CANNES DIARY: Behind the scenes of the 2024 film festival

Welcome to Cannes

CANNES, France (AP) — Welcome to Cannes. The annual film festival is always a spectacle, but 2024's edition may be the most combustible in years. The 77th Cannes red carpet unfurls against a backdrop of war and protest. The #MeToo movement, so slow to take root in France, is now quickly tearing through the country's film industry. Festival workers have threatened to strike.

And yet, the usual cavalcade of celebrities and filmmakers from around the world are descending upon the French Riviera over the course of two weeks. And so is The Associated Press. This year, we're keeping a running diary of life at — and in — Cannes. Follow along for an insider's view from the festival.

SUNDAY, MAY 19

Kevin Costner premiered the first part of his Western epic “Horizon: An American Saga,” the buzzed-about “Emilia Perez” had its press conference and the body horror thriller “The Substance,” with Demi Moore, debuted.

— Accepting the Kering Women in Motion award, Universal chief Donna Langley noted she was not like past recipients, such as Michelle Yeoh and Isabelle Huppert, both of whom were among the attendees Sunday night. "In many ways, I'm the killer of art," joked Langley. "I'm the suit." The dinner, held beside a former monastery atop the old part of Cannes overlooking the whole city, is one of the swankier affairs of the festival. Part of the fun of this year's gathering was that it reunited, as Cannes president Iris Knobloch noted, the two women behind "Barbenheimer": Langley, who greenlit "Oppenheimer," and "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig. The Cannes jury president fittingly wore pink for the occasion. At a Cannes where #MeToo is gaining new prominence, it was a moment to celebrate. Langley, the widely respected studio chief, noted roles like hers "have the power and the privilege to say 'yes.'"

— At the premiere of "Horizon," Costner was visibly moved, tearing up during the standing ovation for the first installment of what the actor-director hopes will be four feature films. Surely that emotion was partly due to how much Costner has invested in "Horizon," financing some of its $100 million-plus production himself. When I spoke to him ahead of its premiere, Costner said he was essentially "an independent filmmaker" in Cannes. "I'm here by myself."

— Cannes isn't well known for gory genre movies, but it's gotten a bloody pair of standouts in the last 24 hours. First was Noémie Merlant's "Balconnettes," which she scripted with her "Portrait of Lady on Fire" director Celine Sciamma. The midnight section entry, a kind of #MeToo "Rear Window" if it was a horror comedy, is a delirious romp about sexual assault and revenge. Then came the body horror of Coralie Fargeat's "The Substance," in which a middle-aged Hollywood star (Demi Moore), spawns a younger self that her older body must trade places with every week. It's not a subtle satire, nor does it skimp on the gore.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: "To get into this kind of film by Jacques, you have to be like Jacques, who's a bit mad." — Karla Sofía Gascón, star of "Emilia Perez," on director Jacques Audiard.

SATURDAY, MAY 18

The big premieres Saturday were Jacques Audiard's "Emilia Perez," Jia Zhang-Ke's "Caught by the Tides" and "Rumours," co-directed by Guy Maddin. Meanwhile, the casts of Yorgos Lanthimos' "Kinds of Kindness" and Paul Schrader's "Oh, Canada" faced the media.

— Standing ovations may be commonplace at Cannes premieres but press screenings here, like in most places, usually pass with without a single clap. That wasn't the case for “Emilia Perez,” which drew a hearty round of applause from even cynical critics and journalists. It's a movie that, on its face, has no right to working. Zoe Saldaña stars as Rita, a Mexico City lawyer hired by a the kingpin of a drug cartel to help him flee Mexico to have gender confirmation surgery. This turns out to be just the beginning of a relationship that will continue between Rita and Emilia Perez (Karla Sofía Gascón), whose wife (Selena Gomez) is also in the mix. Oh, and it's a musical. Here, finally, is a film that can be compared to both “Sicario” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Odd as that may sound, the unabashed audacity of “Emilia Perez” is tough to resist. Cannes might have had its first breakout hit from the competition lineup.

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos were speaking to a reporter at the Carlton Hotel when the news broke on their next movie together. It's been just a few months since "Poor Things" was at the Oscars, and their latest collaboration, "Kinds of Kindness," had premiered only the night before in Cannes. But they'll reunite again in "Bugonia," for Focus Features, described as being about a kidnapping by a pair of conspiracy obsessives. Joining them this time is Jesse Plemons, a standout in "Kinds of Kindness." "He's become part of the family," Stone said.

