The opening ceremony of the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival had something for everyone: the drama of the red carpet, the festival’s signature standing ovations, frequent laughter during the screening of Michel Hazanavicius’s Final Cut — and one major surprise guest that outshone everything else.
The Tuesday gala, held at the Palais Des Festivals, was a return to form after a full cancellation in 2020 and a slimmed-down version held last July. This year, the crowds, the black-tie fashion, and the pomp and circumstance are clearly back in full effect, and festivalgoers were buzzing with excitement as they walked the steps in their designer gowns and black bowties.
Ahead of the screening of Final Cut, the opening ceremony introduced this year’s jury, led by French actor Vincent Lindon, who received a standing ovation when he took the stage. “It’s here the first time people stood up to me. It’s here the first time I received an award,” he said of the festival’s significance in his own career.
Indeed, many in the audience seemed to be basking in the return to form, jumping into long standing ovations throughout the ceremony. Forest Whitaker, who was given a lifetime achievement award, received a two minutes standing ovation that seemed to overwhelm him before he spoke. “The encouragement and support I received at Cannes ensured me that I’d chosen the right path for myself,” he said, reflecting on winning the best actor award at the festival for Bird 34 years ago. “This festival invites us to view the many pieces within our shared humanity.”
But no appearance was met with more excitement and appreciation than the surprise speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was beamed in on video. Receiving a standing ovation before and after his speech, he spoke about the power of film, along with his determination to end the conflict in his country. “We continue fighting. We have no choice but to continue fighting for our freedom,” he said in his speech, which was translated into both French and English. “To those who can hear me I say do not despair. The hate of man will pass and dictators die.”
The ongoing war was top of mind for many who took the stage. Julianne Moore, who served as the official opener of the festival, said it was an honor to be back in Cannes to “celebrate freedom, creation, audacity and peace,” while Lindon said that the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine “tortures my conscience.”
The somber but powerful moments in the ceremony were balanced out by the laughter that followed during the opening night film, a comedy about a group of filmmakers tasked with recreating a Japanese zombie movie. From The Artist director Hazanavicius, Final Cut stars Bérénice Bejo, Romain Duris and Finnegan Oldfield, and is a French remake of the 2017 Japanese film One Cut of the Dead. It received laughter throughout, and a warm, almost-four minute standing ovation. The cast and attendees filed out of the Palais to attend a dinner at the Martinez hotel, with a guest list that included Moore, Lashana Lynch, Eva Longoria, Katherine Langford, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
The opening night film at Cannes has become known as a gamble, with some falling short of expectations in the past few years. But Final Cut seemed to strike the exact tone necessary for this year’s festival: an ode to filmmaking and all its magic and madness.