CANNES, France — The image gracing this year's 75th anniversary Cannes Film Festival poster comes from "The Truman Show," specifically that climactic moment when Jim Carrey's Truman climbs a staircase against a domed wall painted to look like a cloudy blue sky. This is the outer edge of a carefully constructed set that has been his lifelong home and prison. It's also a grand illusion, a reminder of how movies and TV shows construct a deeply transporting simulacrum of reality. And because this is Cannes, that stairway to heaven also evokes the famous red-carpeted steps leading up to the Palais des Festivals, the longtime headquarters of the grandest cinematic showcase in the world.
I haven't exhausted my metaphors yet. Returning to Cannes for the first time in three years thanks to the pandemic, I confess I find myself feeling a bit like Truman, stretching out my hand as though I don't quite trust what my eyes are telling me, and feeling both excited and nervous about taking my first few steps out of the bubble. That's an exaggeration, of course.
For starters, this trip hardly counts as my first attempted return to some state of normalcy (and Cannes, a bubble to end all bubbles, is no one's definition of normalcy to begin with). There's also the fact that, after canceling its 2020 event, Cannes bounced back last year with a resurgent program that featured the premieres of "Annette," "Drive My Car," "The French Dispatch," "Red Rocket" and "The Worst Person in the World," among others.
That particular edition of Cannes, the first of the COVID-19 era, unfolded (I'm told) under a weird cloud of excitement, anxiety and cautious optimism. Attendees wore masks during screenings and carved out time in their busy schedules to get regular PCR tests. This year's edition, for better or worse, is moving full steam ahead. Most of last year's safety protocols have been relaxed (prematurely, I suspect), though some of us have come as prepared as possible, with masks and rapid-test kits in our suitcases and a second vaccine booster dose running through our veins.
Maybe we should have stayed away, leaving the festivities to the truly festive-minded. But how could we? One year without a Cannes was bad enough, and two was far worse; three would have been unimaginable. And this is Cannes' 75th birthday, an occasion for which the festival's longtime director, Thierry Fremaux, and his selection committee have pulled together a characteristically wide-ranging program.
As ever, their decisions advance an argument for the irrepressible vitality of cinema as a great, enduring public pastime — a reason, even in these eras of global pestilence and streaming-platform domination, for movie lovers from all over the world to come together, screen together and, yes, breathe the same air together.
Their points of convergence at this year's festival will include a presumptive blockbuster, "Top Gun: Maverick," the Tom Cruise-starring action sequel that was delayed for two years due to the pandemic; it makes its world premiere Wednesday at Cannes and opens May 27 in theaters worldwide. Some will doubtless be eager for a first look at Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis," a musician biopic whose mere combination of subject and filmmaker conjures precisely the vision of glitz, glamour and go-for-broke auteurism that is this festival's raison d'etre. (Still others might make time for — what else? — "The Truman Show," which will screen Tuesday night on the beach as part of the festival's annual Cinema de la Plage program.)
Event movies are often seen as the medium's last great hope, potential box office juggernauts in the making. But the art can't survive by Hollywood alone, and I'm especially curious about the movies that arrive here on less grandiose swells of advance hype, the ones from great filmmakers whose work I've loved in the past and hope to love again.
Here, in alphabetical order by title, is a not-even-close-to-comprehensive list of 12 movies I'm excited to see at the 75th Cannes Film Festival:
1. "Armageddon Time"