The Cannes Ketchup: The Florida Project Director Sean Baker Debuts Latest to Rave Reviews

All the news and reviews from the 74th Cannes Film Festival, updated daily.

by | July 15, 2021 | Comments

Join us daily as Rotten Tomatoes reports on all the goings-on at the Cannes Film Festival. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers to festival favorites for jury recognition– or perhaps the darling of “The Croisette”destined to go the distance for end-of-year accolades – we will break it all down for you here.

Rotten Tomatoes is in the south of France to break down the biggest news, acquisitions, early reactions, and other happenings coming out of the 74th Cannes Film Festival every day. Check back here for ongoing updates, including the premieres of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, the Velvet Underground documentary from Todd Haynes, and new efforts from Sean Baker, Sean Penn, Matt Damon, and Joanna Hogg.


The Florida Project Director Sean Baker Debuts Latest to Rave Reviews

Sean Baker at Cannes

(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Wednesday, July 14: The Florida Project director Sean Baker is the focus of our final installment of the Cannes Ketchup. The festival will continue until Saturday with an award ceremony on Friday, but we will end our daily “French Dispatch” with the premiere and reactions from Baker’s Red Rocket. The Tangerine helmer’s latest — like his previous films — is an urban fantasy about a group of people who exist in the margins of society, particularly those who work in the sex industry.

This time around, his subject is a narcissistic former porn star turned “suitcase pimp” — down-on-their-luck (usually homeless) hustlers who prey on women to fund them under the guise of “being cared for.” We follow one who returns home to the Texas gulf after his dreams of porn star glory are dashed out in Los Angeles. Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) may have hit a rough patch, living with his estranged wife, but thanks to a donut counter girl he meets three weeks shy of her 18th birthday, he sees dollar signs in his future.

Baker himself has admitted that he expected backlash due to the subject and general lack of accountability for doing dirty deeds, but so far, that has not been the case. Jo-Anne Titmarsh of HeyUGuys wrote, “Baker’s skewering of modern life is as vibrant and bleak as ever. He elicits some phenomenal performances, through which we see the hollow heart of the America dream.” An interesting film to try and peg for end-of-year awards, it will undoubtedly have success at the Independent Spirit Awards, with possibly just enough for an Oscar push for Best Original Screenplay or Rex for Best Actor. Jury President Spike Lee also seemed to be a fan, marking this one a possible dark horse for the Palme d’Or. Come back to Rotten Tomatoes on Monday for our festival wrap-up on the best things we saw at Cannes and where you can watch them.

Blue Bayou and Aline Impress; Titane Brings Truly Bats–t Energy

Linh-Dan Pham and Justin Chon at Cannes

(Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 13: The cast of The French Dispatch had to assemble quickly after the premiere for an early morning photocall on Tuesday, and while everyone opted for a laid-back look, the film, which is Fresh at 88% on the Tomatometer, is still the toast of the town. Later in the day, Justin Chon brought his latest effort, Blue Bayou, to Cannes, and it was received well by critics. Iana Murray of The Playlist wrote, “What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in these quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures.” Chon wrote and directed the feature as he has for all of his previous films, and this time around, he plays a Louisiana man who learns he was adopted illegally and now faces deportation. The Focus Features film looks to hit theaters in September, just in time for an awards season/festival run.


(Photo by Carole Bethuel)

After its trailer lit up the Twittersphere a few weeks ago and neared cult status among Dion/pop music fans around the globe, the highly buzzed-about unofficial Celine Dion biopic Aline was also surprisingly well received, with Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson noting the film “accesses what lies at the heart of Dion as a public figure: she’s a bit of a weirdo, goofy and corny and gaudy and fabulous.” Aline would have been the hottest topic of the day if it weren’t for the film that closed it out, as Julia Ducournau took the shine off everyone with Titane. If you caught and enjoyed Ducournau’s first feature, Raw, you will feel right at home with her follow-up, a truly bats–t film that features, among other things, vigorous sex with a car, impregnation of said car, a serial killer orgy takedown, and, best of all, the 1990s one-hit wonder “Macarena” making a triumphant — and lifesaving — appearance.

Star-Studded Cast of The French Dispatch Wows the Crowd

Cast of The French Dispatch at the Cannes 2021 premiere

(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Monday, July 12: Last night’s premiere for The French Dispatch was the first gala with the electricity and vibrancy of pre-pandemic times. The cast all rode together in a throwback party bus to the Grand Lumiere Theatre, where the assembled crowd was treated to selfies and autographs from the cast members who disembarked. Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and director Wes Anderson were greeted with loud cheers as they made their way up the red carpet steps.

The film stitches together a series of vignettes related to the final issue of a Kansas newspaper’s French edition. Possibly the most hyper-stylized film of his career with plenty of his signature shots, The French Dispatch dazzled the audience. Festival attendance is significantly down this year with less than half of the delegates from last year present, so many galas have had to close the balcony to fill seats. This was not the case here, as the premiere of Wes Anderson’s tenth feature filled every seat of the grand theater with many outside still hoping for a ticket.