— The year's festival has seen some very famous veterans of Cannes back on the Croisette. George Miller. Cate Blanchett. Francis Ford Coppola. None, though, could hold a candle to Baby Annette, who made her triumphant return at the premiere Saturday of Leos Carax's 41-minute "It's Not Me." Carax's "Annette," which paired Adam Driver and Baby Annette in some of the most extraordinarily surreal scenes in recent memory, opened Cannes in 2021. Baby Annette, you might have thought, would never be seen again. And yet she's back, like Chucky. Carried aloft into the premiere, actor Denis Lavant greeted her by gently kissing her hand.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: “I embellished it myself with a magic marker. I think the wardrobe people were a little afraid to do too much so I took that burden off their shoulders.” — Paul Schrader, speaking to reporters about who wrote “peace and love” on the jockstrap worn by Jacob Elordi in a scene during Schrader's “Oh, Canada”

FRIDAY, MAY 17

Francis Ford Coppola colorfully faced the media the day after the premiere of "Megalopolis," Yorgos Lanthimos debuted his "Poor Things" follow-up, "Kinds of Kindness," and Paul Schrader unveiled his Russell Banks adaptation, "Oh, Canada."

— A mere three months after "Poor Things" was taking home Oscars, Lanthimos and Emma Stone came to Cannes with their third and most provocative collaboration in "Kinds of Kindness." This film, a triptych of subversive head-scratchers, uses much of the same company of actors — Jesse Plemons, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe, Mamoudou Athie, Hong Chau and Stone — across the strange tales revolving around controlling relationships. There are connecting threads and color schemes, but it's striking how, for 167 minutes, Lanthimos and company are emphatically not in awards-movie mode anymore.

— It's been a grand festival for bird movies. After Thursday offered Andrea Arnold's gritty, warm-hearted fable "Bird," on Friday, I caught Zambian-British director Rungano Nyoni's "On Becoming a Guinea Fowl," an even more beguiling work of avian-themed cinema. Nyoni's first film, "I Am Not a Witch," was a Cannes standout in 2017, and her latest confirms her as a thrilling filmmaking talent. "On Becoming a Guinea Fowl," which A24 is distributing, is again deftly playful and darkly comic about quite serious things. In it, arranging a funeral in Zambia unmasks plenty about sexual abuse, patriarchy and family.

— For at least a few hours Friday, both Coppola and Schrader were across from each other on the rooftop terrace of the JW Marriott, separately doing interviews. Rub your eyes and you could rewind 40-plus years. Neither of the New Hollywood legends are much for waxing nostalgic; though. Their focus was on their latest films, or maybe even the one after that.

NOTABLE NUMBER: Four. During the festival, Screen Daily always publishes a daily grid of star ratings from a dozen film critics, providing a good snapshot of how the competition lineup is unfolding. But four days into Cannes, not one of the critics has given a top score — four out of four stars — to a single film. That's unusual this far in, but it probably confirms what most have been saying on the ground here: The quality of the movies is down this year. Things can change fast, though. I'd wager the best is yet to come.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: "There's so many people when they die, they say, 'I wish I had done this, I wish I done that.' When I die, I'm going to say, 'I got to do this.' I got to see my daughter win an Oscar and I got to make wine and I got to make every movie I wanted to make. I'm going to be so busy thinking about all the things I got to do that when I die I won't notice it." — Francis Ford Coppola, at the press conference for "Megalopolis."

HONORABLE MENTION: “I don’t think I dance. I’m a bad dancer. I think the beauty of dancing on screen is the effort to try.” — Barry Keoghan, post-"Saltburn," on his moves in “Bird.”

THURSDAY, MAY 16

Just as the first full day of Cannes was dominated by 79-year-old George Miller and "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga," Thursday belong to 85-year-old Francis Ford Coppola, who unveiled his self-financed opus "Megalopolis."

— There is much more that can be said about the "Megalopolis" premiere, but one thing worth noting was how much family was central to Coppola's return to Cannes. As he walked the red carpet, he clung to the arm of his granddaughter, Romy (daughter of Sofia). With him at the premiere were four more family members, including sister Talia Shire. After the screening, as the crowd cheered him, he introduced each. But Coppola, whose wife Eleanor died last month, left the audience with the message that we are all "one human family." Flop or not, it was moving.

— As it turned out, "Megalopolis" wasn't the only fable premiering. Also debuting in competition was Andrea Arnold's "Bird," a bleakly naturalistic coming-of-age drama with touches of magical realism. Nykiya Adams stars as Bailey, 12, who encounters a strange drifter (Franz Rogowski). Family is a key word for Arnold, too, but for different reasons. She typically fosters an exuberant collective, mixing professional and non-professional actors. When the cast of "Bird," including several young kids, hit the carpet, they had a grand time together.

