How Cannes Topper Thierry Fremaux Is Guiding 75th Edition of the Film Festival Through a Fast-Changing World

Presiding over the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, director Thierry Frémaux has assembled some serious Hollywood star power, world cinema auteurs amid indications that despite COVID, the film world is buzzing with anticipation for the films, the deals and most of all the glamour the fest brings.

While Frémaux has been credited with expanding the horizons of the Cannes Film Festival since taking over the reins of its Official Selection in 2001, he’s also been praised for building relationships with American studios and filmmakers.

This year, he’s lured them back in spite of the ongoing pandemic, with a lineup including James Gray’s “Armageddon Time,” David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future,” Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up,” George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing” and Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis.”

“My first red carpet was for ‘Moulin Rouge!’ with Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman in 2001 and it will be engraved in my memory forever,” says Fremaux. “I’m happy to reunite with Baz this year. We’re blood brothers!”

Frémaux has also contributed to raising the profiles of directors from all over the world, including Korean helmer Bong Joon Ho, whose 2019 “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or and an historic best picture Oscar; and Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, whose “Drive My Car” won screenplay at Cannes and went on to take the Oscar for international feature film earlier this year.

Cannes 2022 competition lineup boasts no fewer than four Palme d’Or winning directors, including Kore-eda Hirokazu (“Japan”) and Ruben Östlund (“Triangle of Sadness”).

Frémaux says for this edition, Cannes had the “desire to expand even more toward international, with films from Iran, Egypt, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Iceland and Norway.”

Every year, some of the films in Cannes have had a sharp political edge; in 2022, the stakes are higher because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cultural fallout from that deadly action. Indeed, Cannes programmed Russian dissident helmer Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Tchaïkovski’s Wife.”

“We always have to separate the artistic vocation of Cannes from the collective and political issues that are going on around the world. But obviously, political events are often reflected in films we show at Cannes because artists are making movies with social, political and environmental themes,” Fremaux says. “What we strive to do at Cannes is to maintain our legitimacy. This year, we’ll present ‘Butterfly Vision,’ which is the first film of [Ukrainian] Maksim Nakonechnyi and it will play in Un Certain Regard because it’s very good film.

“We’re never taking a film to please anyone. That said, the Cannes Film Festival isn’t removed from the rest of the world and this war that is taking place is unfolding a three-hour flight away from Paris, so we will carry on to celebrate cinema and filmmakers at Cannes … And there will be two Ukrainian films to remind us [of the war].”

Frémaux has also been spotlighting genre cinema, such as Julia Ducournau’s gender-bending “Titane,” which won the Palme d’Or in 2021, and this year with Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider,” an Iran-set serial killer thriller inspired by a true story.

“Genre cinema has often been used as a metaphor to talk about society, for instance, some monster movies which alluded to the Cold War; and today, we also have these genre films that speak about our world in a singular way,” he says.

He notes that “Holy Spider” “is not outwardly a political film, it’s a police thriller about a serial killer, but this police film genre is a vehicle to shed light on the underworld of a society, show the night, the shadows, what lies beneath the surface.”

“[Film critic] Jean Douchet used to say that cinema is a tool to know the world better. Well, it still is.”

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