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US director and Jury President of the 74th Cannes Film Festival Spike Lee (C) arrives with Jury members (from L) South Korean actor Song Kang-Ho, French actor Tahar Rahim, French-Canadian singer Mylene Farmer, US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, French actress and director Melanie Laurent, Austrian director Jessica Hausner and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho for the opening ceremony and the screening of the film "Annette" at the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on July 6, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

The Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet for the first time in more than two years on Tuesday, launching the French Riviera spectacular with the premiere of Leos Carax’s ‘Annette’, the introduction of Spike Lee’s jury, and with high hopes for shrugging off a punishing pandemic year for cinema.

The 74th Cannes opened Tuesday with as much glitz as it could summon, led by ‘Annette,’ a fantastical musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and scored by the musical duo Sparks. The opening ceremony also returned last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Bong Joon-ho (for ‘Parasite’) and Jodie Foster, who first came to Cannes as a 13-year-old with Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver,’ for an honorary Palme.

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Adam Driver, from left, Marion Cotillard and director Leos Carax pose for photographers at the photo call for the film Annette at the 74th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Image Credit: AP

The occasion drew a wide spectrum of film luminaries back to Cannes to celebrate the festival, cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 virus. Pedro Almodovar, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren and Bella Hadid walked the red carpet, which was again lined with tuxedoed photographers and surrounded by eager onlookers.

“So it feels good to go out,” said Foster in French.

“Vivre la France!” declared Lee.

The festival was officially declared open by Bong, Almodovar, Foster and Lee, in a mix of Korean, Spanish, French and English. Over the next 10 days, the Cannes Film Festival will try to resuscitate global cinema on a grand scale.

Cannes has pushed ahead in much its usual form, with splashy red-carpet displays and a line-up of many of the world’s most revered filmmakers, including Asghar Farhadi, Wes Anderson, Mia Hansen-Love and Paul Verhoeven. Festivalgoers are tested every 48 hours, seated shoulder to shoulder and masked for screenings.

Lee, who is heading the jury that will decide this year’s Palme, arrived earlier in the day wearing a ‘1619’ baseball hat and trying to keep a low profile. “I’m not trying to be a hog,” he said to reporters, urging them to ask his fellow jurors questions.

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Jodie Foster, who will receive an honorary Palme d'Or during the opening ceremony, poses for photographers at the 74th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Image Credit: AP

But Lee’s presence was hard to ignore. His face as Mars Blackmon from his 1986 feature film debut ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (which premiered at Cannes) adorns this year’s poster at the festival central hub, the Palais des Festivals. Lee is the first Black person to ever lead Cannes’ prestigious jury. In his first comments, in response to a question from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, Lee spoke about how little has changed since 1989’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ — which made a controversial debut at Cannes.

“When you see brother Eric Garner, when you see king George Floyd murdered, lynched, I think of Ray (Radio) Raheem,” Lee said, referring to the ‘Do the Right Thing’ character. After 30-plus years, you’d “think and hope,” Lee said, “that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.”

Much of the talk on Tuesday at Cannes centred on injustice and survival. That the festival was even happening, after last year’s edition was cancelled, was a surprise to some. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’ll see the 24 films in competition for the Palme as a member of the jury over the next 12 days, said it will be her first time in a movie theatre in 15 months. When ‘Parasite’ actor Song Kang-ho was invited to be a juror, he said, “I thought: Will there really be a festival?”

“The fact that we’re here today, it’s really a miracle,” said Song.

Still, much of the usual pomp is toned down this year. There’s a relative dearth of promotion up and down Cannes’ oceanfront promenade, the Croisette, and Hollywood has less of a role than in years past. Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho (‘Bacurau’), a juror, added that in some parts of the world, cinema is under siege. In President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, he said, the national cinematheque has been closed and its staff dismantled.

“This is a very clear demonstration of contempt for cinema and for culture,” said Filho, who noted the tragedy of Brazil reaching 500,000 dead from COVID-19 when, he said, many thousands could have been saved by a stronger governmental response.

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Jury members Tahar Rahim, from back left, Jessica Hausner, Kleber Mendonca Filho, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mylene Farmer, Spike Lee, from front left, Melanie Laurent, Kang-Ho Song, Mati Diop appear at the opening ceremony of the 74th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP) Image Credit: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

In that context, the regular topics of concern at Cannes were perhaps dwarfed. But the jurors made passionate cases for the future of movies — and a more inclusive future. This year’s competition line-up includes a Cannes-high four female filmmakers, but they still make up a fraction of the 24 filmmakers vying for the Palme.

“I think when women are listening to themselves and really expressing themselves, even inside, about a very, very male culture, we make movies differently. We tell stories differently,” said Gyllenhaal. She recalled watching Jane Campion’s ‘The Piano’ (the lone film directed by a woman to ever win the Palme) as formative and unfiltered. “It just went in straight.”

The rise of streaming also took the spotlight. Cannes has refused to select films without French theatrical distribution for its competition line-up. The festival and Netflix have been at odds for several years. On Monday, Thierry Fremaux, festival director, cited Cannes’ record at discovering filmmakers and asked: “What directors have been discovered by (streaming) platforms?”

Lee, who made last year’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ for Netflix, hardly bated an eye when asked about the subject.

“Cinema and screening platforms can coexist,” said Lee, who called Cannes “the world’s greatest film festival.” “At one time, there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema. So, this stuff is not new.”