Cannes Film Festival

[Only IN Hollywood] Cannes 2023 wrap: A delirious dream with Indiana Jones, Nora Aunor, and Johnny Depp

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Cannes 2023 wrap: A delirious dream with Indiana Jones, Nora Aunor, and Johnny Depp
'Watching films from morning to late night and sometimes attending events in between, I felt that it was all a blur. But it was an ecstatic, delicious blur.'

LOS ANGELES, USA – Cannes was like one delirious dream. Lacking sleep and experiencing jet lag while watching films from morning to late night and sometimes attending events in between, I felt that it was all a blur. But it was an ecstatic, delicious blur.

Grabbing a quick bite at one of the wonderful outdoor bistros across from the Palais des Festivals, I saw Olivier Rabourdin, the father in Catherine Breillat’s stepmom seduction film, Last Summer, pass by. I just saw the drama. Was I still watching the film? My eyes followed Olivier as he walked around the corner.

Cannes tents on the French Riviera. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Thankfully, a day before Cannes’ official schedule of screenings and events began, Tetta Agustin, who was the pioneering Filipina model in Paris (she was Givenchy’s muse in the ’70s) and her husband, Christian Bavery, invited us to their yacht, La Tosca. Named after Tetta’s daughter, now a top lawyer, the yacht offered a relaxing, stress-free afternoon in the calm waters off the Croisette before we plunged into the Cannes madness.

Ruben Nepales, Janet Nepales, and Tetta Agustin. Contributed photo

What follows is my rambling recollection of almost two weeks of often dazzling cinema, red carpet frenzy, the occasional parties on the beach, conversations with talents, and seeing friends from all over the world. The latter is probably one of the best things about Cannes – bumping into friends who share a passion for film.

Stepping onto the famous red carpet always feels like the first time. In my black velvet tux with baroque laser-cut paillette details on the lapel and cuffs by Alexis Bong Monsanto (many folks paused and praised the jacket), Janet (also in Alexis) and I walked on the Croisette to the Palais for the opening night.

Ruben and Janet Nepales. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

As usual, on the way, we saw all sorts of signs from folks, dressed in tuxes and long gowns and ready to attend, pleading for extra tickets and party invites. I even spied two giggling women in evening gowns who somehow slipped through the fence. Their adventure was short-lived; there were several ticket stops and checks along the way.

Then the wait before the red carpet action began, as crowds eagerly awaited the motorcade carrying the stars – an annual tradition. The scene was almost like from a wind-up toy set – the second the music started blaring, the guests were allowed to walk in and the red carpet mania began. The phalanx of international photographers started clicking away and yelling to catch the formally dressed stars’ attention.

This year, I finally saw how those models wearing voluminous skirts and trains managed their outfits after they strutted around and walked up the famous red-carpeted stairs. How do they sit inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere? They don’t. After entering the lobby, they immediately exit the Palais through a door on the left.

On this opening night, the star du jour was Johnny Depp in his comeback film, Jeanne du Barry – his first work since his and Amber Heard’s messy defamation trial. As I write this, the historical drama featuring Johnny as King Louis XV and Maiwenn, who stars as a courtesan and directs, has a 53% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score.

I wish Depp had chosen a comeback project that tapped into his charisma and energy.

Michael Douglas, who received an honorary Palme d’Or also on opening night, graciously sat down the following day for a conversation with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA, which presents the Golden Globe Awards), led by president Helen Hoehne, at Salon des Ambassadeurs, inside the Palais. More on this conversation with the veteran actor and producer in a coming column.

Carys Zeta Douglas, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

Harrison Ford seemed genuinely moved when he got his surprise Palme d’Or the next night at the premiere of his Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. After watching a reel of his memorable screen moments, the actor quipped, “They say when you’re about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes, and I just saw my life flash before my eyes.”

The fifth and final installment in the beloved movie franchise was directed by James Mangold this time (Steven Spielberg directed the first four).

Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, winning in television’s Fleabag, runs away with this movie as Indiana Jones’ goddaughter, Helena Shaw. If they decide to do a spinoff, I’d like to see Phoebe as the next adventurer. She’s destined to be a star.

At the film’s after-party at the Carlton Beach Club, a popular attraction was the tuktuk, which figures prominently in the movie’s exciting chase scene.

