Cannes Festival: Chinese Cinema Snubbed Again in Official Selection

Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival

Thierry Fremaux says titles could still be added, including from the world's No. 2 box-office market, but "more commercial" Chinese films are "not exactly the kind of thing we should present in Cannes."

The 70th Cannes Film Festival on Thursday unveiled its much-anticipated official selection, featuring the usual breadth of big-name U.S. directors — Sophia Coppola, Todd Haynes and Noah Baumbach this year — and global art house talent.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux began the proceedings by noting that 29 countries would be included in this year's event. But one major filmgoing region of the world was again conspicuously absent: China.

Despite being the world's second-largest market in terms of box-office revenue — behind only North America — China has no films currently set to screen at the world's most prestigious film festival next month. The announcement marks the second year in a row that not a single Chinese title was included in Cannes' official selection.

The snub comes as the Chinese film industry continues to emerge as an ever bigger player at the Marche du Filme, the film industry sales event that runs in tandem with the festival.

Fremaux said Thursday that other titles, including Chinese ones, could still be added at a later stage. "There might be a Chinese movie," he said in comments at the press event, which were translated into English, in response to a question from a Chinese journalist. "We didn't see more Chinese films than previously, but there are discussions that we didn't finalize and we might finalize later."

He added: "Chinese cinema is stretched out between auteur cinema, the classical way we understand it here in Europe and in Cannes, and a more commercial cinema, more aimed at those multiplexes opening in your country. That is a cinema that we do not see, that is not shown to us. And when we see [it], this is not exactly the kind of thing we should present in Cannes."

Reaction from the Chinese film industry on Thursday was mostly muted, with little uproar over the lack of inclusion.

"I'm not surprised by this situation," said Jerry Ye, CEO of Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers. "Most Chinese directors and producers are more focused on local attendance for their films than winning awards abroad."

"Chinese cinema is going through a natural period of transition right now," said Sisi Wu, general manager of project development at Beijing-based production company Jetavana Entertainment, referring to China's ongoing box-office slump, which many analysts have blamed on a rash of low-quality commercial films flooding the market.

"While we wait for speculators to retreat from the industry and the market to become more rational, we are focused on developing new talents and better stories — but this takes time," Wu added. "So during this in-between period of turbulence, there aren't many really great films from China to put forward."

Said Ye, "Over time, we will have more Chinese movies that fit the tastes of Cannes."

Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine is the only Chinese film ever to win the Palme d'Or. It triumphed in a tie with Jane Campion's The Piano in 1993. 

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.

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