For some, their first experience of attending the Cannes film festival is love at first sight: the slow-burning infatuation with the idea of sharing the same air across historical times in the same idyllic space as you book a (low-cost) flight and a (fairly overpriced) bed in a 5+ shared house; the near-manic commitment to getting to as many screenings as possible; the faint tremors of fear as to whether you’ll be turned away at the last minute as you queue. Such a bundle of emotions is warranted for what is perhaps the most glitzy and prestigious festival on the circuit, but before I get onto this potent contradiction, I’d like to add that there are those (like myself), for whom returning to Cannes holds the allure of reuniting with a long-distance partner after a year apart and all the hopefulness such an encounter presupposes, which relies heavily on having been part of the first group of lovestruck newbies. Then, there’s those for whom Cannes is as tedious as getting back together with an ex you secretly cannot stand, but know all too well. Three versions of a critic-Cannes relationship and each of them share one trait: they are one-sided. Cannes receives you, but can it really love you back? 

Aside from the way it benefits from the rhetoric of love—which I argue are as potent as any ethical dilemma—such a question requires the reconsideration of how we define cinephilia on the film festival circuit. While Cannes is certainly a beast of its own, with its historically proven propulsion to oppose (sometimes for the sake of opposing) and its structural inequalities, and embedded, immutable hierarchies, there is no easy answer. Film festivals are often a labour of love, put together with less funding than what would allow a fair pay across the board, not to mention the volunteer work baked into the structure, but in the high-strung, well-funded case of Cannes,, where does that love go? If love, like energy, cannot be lost and is only converted from one form to another, we’ve been told that cinephilia is what is needed to close the circuit.

Locating cinephilia is no easy task. In theory, it resides in the spectator’s relationship to the screen and this screen can be conceived of as a multiplicity of things: a mirror, a window, a curtain. Philosopher Stanley Cavell wrote in 1971 that “A screen is a barrier,” asking “what does the silver screen? It screens me from the world it holds — that is, screens its existence from me.”1 This primary separation, in opposition to the suturing effects discussed by psychoanalytical film studies, is what I, like Cavell, see as a strong foundation for a transformatory return to the world, once we view it on screen. But the undeniable romanticism of this supposition cannot hide the fact that such an answer bypasses the circumstances of viewing, which, in this case, are exceptional. This is Cannes we are talking about, after all. 

This particular exceptionalism makes it daunting for me to write a Cannes report at present, but my faith in the power of love is strong. While this year’s (76th) edition of the festival had its fair share of political and celebrity gambits (note: record number of women in Competition, Johnny Depp, The Idol) and many reports have already fleshed out the festival experience with the damning sobriety it deserves, I opt for questioning the love (philia) in ‘cinephilia’.

A suggestion on the safer side would concern cinephilia as a practice, rather than theory. It is the act of either making films or participating in ‘the cinematic’, however we may define it. From quoting one-liners to owning merch and paraphernalia, the praxis of cinephilia cannot escape religious or even cult-ish comparisons due to its somewhat ritualistic setting, the cinema space . If that special breed of ‘in-person’ cinephilia is inherently rooted in the special conditions in which we view films—the darkened room, the big screen, the audience-crowd—then are festivals an elevated form of this already existent state? Maybe so, since they are exclusive by nature, or at least parts of them are always sectioned out for industry, press, or the team. In that regard, Cannes is notoriously known for being elitist, expensive, and purposefully impenetrable, unless you hold a certain amount of privilege (which is, in its own way, always a moving target). Naturally, these obstacles work like a charm to attract people to come or to come back, just as any type of breadcrumbing would lure an anxiously attached person back to their tormenting lover.

There are so many instances that make Cannes a festival that’s difficult to love, and they are usually the ones that make it impossible for it to love you back. Places can be as fickle as people, and the white-hot surfaces of the Palais, the rigorous dress code and security, the labyrinthian      walk around the fences at rush hour to make your screening on time, are all things that can make or break a day. If it goes badly, it affects your viewership, engagement, and work. If it goes well, though, you feel invincible.

The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed

Across the program, the films which stood out for me offered love as refuge; not only did they come forth with a love-driven narrative or reflect on the intricacies of an often-troubled amorous relationship, but they made use of the cinephilic circumstances of cinema viewing in Cannes—at press, general, or market screenings—to transmit  love as a current that’s never lost. In the Quinzaine, one such film was Joanna Arnow’s The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, with its anti-dramatism and mannered command of both the time and image of relationships. The Brooklyn-based writer-director-actor held audiences in her grasp in a more resolute way than the screen counterparts of the casual BDSM relationships she portrayed on screen ever did. Not only that, The Feeling has mastered the art of ellipsis and arrested development to undermine some and paradoxically heighten other erotic features of a sustained quest for love, gesturing towards a kind of purity, sought even in the messiest of circumstances. It’s this purity that Arnow channels into the film’s form with steady, wide shot, long takes where time becomes an almost solid block that separates Ann (Arnow) from the fictions she had shackled herself to. Evidently anti-romantic, the film still remains a call for a new, radical kind of romance: a self-assertive one where assertiveness, as we commonly know it, is limited and of a revolution where the status quo of fleeting freedoms and submission threatens to become      eternal damnation.

