Harlan Jacobson Reports from The Cannes Film Festival 2021: At the End of the Plague Year

CANNES, Thursday, July 8 –
By Harlan Jacobson


Having missed for the last two years—2019 for my daughter’s graduation, 2020 for the collapse of civilization—the most obvious thing to talk about is not my return but the 74th Cannes’ return at all, pushed back this year to July from May. The festival’s return I suppose is due to the will of Thierry Fremaux, the Delegue Generale, head guy, but he is backed by the ministry of culture and all of France in its will to uphold whatever standards it can find on any topic. Projecting a film in perfect conditions on a big screen in front of an audience that shows up to a theatre is cinema’s standard to uphold—which has been the hill Fremaux and Cannes have been fighting on since Netflix and Amazon started remaking the film map. So here we all are again at Cannes Inc.

Or a couple of us. I don’t know who the people are I saw on the first day of screenings. I recognize the filmmakers in the selection, but the people in the seats are people I haven’t seen before. Those of you from the US in the industry who aren’t here -- nobody else is either. Or so it seems.


The COVID restrictions have slowed down and made more difficult the process of getting into the Palais and out and back in again. My screening day began with all the usual things that don’t work, multiplied by being redirected to the base of a Ferris Wheel to get an EU COVID test. A two-hour rigamarole, all in. The results of said test are necessary to enter the Palais and were promised in six hours. I found them in bed that first night with a PDF that is password protected. I never set a password. Don’t ask how I saw films. I did by showing my US vax card, my NY COVID tests from this past weekend, and a few other techniques I have perfected over a misspent life.

Want to know what COVID crazy is? I go into the upstairs Salle Bazin to see a film. Place is filling up. There’s an open seat on the right against the wall in a side aisle that is only two seats deep. I say excuse me to the woman sitting in the aisle seat. She scowls at me. Gets up. And does a Garbo on me: I want to be alone, she growls at me, and abandons her seat. The nearest place she can be alone is Greenland. And in the north of that.


I caught up to the opening night film, Leos Carax’s, Annette, with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard about a chic LA couple. He’s something between a performance artist, Henry McHenry, a deeply male standup comedian who emerges onstage in a puff of steam and a prizefighter’s robe and a deeply insightful performance artist, which you can tell because his performances run to insulting his adoring crowds, not in the Don RIckles style, but for their intellectual deficiencies and craven celebrity worship. She’s Ann Something French (?), an opera star of new operas playing downtown. They marry, rule the LA arts district and have a baby, Annette, played mostly by a freaky baby puppet out of work since freaky baby horror films went the way of the dodo.

Carax has managed to extract the worst side of Driver and drag Cotillard down with him and bury both of them. The film reeks of pretentious condescension. It never misses an opportunity to crap on the audience in the narrative and in the theatre watching the film. It is possible that people who run in better circles than I do in Paris, or even in Croton-on-Hudson, where I reside, might think Annette is deeply insightful about culture. An Amazon deal, the best audience for it is in the Villages in Florida, if they can figure out how to stream. Isn’t that ironic, France of Standards?