When Variety and the Golden Globe Awards decided to throw a party together, also on the beach (at La Plage Barrière Le Majestic), the result was one of the best bashes on the Croisette. Not to mention one of the evening’s – and the festival’s – most quotable quotes, courtesy of Cate Blanchett.

Cate, while presenting the Breakthrough Artist Award to Zar Amir Ebrahimi, the Iranian actress who was Cannes’ best actress for Holy Spider last year, immediately kicked off her shoes, a political symbol in this festival where women are required to wear heels on the Palais red carpet.

Cate’s gesture reflected her vow to stand in solidarity with Iranian women. Holding the pointed trophy, she said, “This is to stab everyone who stands in the way of women’s rights. Up the vajayjay!”

The other Breakthrough Artist awardees were Charles Melton, who makes a splash opposite Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in Todd Haynes’ competition entry, May December; Shaunette Renee Wilson, who plays Agent Mason in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny; and Tye Sheridan, who acts and produced Jean-Stephan Sauvaire’s Black Flies, another competition film.

The Golden Globes hosted back-to-back panels one afternoon at the American Pavilion. The first panel, titled “The Diplomatic Voice of the Ocean,” presented in partnership with the Marine Foundation, discussed solutions for the regeneration of our oceans, including neutralizing all radioactive elements in the contaminated water at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.

HFPA member Yong Chavez moderated the panel with Marine Foundation co-directors Elizabeth Riley and Travis Roche-Wallis.

The second panel, titled “The Golden Globes: 80 Years of Red Carpet Fashion,” tackled how eight decades of stunning and sometimes eccentric looks at Hollywood’s Party of the Year spilled into the rest of the year, including the Oscars and the Fashion Weeks in various cities.

HFPA’s Miriam Spritzer moderated the panel with Bronwyn Cosgrave, fashion journalist, and Rhonda Richford, finance and sustainability reporter of the Women’s Wear Daily, Paris bureau.

Helen Mirren. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA
Other highlights

In a lunch at Chateau de la Tour, away from the din of the Croisette – such a welcome respite – Cindy Sison launched Cinema Independent, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in the acquisition, licensing, and distribution of films featuring Asian talents on a global scale. Cindy Sison is the company’s CEO and president.

Daphne O. Chiu, president and COO of TBA Studios, one of the prominent players in film production and distribution in the Philippines, introduced Cindy, who is committed to promoting Asian film talents and distributing Asian films.

In a statement, Cindy said, “As an international sales agent, Cinema Independent works closely with filmmakers and production companies to identify the appropriate territorial buyer for each film and maximize its revenue potential through licensed rights. The licensing agreements prioritize theatrical releases as the primary window of distribution, ensuring optimal cinematic exploitation.”

“In its role as a global distributor, Cinema Independent ensures the film’s distribution across various platforms and outlets, providing access to a worldwide audience.”

“Furthermore, Cinema Independent also acquires commercially viable independent films for distribution in the Philippines through TBA Studios, benefiting from prominent cinematic exposure. Notable exclusive theatrical releases by TBA Studios include acclaimed works such as the Oscar winners Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Whale, along with Triangle of Sadness, an Oscar contender.”

“Through the partnership with TBA Studios, Cinema Independent can guarantee the cinematic distribution of a film in the Philippines, potentially including theatrical screenings at the discretion of TBA Studios.”

The talented Didier Aniès, Meilleur Ouvrier de France and former head chef of the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, prepared an exquisite lunch.

It was nice to savor a leisurely meal for a change, among friends. It was like a mini-reunion. Adam Kersh, who first met Dolly de Leon in Cannes last year when her performance in Triangle of Sadness, directed by Ruben Ostlund (who served as jury president this year), stirred buzz, has since become the actress’ manager.

Adam is also the producer of Nathan Silver’s In Between Temples, a comedy where Dolly plays a Jewish convert, the not-so-nice stepmom of Jason Schwartzman (who has the lead role in Wes Anderson’s competition entry, Asteroid City). I can’t wait to watch Dolly in this film.

By the way, I loved Asteroid City. But I love all of Wes’ films – his bemused, melancholic wistfulness just hits me.