The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with Jessica Kiang of The Playlist calling it, “A work of such unparalleled Andersonian wit, that at times the sheer level of detail – mobile, static, graphic and typographic – that bedecks the screen will slacken your jaw in awe.” This is one of several films Searchlight will have in contention for the Oscars, but a gorgeous love letter to journalism could be their best bet to repeat after winning last year with Nomadland. Check out our round-up of first reviews to hear what else critics are saying about The French Dispatch.

Spike Lee Catches the Euro Cup Between Screenings

Spike Lee at Cannes

(Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Getty Images)

Sunday, July 11: The weekend gave us a flurry of Palme d’Or contenders that many are betting will be favored by the Jury led by Spike Lee. Lee himself still managed to balance a bit of football time between screenings at the Kering Women in Motion dinner. Huddled with some other Croisette A-listers, Lee tried to see what he could from a tablemate’s cell phone before the event organizers wheeled out a television with the Italy vs. England Euro Cup Final on screen.

While the two football clubs battled it out, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car debuted to rapturous reviews, with many calling it the best of the festival. The three-hour epic road-trip film centers on a theater director and his chauffeur as the pair build a friendship to heal past trauma along the road. Other favorites of the day were Compartment Number 6 and The Worst Person in the World. Compartment Number 6, which takes place on a fated train ride to somewhere near the top of the world, had many remarking on its inventive plotting. Todd McCarthy of Deadline noted it was filled with “vivid emotional twists and turns that are charted with unusual acuity.”

The Worst Person in the World hits on more of a comedic note, but it is often just as tragic as the tense train ride in Compartment Number 6. Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote that this new melancholy romance for aimless thirtysomethings is a journey “that finds such beauty in all the emerging grain and variation of being alive.” These may be the ones to beat midway through the festival, but we still have several noteworthy entries ahead, including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Sean Baker’s Red Rocket. 

Sean Penn Makes a Hopeful Return to Cannes

Sean Penn at Cannes

(Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

Saturday, July 10: Sean Penn returned to Cannes hoping to erase his previous trip with The Last Face, which was booed and noted by some as the worst film to ever screen in competition. This time, Penn directs and stars as a father to a young girl in Flag Day, as told in chapters over several years. The narrative begins in the 1970s and follows the daughter (played by his real-life daughter, Dylan Frances Penn) from youth to adulthood as she grapples with the realization that her father is an inveterate conman, even as she loves him deeply. While this is a step up from his last effort, initially favorable reviews for the film have cooled to a more mixed reception, and the most memorable thing to come out of the Cannes premiere of Flag Day will most likely be Penn’s pointed comments on the American COVID response.

Jodie Turner-Smith Lights Up the Red Carpet

Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja and Jodie Turner-Smith on the Red Carpet for After Yang at Cannes 2021

(Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

Thursday, July 8:  The first night of the festival with palpable buzz kicked off when After Yang star Jodie Turner-Smith lit up the red carpet ahead of the film’s premiere. The Queen & Slim star was the living embodiment of the word “statuesque,” draped in a strapless Gucci gown with a black vinyl and crystal bustier over a cream skirt with yellow crystal embroidery and canary yellow ostrich feathers. It was a fitting ensemble for a film that also captured the attention of critics here on the ground, where it is still Fresh at 89% after a handful of reviews.

The film is a delicate tearjerker with lofty ambitions as it attempts to dissect grand notions about grief, death, identity, and ethical technology, and many are already pegging it as an early favorite for the Un Certain Regard competition. Director Kogonada’s (Columbus) second feature film also stars Colin Farrell, Haley Lu Richardson, newcomer Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja and The Umbrella Academy’s Justin H. Min as the family AI, which suddenly malfunctions.

Stillwater Earns a Standing Ovation That Brings Matt Damon to Tears

Thursday, July 8: Premiering just after After Yang was the Focus Features film Stillwater, which will hit theaters in just a couple of weeks. Starring Matt Damon as an Oklahoma oil rig worker out to free his daughter from prison in Marseille after she is convicted — wrongfully, she claims — of murder. Stillwater was well received by critics — it’s currently Fresh at 88% — and Damon, who wiped away tears during the film’s standing ovation, was clearly touched and surprised by the rapturous reception from the festival crowd. Carrying the entire narrative while sporting a thick Oklahoman Accent, Damon could be a play for Best Actor at end-of-year awards. Couple this with the fact that it’s the first film from director Tom McCarthy since 2015’s Best Picture-winning Spotlight and it will undoubtedly end up in the conversation.

The Souvenir: Part II

(Photo by A24)

Also gaining significant buzz yesterday was Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her previous feature, The Souvenir. The Souvenir: Part II is a continuation of her semi-autobiographical tale about a romance between a film student named Julie and a heroin addict. It picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as Julie attempts to translate what she experienced into a narrative feature; a meta premise that is masterfully executed. Honor Swinton Byrne reprises her role as Julie, and she is joined by her real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, who has five features at the festival this year, including Wes Anderson’s highly anticipated The French Dispatch.

