At the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, which opens Tuesday, six titles – not counting midnight screenings or the TV series The idol – will be screened “out of competition”, meaning with a major red carpet premiere and the heavy media attention that comes with it, but without being eligible for any festival awards.
They include a party opener Joan of Barrystarring Johnny Dep (following in the footsteps of star vehicles from 2011 The Beaver to that of 2018 Gotti); party closer Elementary, from Pixar (animated photos are almost never invited to contests); franchise movie Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate (a 2008 Indiana Jones photo also shown out of competition, as well as episodes of Kill Bill, Matrix, Oceans, Star Wars And X-Men); and the most eagerly awaited title of cinematographers, Martin Scorsese‘s Killers of the flower moon.
Among those, killers is a unique case, in that party director Thierry Fremaux revealed in April that it was — and continues to be — invited to screen in competition. He said he was initially only offering the film for an out-of-competition slot, as global digital distributor Apple, like most other streamers, will not usually wait for a long cinema window before streaming as required by the festival for a competition slot . But then Apple indicated that it would do that with killers (which Paramount will distribute theatrically in France and the US). “So,” Fremaux explained, “I said, ‘Well, in that case you’re welcome in the competition.’ And now we will see what their reaction is.”
Scorsese – who has previously had numerous films set at Cannes, both in competition (including Cab driverwho won the Palme d’Or in 1976, and After hours, for which he won Best Director in 1985) and from there (numerous documentaries) — and Apple chose not to take Fremaux up on his offer. That begs the question: Why wouldn’t a legendary filmmaker and flush distributor, armed with what Fremaux describes as “an extremely strong film” that drove him to tears, want to screen a film in competition at the world’s most prestigious film festival?
Some filmmakers are averse to the idea of competition. Woody Allenfor example, has brought more than a dozen 1979 films to Cannes Manhattan. Three opened the party, but none played in competition. Allen explained in 2016, “It’s something you should never do when a group is judging other people … I don’t believe in it and I don’t want to participate in it.” Others have followed suit. Jacques Audiardwhose Dheepan won the Palme in 2015, said in 2018 he will refuse race spots from now on, stating “I don’t want to be in competition anywhere.” And that was also the takeaway from Stephen Frears after presiding over the competition jury in 2007; despite showing multiple films in competition before, he kept his next one, 2010’s Tamara Drewout.
Other times, a filmmaker and/or distributor is concerned about managing expectations for a film. The New York Times noted as early as 1974, “An increasing number of established filmmakers … refuse to enter Cannes, reasoning that losing the top prize to a budding newcomer can be more damaging than winning can be prestigious.” Film professor at Columbia University Annette Insdorfa veteran of many festivals in Cannes, explains THR“I don’t recall it ever helping the ‘masters’ who have films in competition. There’s less pressure for filmmakers when their work is judged on its own terms. This has been included in the calculation to maintain Ang lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon out of competition at the party in 1999, according to the Sony Classics co-chef Tom Bernard: “The film is simply written differently when it is in competition. We wanted people to discover it without the context of competition.”
On rare occasions, an accomplished filmmaker just feels magnanimous and wants to give lesser-known filmmakers a chance to compete. That was the explanation of Steven Soderberghwhose sex, lies and video tape won the Palme in 1989, which is why he initially declined a competition slot for 2013 Behind the candlestick (before Fremaux persuaded him to reconsider).
Robert Altmanwho won the Palme in 1970 for M*A*S*Hfound it all of such explanations is missing, tellingly Roger Everett in 1977: “If you don’t want to be in competition, it means you’re either too arrogant or too scared. So maybe you lose? I’ve lost before; there is nothing wrong with losing.”
That said, no one considers Scorsese to be arrogant or fearful – quite the opposite. Instead of, THR hears that he and Apple have based their position on that killers about the fact that two American films that premiered out of competition last year, Top gun: Maverick And Elvisgenerated a huge buzz at the festival, made a fortune at the box office and finished as far into the awards season as the film that eventually won the Palme, Triangle of sadness (all three received an Oscar nomination for best picture), so there’s no reason to try to fix what ain’t broke.