More often than not, love is found in the inexplicable fit, the ‘match’ between two people, not in the spaces between them. A staple of every romantic drama or comedy is the so-called ‘meet-cute’ which sets in motion the amorous potential of its leads. This is appropriated by Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki as an accidental, but somehow fated encounter between two workers who can’t keep a job in Helsinki’s dwindling manual work circumstances in Kuolleet lehdet (Fallen Leaves). Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is a shelf-stacker who is fired over pocketing an expiring sandwich and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is a construction worker on the sauce. They both end up at the same karaoke bar. When their awkward encounter ends with a telephone number exchange, a tragically beautiful gust of wind sweeps the little piece of paper out of Holappa’s hands. If it’s fate, they’ll meet again. The film introduces Pöysti as a steadfast, inspiring lead (     I was already aware of her talents from her tempered performance in Pavel Andonov’s            achingly intimate short film Blue Note from 2022) who not only has the courage to state her needs in a way many women such as myself could learn a thing or two from, but her effervescent presence carries this gem of a film into the category of the truly wondrous. As far as Cannes Competition films go, Fallen Leaves elicited the most audible sighs, gasps, laughter, ‘oooh’-s, and I swear I could sense everyone in the audience smiling wide at the film’s last scene, the closing equivalent of a ‘meet-cute’. The strong sense of belonging emanating from Kaurismäki’s film is, in part, a tribute to An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957) and the Finnish director’s own pantheon of absurdist, but warm-hearted encounters; yet, love and cinephilia can coexist outside of derivative comparisons.     

Belonging is both a feeling and a process; jump-started by a chance meeting, what delineates it from simple infatuation is the lengthy richness of unfolding. Slowly, pleasurably, but never without a startling puncture and a pang, this process engulfs not one, but at least two, and the temporal nature of cinema as a medium captures the bittersweetness of it all, yet still invites the audience to belong as well, even if only for a little while. L’été dernier (Last Summer, Catherine Breillat) pairs a married woman with her teenage stepson in a French remake of the Danish film Queen of Hearts (May el-Toukhy, 2019). It is radically tender, especially for Breillat. She moulds the theme of romantic belonging out of a taboo, a gesture which is more transgressive on paper than it feels on screen but, in the perceived absence of her characteristic irony, this story doesn’t have to rely on excess, at least not in the way one would expect. With her latest, Breillat condenses overwhelming passion into lovemaking, instead of going the other way around. If, for example, her 2002 film Sex is Comedy probed the limits of sexual intimacy through invasive re-enactments and meta-narrative wittiness, Last Summer doesn’t question the existence of intimacy in sex—which is already radical enough, for her female protagonists see pleasure as depressingly solipsistic—instead, it points to its endless depths.

There is an unlikely love story blooming in Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry (Elene Naveriani) where the captivating Eka Chavleishvili plays Etero, a middle-aged woman whose reputation as a spinster keeps her safe from the villagers’ prying eyes in rural Georgia. In fact, Etero’s life and world is enriched by a near-death experience, closely followed by a sexual encounter (which we’re led to believe was her first one ever). Suddenly, a newfound sensuality rearranges the frame: close-ups are tokens of intimacy because they are earned, not because the cinematic grammar predates a film’s plot or style. Naveriani gifts us an assured, wondrous sophomore feature and with it, the promise of a better tomorrow and a life after love; for Etero, it’s only just begun. 

The Pot au Feu

A prolonged, beautiful beginning haunts La Passion de Dodin Bouffant (The Pot au Feu, Tran Anh Hung), another sensual delight which literally marries food and love, gastronomy and cinephilia in mouth-wateringly long processual takes: cooking as an artform and cinema as a slave to that artform. Hands come into the frame for most of the film’s opening as vegetables are being picked, washed, diced, steamed, crushed; as meat is being salted, marinated, cured, sliced, skinned; all of the ways a human hand can interact with a certain kind of food, you’ve got it. While the process of preparing a meal is to some extent comparable to that of sexual prelude, we as audience are never tricked into seeing a correlation between food and sex, as much as we are invited to experience the mutually enriching, albeit metonymic relationship between food and love in the faces of Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel. 