NOTABLE NUMBER: 45. That's how many of master documentarian Frederick Wiseman's films are now digitized, with a touring retrospective coming this year and next to Paris, London and New York's Lincoln Center. The 94-year-old was in Cannes to screen the restored version of 1969's "Law and Order," in which he observed the routines of Kansas City police officers.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: "There's certainly other stories there. Mainly because we wrote, in order to tell the story of 'Fury Road,' we had to know the back story of Furiosa and Max in the year before. But I'll definitely wait to see how this goes before we even think about that." — Miller, at the press conference for "Furiosa." A film about Mad Max in the year leading up to "Fury Road" has been written for some time. Now, we'll see how "Furiosa," which cost nearly $170 million to make, does when it arrives in theaters next week. The very well received Cannes bow (and a secured release date in China) should help.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 15

Cannes properly kicked into high gear with a full slate of films and the high-wattage premiere of George Miller's "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." The movie's afterparty by the beach was fittingly adorned with both sand and fire, but thankfully no War Boys. (Or is War Boyz?)

— The Cannes red carpet has the potential to mint a glamorous young star, and that was very much the case for Anya Taylor-Joy. She perfectly matched the moment at the "Furiosa" premiere, posing stylishly and playfully saluting her director. But as much has been made of Taylor-Joy inheriting the role from Charlize Theron, it's worth noting that for a substantial amount of the two-and-a-half-hour film, Furiosa is played as a child by a younger performer, Alyla Browne. And, she, too, is very good. So cheers for both Young Furiosa and Even Younger Furiosa.

— A few standout films premiered in different sections. In competition, Magnus von Horn’s “The Girl with the Needle” is an imposingly grim, expressionist black-and-white film about a heinous crime in post-WWI Denmark. It's bleak stuff, but the way the film reserves its most damning judgment for an uncaring society is impossible to shake. Another standout in Critics' Week: Jonathan Millet’s “Ghost Trail.” It's an engrossing, mournful detective story about exile, starring Adam Bessa — a strikingly potent screen presence — as a Syrian refugee hunting his former torturer in France.

— Something you might not know? The Cannes red carpet is replaced — or at least the main bit in the middle — every few days. Because it's been rainy, the first costume change was Wednesday. That's, undoubtedly, more often than many Cannes journalists clean their formal wear.

NOTABLE NUMBER: 6. No, 7. Nope, 8. Those were the trade report counts for the length of the standing ovation for "Furiosa." This whole enterprise is a bunch of manipulated stagecraft and best dismissed as any kind of real metric. But if we're going to do this, let's at least get an official stopwatch.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: "For me, it's quite a bizarre time. There's so much hate and weird fantasies projected at me. People are looking at me like I'm a radioactive thing." — Judith Godrèche, the actor at the center of Cannes' belated #MeToo movement, who premiered her short "Moi Aussi."

TUESDAY, MAY 14

Opening day in Cannes is relatively calm and straightforward, as far as Cannes days go. Just one movie premieres. Under gloomy skies, Cannes kicked off with "The Second Act," a French comedy about a group of actors filming a movie directed by artificial intelligence. Meryl Streep was given an honorary Palme d'Or. And the jury headed by Greta Gerwig was introduced.

— Cannes opening ceremonies are brief but singularly surreal. After a clip reel, Gerwig was serenaded with David Bowie's “Modern Love” by Zaho de Sagazan, an homage to Gerwig's “Frances Ha.” As the singer made her way from the audience to the stage, Gerwig seemed to be choking back both laughter and tears.

Last year's Cannes is talked about with hushed tones because of how good it was — for the terrific lineup and for the post-Cannes success of some films. That made Messi, the dog from last year's Palme winner "Anatomy of a Fall," an especially welcome presence on the red carpet. The border collie, who's been enlisted to shoot daily videos for French TV, frolicked up and down the carpet ahead of the opening ceremony. Cannes has strict rules about formal attire — women without heels were once turned away. But Messi went bare paws.

— It's been just over two months since the Oscars, but Gerwig wasn't the only one stepping back into the spotlight. A fellow juror is best actress nomineeLily Gladstone, who said of the Cannes invite: "I thought I just got over my imposter syndrome last year."

NOTABLE NUMBER: Zero. The amount of times Messi soiled the red carpet.

LA CITATION DU JOUR: “My mother, who is usually right about everything, said to me: ‘Meryl, my darling, you’ll see. It all goes so fast. So fast.’ And it has, and it does. Except for my speech, which is too long.” — Meryl Streep

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Come back here for more from Cannes throughout the festival, and find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/cannes-film-festival.

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