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Some of the hottest new titles of the festival season — including Martin Scorsese’s mob epic The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci; Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat with Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman; and David Michod’’s Henry V drama The King, featuring Timothée Chalamet — will be avoiding the Croisette.
Expect them to turn up at in Venice or Toronto this year — as happened last year with two Netflix productions: Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
Personally, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux has no problem with Netflix. He welcomed the streamer back in 2017, picking both Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories and Bong Joon Ho’s Okja for the Cannes competition lineup. But opposition from French distributors — which want to force Netflix to release its films in theaters, not just online — pushed Fremaux to take a hardline stance. Hopes for a last-minute compromise — Netflix films screening out of competition or the streamer agreeing to a theatrical release for competition titles — were squashed when Cannes unveiled its official 2019 lineup on Thursday.
It is hard to see how the Cannes/Netflix impasse can be overcome. Under French law, if a company releases a film in cinemas, it is required to wait a full three years — 36 months — before the movie can be streamed online. There have been moves to shorten that release window, but there is no sign French distributors would accept the kind of day-and-date release Netflix wants for its movies.
Cannes is also unlikely to budge. While other big festivals, including Venice, Berlin and Toronto, have allowed Netflix films in, despite, in some cases, protests from local distributors, Cannes has staked its reputation as the last guardian of the cinematic experience. For the world’s most prestigious festival only “real movies” — meaning films shown in theaters — deserve the honor of competing for Cannes’ Palme d’Or.
Netflix could end the dispute by allowing its films to screen out of competition in Cannes — as the the U.S. studios frequently do (see Paramount’s premiere of its Elton John biopic Rocketman on the Croisette this year.) But, so far, the company has refused to do so. Last year, when Fremaux announced that Netflix titles were ineligible to compete for the Palme d’Or, Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos pulled the firm’s full roster from the festival. This year, according to sources near the company, Netflix declined to submit any of its movies to Cannes for consideration.
For Netflix, Cannes isn’t just a marketing platform. It is a seal of approval. Being in the Cannes competition — or winning the Palme d’Or — is the ultimate weapon in the battle for awards glory. Netflix reportedly spent up to $40 million on its Oscar campaign for Roma, so it obviously takes critical accolades seriously.
It’s no secret Netflix is throwing everything it has behind Scorsese’s The Irishman for the 2020 Oscars. Seeing as the film won’t be starting its campaign in France this year, it looks like Netflix will do another Roma and kick off its awards show in Venice.
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