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OPINION: Cannes Film Festival Attendees Can’t Be Shocked

From protests on the red carpet to body horror films, the limit of attendees' appreciation for off-the-wall performances is tested to the max

This year marks the 75th celebration of the annual cinema expo held in Cannes, France, and the event is getting crazier by the day. While one would assume the average Cannes attendee to be an eccentric cinephile who is shocked by nothing, Cannes 2022 suggests the festival moreso resembles a hazing ritual to initiate industry-leading actors and directors into the art world.

At the premiere of Three Thousand Years of Longing on Friday, a lone protestor crashed the red carpet wearing nothing but underwear with body paint of the Ukrainian flag over her chest and the words “STOP RAPING US” and “SCUM” smeared in black. The protestor was pictured hollering at stars walking the carpet wearing designer gowns before being apprehended by security detail.

The stunt was intended to raise awareness about Russian soldiers committing war crimes in Ukraine, but it quickly got overshadowed by a larger display two days later. On Sunday, a flash mob of feminist protestors forced their way into the event and made headlines at the premiere of Holy Spider, an Iranian “feminist thriller” about a female vigilante who tracks down a male serial killer.

The black-clad demonstrators released smoke grenades, raised fists in the air, and unfurled a banner inscribed with the names of 129 women who died by femicide in France since the previous year’s festival took place.

Although their hearts may have been in the right place, they probably chose the wrong crowd for their display. Cannes attendees may agree with the cause, but they’re far more likely to pay lip service to it than act to foment change.

Film director David Cronenberg unveiled his upcoming sci-fi body horror flick Crimes of the Future at Cannes this year, a gut wrenching story starring K-Stew and Léa Seydoux in which pain is eradicated and “surgery is the new sex.” The horror-drama’s gory premiere polarized Cannes audience members.

Reports from the festival say “dozens of attendees…walked out midway through the film, unable to stomach” the graphic imagery. However, the film impressed others in the audience, earning “a seven-minute standing ovation.”

The Canadian director predicted such a divide in an interview with Variety, describing the audience at Cannes as “very strange… It’s not a normal audience. A lot of people are there just for the prestige or for the red carpet. And they’re not cinephiles. They don’t know my films. So they might be walkouts, whereas a normal audience would have no problem with the movie.” 

Cronenberg was obliged to voice some extremely mundane politicized takes upon his release in strategic PR timing. He told press at Cannes that the current contention over Roe v. Wade in the United States is “the real body horror,” and went on to call the U.S. “completely insane.” 

It’s hard to evaluate art on its own merits when the artist is publicly patting themselves on the back for winning social justice brownie points. Such is the name of the game in celebrity “slacktivism.”

This year’s Cannes festival is hinting to people living outside the Hollywood bubble that perhaps the high-brow society of film critics and art connoisseurs have far more boorish sensibilities than the casual moviegoer’s. They hold ordinary people in contempt, and the feeling is mutual.

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