' ' Cinema Romantico: The Cannes Brûlé Palme

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Cannes Brûlé Palme

The story goes that on March 29, 1743, King George II stood up during the chorus of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah, prompting the crowd to do the same, history’s first standing ovation. Of course, as James Bennett II noted in noting this for WQXR in 2017, “the reason for that ascendant, magisterial behavior” was lost to time. Was it reverence, restlessness, something else? Who’s to say? Whatever the reason, apocryphal or not, the story is nevertheless instructive. Not simply because the King stood but because everyone did. That might be because as the King does so do you or else, tyranny, in other words, which is the word Jesse McKinley used, or his headline writers did, in a 2003 piece for The New York Times detailing the phenomenon, deeming it “The Tyranny of the Standing Ovation”, where even the most subpar Broadway shows could be labeled as successes simply because they got standing ovations every night. “Now the standing ovation is de rigueur,” McKinley quoted Liz Smith saying, meaning required by etiquette, unofficially expected, cosmically contracted, which is precisely why I am suspicious of so many standing ovations. If the performance moves you that much, then stand, go for it and God bless. But if it didn’t, don’t, otherwise, what does it mean? Squat, that’s what, just a blasé automatic exercise, like the encore at concerts. When I saw Lissie at Lincoln Hall in 2013, she apparently judged our concluding applause unsatisfactory and did not emerge for an encore. If I was disappointed, I was honestly even more impressed. Make it count! 

That brings us to Cannes, the prestigious annual film festival in the south of France. Cannes is essentially a burger topping bar when it comes to standing ovations. What good is a burger if you can’t slap fried mac cheese on top it, or an entire mackerel fillet, or put the burger inside a root beer float, bun and all? Standing ovations at Cannes don’t even register on the applause scale if they don’t last some excessive amount of minutes. At this year’s festival, Matt Damon’s “Stillwater” received a five-minute standing ovation while Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” received a nine-minute standing ovation. But these ovations hardly compare to the Cannes standing ovation record, an absurd 22 minutes for “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Nicole Kidman’s “The Paperboy” earned a 15-minute standing ovation in 2012 which naturally prompts the question of why that splendidly pulpy performance of Kidman’s didn’t earn her a second Oscar. (Probably because these ovations are meaningless.) Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” got a 13-minute standing ovation while his “Fahrenheit 9/11” was the runner-up to “Pan’s Labyrinth” with a 20-minute ovation, two times that seem to suggest the Cannes cronies simply want to come across more liberal than YOU. Leos Carax’s “Annette” received a five-minute standing ovation this year, putting it on par with “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Inside Llewyn Davis”, not to mention “Stillwater”, among others, though “Annette” had something the rest did not.

Kyle Buchanan did an amusing “anatomy” of “The French Dispatch’s” standing ovation, taking us through the entire nine minutes to demonstrate the inherent absurdity of these exercises in deliberate excess. But “Annette’s” Adam Driver, captured for posterity by Ramin Setoodeh, sort of deconstructed the standing ovation in his own way, lighting up a cigarette a few minutes into the applause and then exhaling into the camera’s lens, seeming to symbolically suggest that all this was merely them blowing smoke up his own ass. Just as good, however, is his co-star, Marion Cotillard, glimpsed in the background and reaching a point where, honestly, she just doesn’t even know what to do with her hands anymore, awkwardly rubbing them together like they’re covered in hand lotion with this pursed lips quasi-smile of a guest who is ready for the damn dinner party to be over

And that is why even if a photo from Cannes in which the respective fashion spirit animals of “The French Dispatch’s” Timothée Chalamet, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray clashed so amusingly and mightily that social media memed it into oblivion, the winner of Cinema Romantico’s not-famously un-exalted Brûlé Palme, a variation on Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or, awarded each year to Cinema Romantico’s favorite Cannes Film Festival attendee, goes not to that quartet but the duo of Cotillard and Driver, bless their souls, not so much standing up to the tyranny of the standing ovation as, in true French fashion, casually dismissing it as so much crap. 

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