Over the next year or so, a number of the great, good and absolutely unnecessary movies at the 71st Cannes Film Festival will trickle into American theaters and then onto streaming platforms. Some will open with a splash, like Gaspar Noé’s flashy, amusing, then disappointing “Climax,” which played in a parallel program and has been picked up by the distributor A24. If we are lucky, others, like Alice Rohrwacher’s lovely “Happy as Lazzaro,” will also open, though probably far more quietly, buoyed largely by the ardor of critics. It is unlikely that most of these movies will mean much to the American box office, which is dominated by industrial product.
Every year, Cannes presents an overstuffed, witless event movie that generates publicity for the festival and reminds the world that the event can go commercial when it wants. Sometimes the movie is a forgettable French divertissement; this year it was “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” But the festival’s reputation has not been built on Hollywood mega-events. It has been built on strategically positioning itself as the paramount champion of global cinematic art — “the mecca,” as Spike Lee called it the other day — while being the world’s largest film market.
That commitment to art cinema — and specifically to the international auteurs who burnish its standing — is only part of the story. You wouldn’t know that from some of the reports in the American entertainment media, though, which has been announcing the festival’s irrelevancy for years. Whether Cannes matters (oui! non!) makes for a catchy headline, but the better question is who the festival matters to and for what reason. It certainly matters to France, which subsidizes the festival, which in turn promotes the country’s cultural heritage, generates a great deal of revenue and helps tourism. Cannes sells movies; it also sells France.
As always, the festival has a significant international presence, offering a bounty of movies from around the world suggesting that borders remain open, at least in art. Set in rural Italy, “Happy as Lazzaro” traces the story of a blissful innocent who with several dozen relatives works the land for an imperious owner. With a sensitive touch that makes every face, tree and ray of light come alive, Ms. Rohrwacher creates a textured, vibrant portrait of a lost world that is at once emotionally sustaining and grossly exploitative. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s delicate, beautifully paced “Shoplifters” centers on a very