Day Two: A Pair of Docs Are the Talk of the Town

Wednesday, July 7: Day two of the first Cannes Film Festival back from the pandemic saw things get into the groove. After sparse mask compliance on day one, the staff at the Grand Lumiere Theatre seemed to make more of an effort to remind patrons to comply with the mask-always-on mandate. This was a welcome action, as a COVID-19 outbreak would be the worst possible outcome for a festival that seems to have made considerable efforts to keep the events safe.

However, day two wasn’t all about compliance or daily COVID tests; the two most talked-about films were English language documentaries. Todd Haynes presented an artful time capsule chronicling the history and influence of the iconic counterculture band The Velvet Underground. Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist wrote, “Todd Haynes’ striking and daring The Velvet Underground doc is as jagged, artful and unconventional as the iconoclastic art-rock group itself.” With just a handful of reviews in so far, it’s currently at 100% on the Tomatometer, placing it atop our Cannes Scorecard, followed closely by yesterday’s other highly buzzworthy doc, Val, which centers on actor Val Kilmer. Kilmer himself tweeted his followers looking forward to  “sharing [his] life’s story with all of you.”

In May, Amazon Studio acquired the US and North American distribution of Val from A24, then just hours before the film screened at Cannes, Amazon released a compelling trailer for the intimate doc. Chronicling the highs and lows of Val Kilmer’s four decade-long career, Val uses deeply personal archival footage shot by Kilmer himself along with contemporary interviews to give a fuller picture of his unflappable spirit and the man we meet off screen. “This raw, wildly original, and unflinching documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled, sometimes hilarious look at what it means to be an artist and a complex man,” writes Jen Maravegias of Pajiba.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard Are Pioneers for Simulated Sex on Screen

Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver at Cannes

(Photo by Toni Anne Barson/Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 6:  Annette, the new rock opera starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, seemed destined only to flourish in the sunlight of the French Riviera, and we have to ask, “Would that be such a bad thing?” Driver, who returns to open Cannes as he did in 2019 with Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, has made a few headlines in just mere hours. His co-star Marion Cotillard helped him out by proclaiming him as the Neil Armstrong of musical cunnilingus, going as far as to say, “We found ourselves singing in very complicated positions, doing back-crawling or mimicking cunnilingus; acrobatic positions that technically modify your song.” Whether this choice was authentic realism or merely a “sex sells” ploy has somewhat split critics, but the first English-language feature from Leos Carax currently sits at 90% on the Tomatometer and enjoyed a 5-minute standing ovation on opening night, so who’s to say it mattered? During that ovation, Driver made his second batch of headlines by lighting up a cigarette — another moment only possible in Cannes.

Despite the upbeat trailer we saw a few weeks ago, Annette is a more dour affair than the opening pop song “So Can We Start” would have you believe. The catchy earworm penned by the Sparks brothers, along with all of the film’s music, is a compelling entry for the Best Original Song at the Oscars, but that would be the only tune of Anette that could aspire to such heights. Bizarre, heady, moving, and ridiculous all in the same moment, the film was summed up best by Ed Potton for Times (UK) sums, who called it an “anti-La La Land with dashes of Pinocchio, a fitting curtain-raiser to a Cannes like no other.” If that sounds like your cup of tea, or maybe you just wanna see Kylo Ren go down on someone while intermittently crooning, be on the lookout for it when Amazon releases the audacious rock opera stateside later this year.

Day One: Cinema Returns to Cannes

Bong Joon-ho at Cannes 2021

(Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 6: Cinema on “The Croisette” (the affectionate name for the area in Cannes where the world gathers to see the best in cinema) is back; festival director Thierry Frémaux said as much in his opening night remarks. Frémaux and his team dared to dream the impossible dream — an in-person premiere film festival — and then made that dream come true. The stars and press have now gathered after rigorous testing and COVID protocols, and for the most part, things look to be on track for a seamless event. That was the sentiment everyone who took the stage on opening night wanted to convey: “We are here.” At the opening ceremony, Bong Joon-ho, last year’s Palm d’Or winner for Parasite, and 2021 Honorary Palm d’Or recipient Jodie Foster were joined by this year’s Jury President Spike Lee and director Pedro Almodóvar to officially kick things off with one word spoken in Korean, French, Spanish, and English: “Open.”

While the same could not be said for the issue-plagued Cannes ticketing website, however, which faltered most of the day Tuesday, even that failed to dim the intoxicating air of this year’s festivities. The program is much as it has always been but also something entirely new, overcrowded but now with a (mostly) masked audience, bureaucratic but now paying careful attention to testing and (most of) ticketing. And the event organizers look to have pulled it off. The opening night film and a few soirees have gone off without a hitch. But the big questions are yet unanswered, namely which film will be “the one” to rise above the rest. Follow along with us here to find out.

Check-in daily for more updates from the Cannes Film Festival.

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