Cannes Film Festival’s longtime director Thierry Fremaux sat down with Variety following the announcement of this year’s lineup, which includes a bevy of star-studded period movies, including Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Karim Aïnouz’s “Firebrand” and Jonathan Glazer’s “Zone of Interest.” Along with a raft of politically-minded films, there’s also a record six movies directed by female helmers in competition, including newcomers like Senegalese direcotr Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s feature debut “Banel et Adama.”
Fremaux said his only regret this year is to miss out on “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” but he’s keeping high hopes to convince Scorsese to vie for a second Palme d’Or 47 years after winning his first with “Taxi Driver.” He also revealed that as many as two or three movies are expected to be added to the competition next week, after Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week announce their respective lineups.
How late did you make your last phone call last night?
We went to bed late, but slightly earlier than usual. We’re going to add more films in a few days.
You did manage to keep a few surprises — like Jonathan Glazer’s A24 movie “Zone of Interest,” his first film since “Under My Skin.“
Yes, Jonathan is a great filmmaker whose work we follow, and I especially follow him because I love the work of the writer Martin Amis. The film is freely adapted from Amis’ novel, which is personal. It’s quite a challenging film because it’s in German and Polish. And it shows also that A24 continues to propose this genre of cinema. Martin Scorsese’s film is also along the lines of big, popular yet director-driven films of the past, like David Lean and Cecil B. DeMille.
These movies are part of a tradition of filmmaking.
As I was saying this morning, the world has changed because there’s been a pandemic and the arrival of streamers, and the film industry was shaken up but I’ve always thought that it would be saved by its artists. And this selection is all about artists proposing singular objects. Cinema objects which come from everywhere, from every country and from every generation.
You said during the presser that it was the most internationally diverse official selection. Is that true?
Yes I think it is, in terms of countries represented. Aside from France, the U.S. and Italy which have many films, we have a lot more countries in the mix.
It seems there’re less French films.
For now maybe, but there will be a few when we add films.
You said before that the challenge for Cannes is to secure independent American films to come. Is that still the case?
It’s not just the independent cinema, it’s the films from auteurs in general because these films always have the potential of campaigning for the Oscars. So there are some filmmakers who are discovered at Cannes and naturally when they become much better known they tend to have their movies released in the fall. I was talking about Steve McQueen for instance who was at Cannes with “Hunger” and then had his movies released in the fall. At the same time, we never stopped luring Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers who come to Cannes and have their movies launched in theaters in the fall. But coming to Cannes is expensive and that means two campaigns, in May and in October.
Not every one has Apple’s resources. Speaking of which, do you think Scorsese’s movie could be bumped to the competition?
When we saw the film back in November and when we invited it, it was an Apple movie. The situation has changed now that Apple has announced that it will be released in theaters everywhere, including in France, on Oct. 19. That means it qualifies for the Cannes competition since, as you know, all films competing must have a theatrical release. So I told Apple and Martin Scorsese that considering how great the movie is, it’s obviously invited in competition. And now I’m waiting to hear their decision. We have until the last minute.
Don’t you think Scorsese is too much of a legend to compete at Cannes?
That’s very interesting because when Fellini won the Palme d’Or for “La Dolce Vita,” he said “I’m not coming back in competition,” and Marty won the Palme d’Or in 1976. So obviously one could say, he doesn’t have much to gain considering his prestigious status. Expect one thing: the Palme d’Or. I think he should come in competition.
The movie is 3 hours and 45 minutes long, do you think the length could be an issue?
I don’t know what the final length is, but let’s say that for me it’s not an issue. All I know is that it’s only five minutes more than “Once Upon a Time in America.”
A lot of films in competition are from foreign directors making films with American stars.
Yes, Cannes reflects the state of world cinema production and it’s true that very often directors are drawn to making films in English because the U.S. is such a great country for cinema. Like Pedro Almodovar, who is making another film in English.
I was surprised that Maiwenn isn’t in competition, since her last two movies competed.
That’s because it’s the opening night film and last year as well the opening film wasn’t in competition.
Does it have something to do with the fact that she’s being sued?
Not at all, because we didn’t know about it when we invited the film out of competition.
“Jeanne du Barry” will mark the big comeback of Johnny Depp in a film. Some say it’s a controversial choice for an opening night movie.
I don’t see Maiwenn’s film as a controversial choice at all, because if Johnny Depp had been banned from working it would have been different, but that’s not the case. We only know one thing, it’s the justice system and I think he won the legal case. But the movie isn’t about Johnny Depp.
There are so many period movies in this selection.
It’s true. Is it a coincidence or a collective inspiration? But each of them talks about today, even if they’re historical films. Maiwenn’s movie, for instance, is about the place of women in politics. Jonathan Glazer’s movie as well, is a historical film that takes place in Auschwitz. That said, they are not academic, historical movies. They’re not ‘one way journeys across history,’ they’re roundtrips.
Would you say it’s a politically charged selection?
I’d say that almost every film talk societal problems. It’s a very politically minded selection. Even Martin Scorsese’s film is about the relationship between Native Americans and white people, but in the 1920s. It explores our own moral sense, our humanity, our courage when faced with a situation where we have to say “no.”
You’ve broken your own record with six films from female directors.
These six films are in competition because of their quality. What we’re seeing is that the stronger presence of female directors means that world cinema is changing, because it brings another perspective, one of women. For decades, we saw men’s outlook on everything and everyone, and now we’re seeing women depicting male and female characters in a different way. Bringing more women in competition is part of our global effort to achieve more diversity and parity and we’re also trying to reach a balance in terms of generations. We also see more female directors from emerging countries, from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and that’s a hell of a great news. And there will be more female directors added to the official selection!
French directors, I bet.
It’s true that there are always many female directors among the French contingent. We just announced three French movies in competition and two of them are directed by women. Last year, over four French films, three of them were directed by women.
Any chance you’ll add “Oppenheimer”?
Unfortunately no, I would have loved [that] but it’s being released at the end of the year as part of their awards strategy. My two regrets this year are “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” but it won’t be ready either by May.