Jason Schwartzman, Wes Anderson, Scarlett Johansson, and Tom Hanks at the premiere of Asteroid City. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

At Asteroid City’s premiere, I found a way to proudly represent my Filipino heritage and honor Cannes’ bow tie dress code on the red carpet at the same time. I wore a barong by Amiel Tabirao Noble and a black bow tie.

I brought a tux jacket just in case, and true enough, a red carpet security guard asked me to put it on. But I immediately took off the jacket when I walked in front of the photographers.

Ruben Nepales. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

Back to Cinema Independent’s launch, the other guests included Arleen Cuevas, Harold Soon, Gil Quito, Janet Nepales, food journalist Jerome Chapman, Kamran Lucas (Cindy’s Filipino-American actor son), Kayla Maisonet, Lino Cayetano, Martin Arnaldo, French cultural attaché Martin Macalintal (both Martins were high school classmates in Paris), Tanya Potvin, Nate Potvin, Yvonne McGinnis, Iken Ramirez, Manet A. Dayrit, Will Fredo, and Ed Lejano.

Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel and Bianca Zialcita, the mother-daughter team who are both actresses and producers, also formally announced their Maison ZBZ, a film production and talent house. In an afternoon event in the Maison ZBZ booth at the Marche du Film inside the Palais, which drew the likes of actress Bela Padilla and director Adolfo Alix Jr., Evelyn and Bianca shared details about their “aim to discover, develop, collaborate, represent, promote, and connect a wide range of talents globally.”

Bela Padilla. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

It was fun to catch up with Adolfo, who talked about his exciting projects with Nora Aunor.

Speaking of La Aunor, Vincent Paul-Boncour, cofounder of the Paris-based Carlotta Films, invited us to a screening of the first 20 restored minutes of Lino Brocka’s classic, Bona. Vincent is coordinating with Gil on the full restoration of the 1980 drama, written by Cenen Ramones, about a fan (Nora) whose obsession with a movie-bit player (Phillip Salvador) leads to tragic consequences.

Vince, a champion of Filipino and Asian cinema, restored Mike de Leon’s 1976 obra, Itim (The Rites of May). When I watched the Charo Santos-Tommy Abuel film as part of Cannes Classics last year, I thought it held up very well. Gil co-wrote the horror drama with Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.

I hope the fully restored Bona will be screened in Cannes Classics next year. We have the late Pierre Rissient, another advocate of Philippine and Asian films, to thank – he saved Bona’s original negatives in France.

By coincidence, Evelyn, who acted in PETA plays, told me that she is in a scene in Bona. The late Brocka often tapped PETA talents in his films.

This year, the reel that was screened before each Directors’ Fortnight entry included an image and the name of Lino, whose Insiang masterpiece was the first Philippine film shown at the Cannes Film Festival. A still of Hilda Koronel from the 1976 drama was also in this reel.

Following tradition, Philippine Cinema Night, hosted by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), was held again at Ma Nolan’s Irish Pub.

What could be a better mix? Filipinos celebrating and representing in an Irish joint – we share the two cultures’ love for fun, drinks, and music. Of course, it didn’t take a long time for guests, who are of various nationalities, to pick up the karaoke mike.

Joey Javier Reyes (far left) at Philippine Cinema Night. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

It helped a lot that FDCP consultant Joey Javier Reyes was around to cheerfully welcome everyone. Joey and his team were also a warm, bright presence at the Philippine-Singapore Pavilion in the International Village. If only there was time to just sit down, chat and catch up with Joey.

We did sit down for dinner with Milan-based Filipina designer, Chona Bacaoco, and her business partner, Andreas Volkmar. Chona’s Cannes fashion coup was dressing model Drusilla Gucci, the great-granddaughter of Guccio Gucci, for the red carpet.

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Meet Chona Bacaoco, the Filipina designer who dressed a Gucci heiress and other celebs at Cannes

Meet Chona Bacaoco, the Filipina designer who dressed a Gucci heiress and other celebs at Cannes

And we squeezed time in between screenings to have lunch at Tetta and Christian’s beautifully appointed home in a stately 19th century building. Over lunch which included chicken adobo (Tetta claimed it was her first time to cook the popular Filipino dish), we relished the rare, unhurried moment to converse with our gracious host couple, South African filmmakers, Evelyn, Bianca, and Gil.

Hearing Tetta reminisce on her life made all of us clamor for her to write a memoir that could be turned into a film worthy of competing in Cannes.

We also somehow found time to meet Filipina-German actress Isabel Campos Lamers, who has a small part in Mia Wasikowska’s Club Zero, one of my favorite Cannes films this year. Isabel spent her childhood in Metro Manila.

My friend Boboi Costas proudly informed me that his relative, Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan, whose family roots are from Benguet and the Camotes islands, was also in Cannes as one of the six filmmakers selected for the festival’s Cinefondation Residency (a program, running for almost five months, designed to nurture screenwriters drafting their first or second feature films).

Don, reportedly the fourth Filipino filmmaker to be picked for the annual residency program in France, bagged the 2022 Sundance Film Festival short film grand jury prize for The Headhunter’s Daughter.

Peter Sohn (center) and the cast of Elemental. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFPA

And suddenly, it was closing night at the Palais, followed by the premiere of Peter Sohn’s Elemental. I will feature Elemental in a coming column, but for now, a shoutout to Inside Out co-director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Fil-Am Ronnie del Carmen.

Ronnie did voice acting before in SoulInside Out, and Tracy, but his role as the voice of Bernie Lumen in Elemental is a major one and he delivers.

As for the winners, overlooked in the news is the unprecedented win of not one, two, or three, but four Asians.

These four significant triumphs by Asians in one year marked a milestone: best director, Tran Anh Hung for The Pot au Feu; best screenplay, Yuji Sakamoto for Monster; Koji Yakusho, best actor for Perfect Days; and best first film, Thien An Pham for The Yellow Cocoon Shell.

Fortunately, I saw the first abovementioned three films and absolutely loved them.

There has to be a better way to obtain tickets to screenings. Each morning, with only a few hours of sleep, we forced ourselves to wake up by 7 am when the tix were made available for the next two days.

Bleary-eyed, we logged on to the festival’s online ticket site at exactly 7 am. And guess what? All the screenings had that dreadful “Complete” sign in red, meaning tickets were all taken. How was that possible?

Of the films we luckily got tickets to, these are some of my favorites:

Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero is a timely deadpan treatise on the danger of so-called influencers on vulnerable teens and the obsession with fit bodies. Mia Wasikowska simply yet effectively portrays a teacher at an elite school who exploits several students and leads them to a perilous ending.

Monster by Kore-eda Hirokazu (who sat down with HFPA for a press conference) is a masterpiece that starts when a mother demands answers from a teacher when her son starts behaving strangely. The story gradually evolves into a surprising and moving essay on queerness and youth secrets.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses is wordy as usual (he co-wrote the screenplay) but every second in this drama about a teacher who longs to be assigned to Istanbul after his mandatory service in a very remote village is absorbing.

A long political discussion over dinner between Deniz Celiloglu and Merve Dizdar (very deserving as the best actress winner) is stunning.

Not much happens in minimalist master Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves, which won the jury prize. But Aki’s simple comedy-drama about two lonely people who meet and find their first love in each other had me laughing many times inside Theatre Claude Debussy.

Wim Wenders’ seemingly simple Perfect Days is deceptive. The drama repeatedly follows a Tokyo toilet cleaner’s (Koji Yakusho) routine from sunrise to sundown. But it’s the smallest interactions that illuminate his existence and give us, the filmgoers, an appreciation of life’s little pleasures.

Wim Wenders (center) and the cast of Perfect Days. Photo by Earl Gibson III/HFP

The triumph of Koji’s performance is that his character is a man of a few words and yet his expressions eloquently say a lot. Koji’s final wordless scene, in which his face runs through a gamut of emotions, is magnificent and evokes Timothée Chalamet’s ending scene in Call Me by Your Name.

Some critics described The Pot au Feu, also written by Anh Hung Tran (The Scent of Green Papaya) as too sluggish, but it was the perfect antidote to our rush-rush lives in Cannes. Set in the 19th century, this sensual delight starring the radiant Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel as gourmet cooks and lovers reminds filmgoers of the pleasures of cooking and to savor time and our lives.

The opening scene, running nearly 40 minutes and shows Juliette’s Eugenie silently preparing a multi-course meal, is sublime.

These films made us pause and appreciate our hectic, though delirious, almost two weeks on the Croisette. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.