5 Takeaways From Cannes as Festival Winds Down: ‘Emilia Pérez’ Beguiles, Trump Gets Fired Up, Austerity Hits Croisette

So this is what economizing looks like in Cannes.

The rosé still flowed, though not as freely, and it was easier to get a reservation at the Michelin-starred restaurants that are usually booked months in advance of the film festival. There were still rooms to be had at the Hôtel du Cap, the posh resort where studio chiefs and movie stars typically stay. Most troubling, the deals — both for completed films that premiered in Cannes and the packages that hit the Côte d’Azur searching for financing — are taking much longer to close.

Even in the shimmering south of France there’s no escaping that the movie business, having endured Covid shutdowns and two devastating labor strikes, has lost much of its luster. Donna Langley, the chairman of NBCUniversal Studio Group, was blunt during a talk, noting that the domestic box office is down 20% and the global box office has suffered an even steeper decline from pre-pandemic levels. “We don’t really think we’re going to recapture that,” Langley said.

As Cannes approaches its end, here are five takeaways from a festival that’s still struggling to achieve liftoff.

Hollywood Movies Fail to Ignite

Even before Cannes unveiled its slate of premieres, organizers privately acknowledged that production delays from the actors and writers strikes had left them with slim pickings when it came to big studio movies to highlight. George Miller returned with “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” but while the Warner Bros. release was given a respectful reception, it didn’t electrify the Palais like “Mad Max: Fury Road” did when it debuted nine years ago. Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Kinds of Kindness” saw the auteur returning to his edgier early style, with diminishing returns. At nearly three hours, the anthology film was divisive: Some hailed its scabrous take on human nature as brilliant, and others derided it as bloated. But Searchlight Pictures, which took Lanthimos offerings like “Poor Things” and “The Favourite” to the Oscars, probably shouldn’t book a return trip to the Dolby. And “Horizon: An American Saga,” Kevin Costner’s two-part epic, earned a nine-minute ovation but failed to generate the positive reviews it needs to drive people to the multiplexes.

“Emilia Pérez” Hits All the Right Notes

It really shouldn’t have worked. But somehow, a Spanish-language musical drama about a Mexican cartel leader who wants to undergo gender-affirming surgery — directed by gritty French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, who has no experience working in the song-and-dance genre — is the toast of Cannes. “Emilia Pérez,” which features career-best turns from Zoe Saldaña and Selena Gomez, along with a breakthrough performance from Karla Sofía Gascón, seems destined to score a major U.S. deal (all the usual suspects are circling the film as of press time) and could be an awards season powerhouse.

Politics Takes a Back Seat

Protests over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are erupting on college campuses in the U.S. and have become a regular occurrence in cities around the world. But in Cannes, which is no stranger to political agitation, the situation in the Middle East went largely unacknowledged. There were a few exceptions. On the red carpet, Laura Blajman-Kadar, a survivor of the Oct. 7 attacks, wore a yellow dress bearing images of Israeli hostages still being held and a sash reading “Bring them home,” while a few actors wore pro-Palestinian pins. Omar Sy, a Cannes juror, posted a social media message shortly before the festival started, calling for a ceasefire in the region. But in press conferences and public events, actors and filmmakers haven’t used their time at the microphone to address the conflict.

#MeToo Hits Cannes

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France hasn’t had the reckoning with #MeToo that America grappled with some seven years ago. But things are shifting in the country, as more women in the movie business come forward. That was evident in Cannes, where Judith Godrèche brought her doc “Moi Aussi” to the competition. Detailing hundreds of accounts of misconduct and sexual abuse from women in the business, Godrèche’s short film made global headlines. Despite the momentum the movement is gaining, there remain vestiges of the industry Godrèche and others hope to change. Shia LaBeouf, who was sued by ex-girlfriend FKA Twigs for sexual battery and assault, walked the carpet for the “Megalopolis” premiere. Meanwhile, the thriller “The Razor’s Edge,” starring James Franco, who has faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, sold at the Cannes Market.

The Art of the Donald

“The Apprentice,” the story of how Roy Cohn helped mold Donald Trump into a narcissistic, morally flexible force in New York real estate, landed like a firecracker. It depicts the former president in unflattering ways that could incite a torrent of all-caps posts on Truth Social. There’s the scene where Trump rapes his first wife, Ivana; and the one where he gets liposuction; and the one where an amphetamine addiction leaves him with trouble, er, erecting his tower; and the one where he cuts a deal with a mob boss so he can complete a literal skyscraper. But the moment that might get “the Donald” Truthing up a storm is when he breaks down over the death of his alcoholic brother — that might be too much for a self-described killer. Will “The Apprentice,” which is looking for U.S. distribution, land a deal? Or are some things too hot for an election year in which, if you believe the polls, Trump has a good chance of coming out on top?

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