Netflix row embroils Cannes as festival kicks off

CANNES • The Cannes Film Festival kicked off with its traditional glamour on Wednesday, despite a row over American streaming giant Netflix.

Will Smith, Jessica Chastain and Fan Bingbing - who are all on the jury that will decide which film wins the Palme d'Or top prize on May 28 - were among the A-listers gracing the red carpet in this French Riviera resort.

Ismael's Ghosts, starring two of France's best-known actresses, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg, opened the festival.

The movie, about a film-maker whose wife disappeared 20 years ago, moves from spy thriller to melodrama and verges on farce and seemed to be well-received.

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Whooping with excitement and high-fiving reporters, Smith looked like he was ready to have fun as a member of the jury.

"West Philadelphia is a long way from Cannes," he said, referring to the scrappy neighbourhood in the north-eastern American city where he grew up.

"The Cannes Film Festival is the ultimate prestige in cinema. So, I am excited to be here, more than anything to learn," he told a news conference alongside other members of the jury.

Is 70 the new 20? Actress Susan Sarandon (far left), 70, upstages models such as Bella Hadid (center), 20, on the red carpet in a deep-plunging green dress by Alberta Ferretti, oversized sunglasses and wavy red hair. Beside Sarandon, actress Julianne Moore, 56, is resplendent in a red feathered dress by Givenchy. Fan Bingbing (second from right, with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar) the fashion superstar has retired. Instead, on this year’s red carpet, the Chinese actress is introducing her alter ego, the Cannes judge who wears subdued colours. PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

From left: Actress Jessica Chastain stuns in a strapless gown; Actress Michelle Yeoh shows off her fit physique and Actress Uma Thurman glams up in a pale pink Versace gown.

But he said he had hesitated about accepting the invitation to be a Cannes judge when he realised it would take up two weeks of his time and would be spent mostly watching films. "I was probably 14 years old the last time I watched three movies in one day," he said.

Both jury president Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish director who has been in competition at Cannes four times, and Smith weighed in on the issue that has dominated conversations so far at Cannes - the inclusion in the competition of Netflix films that will be streamed to subscribers and not shown in movie theatres in France.

Cannes organisers last week announced a rule change that could effectively ban Netflix in the future, insisting that movies in competition must be shown on the big screen in France.

Almodovar took a tough line, telling reporters he could not imagine "the Palme d'Or nor any other prize being given to a film and then not being able to see that film on a large screen".

Many read his comments as an indication that neither of Netflix's highly touted films - Okja by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho and The Meyerowitz Stories by American Noah Baumbach - would win anything at Cannes.

But Smith launched a spirited defence of Netflix, saying it "broadens my children's cinematic global comprehension".

"In my home, Netflix has had absolutely no effect on what they go to the movie theatre to watch. They go to the movie theatre to be humbled in front of certain images and there are other films that they prefer to watch at home."

Stars are arriving under tighter security than in previous years, 10 months after the truck attack in nearby Nice that killed 86 people.

Concrete barriers - in the form of giant flower pots - have been set up to try to block a similar assault and snipers have been positioned above sensitive sites.

Regional security official Patrick Mairesse said the goal was to be as "invisible as possible, to cause as little nuisance as possible - so the party can stay a party".



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Netflix row embroils Cannes as festival kicks off'. Print Edition | Subscribe