Spanish Auteur Victor Erice Pens Angry Open Letter Claiming Cannes Behaved Underhandedly in Excluding ‘Close Your Eyes’ From Competition

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Revered Spanish auteur Victor Erice has penned an angry open letter in newspaper El Pais claiming the Cannes Film Festival behaved underhandedly during the selection process resulting in his new work “Close Your Eyes” being relegated to the relatively low-profile Cannes Premiere section.

“Close Your Eyes,” which marks Erice’s return to feature film direction 30 years after his Cannes Jury Prize winner “Dream of Light,” premiered on Tuesday in Cannes with the director notably absent.

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The film turns on a famed actor who disappears while making a film. Although his body is never found, the police conclude that he’s been the victim of an accident by the sea. Many years later, the mystery surrounding his disappearance is brought back into the spotlight when a TV program airs the beginning and the end of the movie directed by his close friend.

Erice, who is 83, in the El Pais letter, published on Wed., said he did not attend the Cannes premiere to protest a lack of “dialogue and consultation” with the fest and its artistic director Thierry Frémaux that caused his film to renounce to other opportunities for its launch.

In the letter Erice said he sent a “work in progress” on Quicktime format to Fremaux, without the final grading and mix, on March 24.

He added that the Cannes Director’s Fortnight sidebar wanted “Close Your Eyes” as their opener, but that he was waiting for a sign from Frémaux to tell him if the film was in competition or not. And that Frémaux kept him hanging and that he found out about being selected for the Cannes Premiere section instead of competition as a fait accompli on April 14, the day the lineup was announced.

While waiting to hear from Cannes Erice says he wrote Thierry Frémaux “to ask “That if ‘Close Your Eyes’ was not going to be selected [for competition] he would notify me in good time (this is something that is customary), so that I could consider the other options that were being offered to the film,” Erice stated in the letter. Besides Director’s Fortnight the other options included slots in Locarno and Venice, he added. “But in that interim Frémaux never gave signs of life,” according to Erice. The Director’s Fortnight committee “stood by its offer for weeks, until its protocols ran out of time,” he went on to lament.

Erice in the missive also says that a DCP of “Close Your Eyes” was subsequently sent to Cannes, with the final color grading and sound mixes. “Therefore, it is untrue to state or insinuate that the committee has not able to see it, as it was not ‘finished’ until a few days ago, arguing that this was the reason why it is not playing in competition.”

The Cannes Premiere section provides a place in the official selection for films that the festival would have liked to screen in competition, but was unable to due to the limited number of berths. As a Cannes Premiere entry, “Close Your Eyes” had one screening on the Croisette, the second one was at a multiplex a bus ride away from the main festival grounds.

Erice in the letter specified that he was not complaining “that he [Frémaux] would [not] grant me a favor or a privilege, but rather that he did not give me the opportunity to assess and choose among the other alternatives that ‘Close Your Eyes’ had.”

Cannes in response issued a terse statement on Wed. denying that it behaved inappropriately.

“The selection of the film ‘Cerrar los ojos’ (“Close Your Eyes”) by Victor Erice took place under the usual conditions of the selection process,” the statement said. “The director was notified of the invitation for his Official Selection film on April 12,” it added. “From the beginning, the dialogue was permanent between Thierry Frémaux and Christian Jeune [head of the Cannes Film Office] and with the Spanish producer and the French distributor, Thierry Frémaux having himself had an exchange with Victor Erice,” it went on to note.

“The Cannes Film Festival is the first to be surprised by the considerations made around the selection of the film because it is above all proud and happy to have welcomed ‘Cerrar los ojos’ by Victor Erice in its 76th edition,” the statement concluded.

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