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The Cannes Film Festival Opens With Its Signature Red Carpet Glamour

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Cannes Film Festival opened last night on the French Riviera after a two-year absence. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was there and says people now seem to realize that cinema is fragile and needs to be cherished. Here's Eleanor.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The movie stars and the models strutted up the red carpet steps last night - Jessica Chastain and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard - with fans yelling out and photographers clicking away, just as they did before the pandemic. There are 11 days of films to come, and there's great relief in this seaside town that the festival is back.

PIERRE LESCURE: Twenty-four months without Cannes, it was a kind of little death, you know? So we are back, and, more important, the cinema is back.

BEARDSLEY: Pierre Lescure is president of the Cannes Film Festival. The opening was delayed until this month when France was out of lockdown, but there are still plenty of restrictions around.

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BEARDSLEY: So to get into the Palais des Festivals, you have to now not only show your press badge and get a security check, but you have to show a QR code from a double vaccination or a negative test result from not longer than 48 hours before.

On a more relaxed note, this year, there's an outdoor cinema on the beach, hundreds of beach chairs in perfect rows in front of a giant screen that showed a 20th anniversary edition of Wong Kar-wai's "In The Mood For Love." Muriel Genoux and her partner were in line for a seat.

MURIEL GENOUX: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We're going. It's free, so we're going to take advantage of it," she says. "But you still have to wear a mask on the beach. Crazy, I know, but there's a movie every night. It's lovely."

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The president of the jury of the 74th festival, Mr. Spike Lee.

BEARDSLEY: Spike Lee is president of the Cannes jury this year, the first Black person to hold the esteemed position. Lee has a long history of showing films at Cannes.

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SPIKE LEE: Twenty-five years ago, I was here with Nola Darling, and it's an honor to be here, so I'm looking forward to it.

BEARDSLEY: Lee is also the first jury president whose face is on the official poster. The festival's president, Pierre Lescure, tells me Lee's an icon who meets the moment.

LESCURE: He's 60. This man is in the same time more mature and still young, still engaged, still passionate. That's the man to be the president of the jury.

MARY PETERSON: Yes, three, two, one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Cheese.

BEARDSLEY: Chicagoan and cinephile Mary Peterson has traveled to Cannes from Germany, where she teaches at a bilingual elementary school. Peterson says she wanted to experience the festival and says Spike Lee leading the jury is amazing.

PETERSON: Absolutely historical and just fascinating, so I'm really hoping to get a sighting in some way.

BEARDSLEY: The opening night film for the festival was "Annette," a rock opera starring French actress Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver. Veronique Veron, who traveled to the Mediterranean from the north of France, says she came in the hopes of seeing Driver and was waiting outside the Palais des Festivals where it was screening. Veron says in the age of streaming, Cannes is about returning to cinema.

VERONIQUE VERON: Well, it means that we can see new movies. We can see new creations again in the theaters.

BEARDSLEY: It's important.

VERON: Yes, I think it's very important because it is not at all the same thing when you watch a movie on TV or when you watch the movie at the theater.

BEARDSLEY: In the theater, says Veron, we experience and share the emotions of a movie all together. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Cannes.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBIENT JAZZ ENSEMBLE'S "ELEVEN DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.