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Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die failed to enliven the Cannes Film Festival’s opening night.
The Focus Features zombie comedy had its world premiere Tuesday night inside the Grand Théâtre Lumière at the Palais des Festivals, delivering star power courtesy of a cast list that includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Luka Sabbat and Sara Driver. But it wasn’t enough in the end, as the movie received a tepid response and a modest standing ovation that clocked in at under three minutes for Jarmusch, someone who has experience debuting his films for the often finicky Cannes crowd. Most recently, in 2016, he had two pics in the official selection, with Paterson, starring Driver, opposite Golshifteh Farahani, and Gimme Danger, a music documentary about Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
Jarmusch also wrote the script for The Dead Don’t Die, which focuses a peaceful town called Centerville, where residents are forced to battle the undead when they begin rising from their graves. The film was teased on Monday by Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux during his first press conference of the 2019 event, where he said that the film had ties to U.S. President Donald Trump. “It’s a very anti-Trump film. It talks about American hegemony. America is an extraordinary country. With Jarmusch, we can expect that he is not very happy with what’s happening at present,” said Fremaux.
That might have been overstating it a bit, as the pic’s most overt political message came with a red hat worn by Steve Buscemi’s character: Instead of “Make America Great Again,” it read “Keep America White Again.”
Zombies weren’t the only attraction in Cannes on Tuesday, a particularly beautiful and sunny 70-degree day. Preceding the Dead Don’t Die world premiere, the festival rolled out its opening ceremony program with the help of its master of ceremonies — actor, writer, director and French personality Edouard Baer, who served in the same role last year. He got an assist from festival vets Charlotte Gainsbourg and Javier Bardem, who were tasked with calling the official start of this year’s program in a bilingual welcome.
Baer subsequently welcomed the Competition jury to the Lumière stage one by one (after poking fun at Americans by saying cinema is about money in America, while in France it’s more “sentimental”). Jury president Alejandro G. Iñárritu received a generous applause and was joined by fellow jury members for a moment in the spotlight. Iñárritu is presiding over the Official Selection competition along with actors Elle Fanning and Maimouna N’Diaye and filmmakers Kelly Reichardt, Alice Rohrwacher, Robin Campillo, Pawel Pawlikowski, Yorgos Lanthimos and Enki Bilal, all of whom were in attendance. “I firmly believe in the liberating, humanizing power of the cinema,” Iñárritus said in his remarks.
The ceremony opened with a tribute to the late Agnes Varda, who died March 29, via a clip from her 2019 documentary Varda by Agnes. Following the clip, a spotlight hit an empty director’s chair positioned at the center of the stage.
The Cannes Film Festival is set to run through May 25, but it wasn’t only ticketed attendees who got to witness the first night’s festivities. Since 2010, Cannes, Canal+, the Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français and the CNC have been presenting the opening night ceremony on movie screens across France. This year, close to 600 applied to show the action inside the Lumière.
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