

There is nobody quite like French oddball Quentin Dupieux. In films such as Smoking Causes Coughing and Deerskin he has demonstrated a gift for the absurd that negotiates a queasy course between Monty Python and Eugène Ionesco. His latest film proves an ideal choice as Cannes opener. It is light. It is amusing. It features Cannes regular Léa Seydoux. The Second Act is, also, like most of Dupieux’s films, short – thus not keeping attendees at the opening ceremony too long from their yacht parties.

Some have described this as a comedy about the first film directed by AI. That suggests something much less interesting than what we get. Indeed, remove the AI element and few Dupieux fans would question the oddness that remains. This is just how he rolls.

A crumpled middle-aged geezer (Manuel Guillot) opens up his restaurant – named, of course, The Second Act – on the sort of blasted nowhere that sees Beckett characters awaiting tardy metaphors. Instead we get David (Louis Garrel) and his pal Willy (Raphaël Quenard), shot in one very long take, plotting a strategy to deal with the former’s lack of interest in his girlfriend. The slippery nature of the piece emerges when Willy begins making unobliging remarks transgender people. David reminds him they are being filmed, thus suggesting that the characters in Dupieux’s film are aware of their own fictional nature.

Then we cut to Seydoux and Lindon, playing girlfriend and girlfriend’s father, arguing about this and that. Lindon’s character takes a call and is suddenly cheered up. Paul Thomas Anderson wants him in film. So this section is merely mixing lines from the film with the actors’ own concerns? Wait? What?

It sounds like the ingredients for a big headache, but the script is so lively and the actors so quick on their feet that the piece never drags. Properly funny. And clever even when it’s playing dumb.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist