‘Political’ Cannes film festival makes plea for dissidents

US director Spike Lee's movie about a black policeman who manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, "BlacKkKlansman", starring Adam Driver of "Star Wars" fame, also made the line-up of 17 often controversial titles.

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The Cannes film festival made a dramatic show of support for dissident directors in Iran and Russia on Thursday as it unveiled a highly political selection that mixed grit and glamour.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux included films by Iranian director Jafar Panahi and his Russian counterpart Kirill Serebrennikov in the competition for the top Palme d’Or prize — even though neither can leave their country.

He pleaded with authorities to allow Panahi, who is under a travel ban, and Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest, to be allowed to fly to the French Riviera resort next month to show their new films, “Three Faces” and “Leto”.

US director Spike Lee’s movie about a black policeman who manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, “BlacKkKlansman”, starring Adam Driver of “Star Wars” fame, also made the line-up of 17 often controversial titles.

The French film “Les filles du soleil” (Women of the Sun), features Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani — a pin-up for rebellious youth in her homeland — as a Kurdish female fighter from the Yazidi Sun Brigade battling jihadists.

Meanwhile, veteran provocateur Jean-Luc Godard returns 50 years after he led a revolutionary takeover that halted the festival during the French student and workers protest of 1968.

Although Hollywood stars are thinner on the ground than usual, Penelope Cruz, Xavier Bardem, Marion Cotillard and Andrew Garfield will walk the red carpet with Driver.

And the latest “Star Wars” spin-off, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, will also be screened at the festival, which runs from May 8 to 19.

In a year when the movie industry has been dominated by the #MeToo movement, only three women directors made the selection: Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki for “Capernaum”, France’s Eva Husson for “Les filles du soleil” and Italian Alice Rohrwacher with “Lazzaro Felice”.

However, the jury that decides the Palme d’Or will be headed by Australian actress Cate Blanchett.

Four Asian films are in the running, led by “Ash is Purest White” from Chinese creator Jia Zhangke and “Shoplifters” by Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda.

A documentary about the pope by the German master Wim Wenders “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”, will also be shown out of competition.

– Netflix boycott –
The announcement of the line-up came just hours after streaming giant Netflix dramatically pulled out of the festival after a row with its organisers.

The US platform withdrew four films which were rumoured to be in the running to compete for the Palme d’Or, including Paul Greengrass’ much-awaited “Norway” about the 2011 Utoya massacre, in which white supremacist Anders Breivik killed 77 people in twin attacks.

The move was a major blow to the world’s top film festival, already facing a revolt by critics furious at a shake-up in the way its screenings are organised.

Netflix’s withdrawal was in retaliation for a new Cannes rule banning movies from the competition that are not first released in French cinemas.

The platform has been snagged by a French law stopping movies being streamed there until three years after their cinematic release.

French cinema owners protested last year at the inclusion of two Netflix films, “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories”, in the selection. The outcry prompted festival director Fremaux to change the rules.

Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos made no attempt to hide his irritation with Cannes and Fremaux in a scathing interview with the trade daily Variety on Wednesday.

– ‘Disrespectful’ –
“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Sarandos said. “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival.”

“It is not a coincidence that Thierry also banned selfies this year,” he added, in a biting reference to Fremaux outlawing them on the red carpet.

“I don’t know what other advances in media Thierry would like to address.”

However, Fremaux offered an olive branch to Netflix, saying “let’s continue to talk” as he announced the line-up.

Despite the row, Cannes has had no problem accommodating its rival, Amazon, which financed Polish-British director Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War”.

Its films are shown in cinemas before they go online and can be streamed individually four months after their release in France. It is Netflix’s subscription-only model that falls foul of French rules.

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