Others take the task more literally. In Simple Comme Sylvain (The Nature of Love, Monia Chokri     ), the looming question of whether there’s love after marriage is soon replaced by the role of infidelity and personal growth. Chokri was inspired by bell hooks’ book      All About Love: New Visions in the way she conceived of her protagonist, a philosopher whose work is on the ethics of… love. The idea that love is a choice, an act, a constantly reaffirmed decision to keep loving and giving, informs the film on a formal and narrative level. On the one hand, the inventive use of editing suggests a non-sequitur, a radical shift from a causal logic of love: splicing sexually charged scenes with an insightful private moment by virtue of a zoom and match on action instead of a hard cut turns The Nature of Love into a representative of its own subject. Furthermore, Chokri herself admits she was reading bell hooks again while editing, shaping the rhythm by the philosophy of the book itself.

It’s love that can govern and betray us, pushing one towards such an extreme as suicide or committing a crime; the generative, creative power of love fuses with the impulses of destruction and such ambivalence shone bright in the Palme D’Or winner, Justine Triet’s Anatomie d’une chute (Anatomy of a Fall). A marvellously composed Sandra Hüller (playing a successful, newly widowed writer named Sandra) defends both herself and her right of fiction in a murder trial investigating her husband’s window fall and subsequent death. If the only two options are suicide out of relationship despair or revenge murder, there seems to be less room for love in Triet’s film. But the attempt to uncover the past and understand where we went wrong is pivotal for the courtroom scenes of the film. When a tape recording of an escalating fight resurfaces, the film’s response is to offer viewers a reconstruction of the scene in one take: and not just any scene, but one of blood-curdling realism with the micro- and macro aggressions which shape a charged, frail stage of an otherwise solid relationship.

It might be considered cynical to mention Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest among such a selection – it is more than simply bad taste to place Holocaust horrors next to human love. If anything, the premise of this film can be seen as love’s opposite; as writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously wrote, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Even if his characters are (and he exposes them for it), Glazer is anything but indifferent. Love is in the           meticulous approach towards production design (Chris Oddy) and camerawork (Lukasz Zal) under his aegis, the consistency of a suffocating world that one wants to explode, but cannot help but admire. The birth of the Final Solution and the gas chamber (as suggested by a scene in the film that shows a blueprint) ties in neatly with the industrial efficiency and the urge towards      automatization on all levels, as yet another forewarning against indifference. 

Behind the Scenes of La Chimera

A deep, almost catastrophic devotion governs Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, a film that finds poeticism on the ground, above, and below. Josh O’Connor is Arthur, ‘The Englishman’ who’s come to Tuscany for love and has stayed for work. The love is a young girl who’s missing without a trace and the work consists of grave robbery. Such a provocative coupling testifies to Rohrwacher’s insistent line of interest in exploring the clashes of civilisation’s greater narratives (modern versus pre-modern, life versus death, natural versus supernatural) and her creative freedom to concoct a magnificent whirlpool of myth, politics, history, and love. To be more precise, her film deals with the archaeology of love, and not only because Arthur possesses the uncanny gift of providence regarding where the next Etruscan treasures to unearth are buried. His relationship to the earth makes him anything but chthonic: since his visions include his long-     lost love, Beniamina, he is more ethereal than grounded. In an elaborate allegory or retelling of an underworld myth, La Chimera radiates the love for land, people, and films without the crutches of a straightforwardly articulated narrative. It’s a film made out of patches of light, literally and metaphorically, and by virtue of this, comes very close to the nature of cinema and photography, painting with light. 

It wouldn’t be controversial to say that Cannes, of all places, is in no need of re-enchantment and that these films merely complement – or worse, are exemplary of – the ‘festival film’ as a label and quasi-genre. While the Croisette in late May clouds itself in the smokescreen of glitz, glam, and premieres, its seductive powers remain. But that sense of belonging, that process of loving, of actively choosing to love day after day, year after year – how do we regain that, unless we look to the films for re-enchantment?      

This year, I repeatedly asked myself, “Is Cannes a place for love?” And while I’m not disputing that people can fall in or out of love, especially within the confines of a special, but ultimately charged professional chronotope, the love I have in mind is not something that exists solely      between a single viewer and a screen. Such cinephilia thrives at festivals, but it also feeds off comparison: Who loves more? Those who would rather see films with an extensive runtime, such as Steve McQueen’s four hour Occupied City, and avoid all mainstream titles as if the plague? Or maybe it’s those omnivores who pack in 40+ films in 10 days, undiscriminating in length and format? We know what St. Paul says of love, and most importantly, what love isn’t: “not jealous, not pompous, not inflated,” and even if the New Testament Christian ideal might not ring entirely true in the context of cinephilia, it certainly can serve as a call to re-examine our relationship with it, as critics, viewers, makers; as partakers in acts of love.

Festival de Cannes
16 – 27 May


  1. Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. Enlarged ed. Cambridge, Mass.;: Harvard University Press, 1979, p.24