The Cannes Market Is Hot! Unless It’s Not: Here’s the Winners and Losers So Far

After two years of pandemic, Cannes 2022 offers a comforting buzz of activity. Here’s the industry buyers, festival programmers, and press checking out Official Selection screenings; over there, distributors look at market packages. There’s the familiar meetings at The Majestic and The Grand as everyone seeks funding and scopes out new talent; at the American Pavilion, indie hopefuls hang out while hoping to snag project interest.

What’s different this year is a still-uncertain film industry that can take little for granted. Hollywood math is always fuzzy at best, but this year’s Cannes is particularly unpredictable because no one knows how to assess value when the market leaders are the unreadable streamers, studios are mired in flux of their own, and the adult audience remains AWOL in theaters.

Hot title: Ruben Östlund’s in-Competition class satire “Triangle of Sadness”, despite mixed reviews. It screened for Cannes buyers a few days ahead, but what sealed the deal was the response at the public screening. North America went to Neon for high seven figures (a rumored $8 million) after a bidding war with A24 and Searchlight/Hulu. Focus and Sony Pictures Classics dropped out early.

Tough road: Micro-budget features find little love. After all the discussion of whether movie stars are passe, studios and streamers want that security again — if only because there’s little else that feels familiar. Sometimes, even global recognition isn’t enough: Kristen Stewart told IndieWire she’s dying to make her directorial debut with “The Chronology of Water,” an adaptation of Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, but even for her it’s hard to finance a shoot with a crew of five and a loose schedule along the Oregon coast.

Sidelines are mainline. Östlund aside, the Competition is not where most distributors wanted to buy. Sony Pictures Classics bought Un Certain Regard’s mystery drama “Return to Seoul” by Davy Chou as well as Mia Hansen-Love’s Director’s Fortnight romance “One Fine Morning” starring Léa Seydoux. A24 bought Critics Week title “Aftersun,” the breakout directorial debut of Charlotte Wells starring Paul Mescal. And IFC Films grabbed Austrian veteran Marie Kreutzer’s well-reviewed Un Certain Regard title “Corsage,” which many Cannes attendees believed should have been in the main Competition.

Emily Blunt

Stewart Cook/Variety

Netflix goes big to stay in homes: In the biggest deal out of this year’s festival, Netflix paid $50 million for worldwide rights to “Pain Hustlers,” which should start shooting in August. The film is directed by “Harry Potter” fixture David Yates, stars Emily Blunt, and the screenplay comes from Wells Tower, whose work appears regularly in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s. Blunt will play a high-school dropout who finds herself in the midst of a criminal conspiracy after landing a job at a failing pharma startup that operates out of a Florida strip mall.

The deal is a sign that one feature of the pandemic business climate remains intact: If a streamer really, really wants something, they’re willing to spend for it. Netflix’s subscriber slump and layoffs be damned, the stakes are now even higher: Word is Netflix paid more than it needed in order to make a statement.

Netflix has been accused of a too-broad, scattershot content strategy and it needs to be smart with the $17 billion it plans to spend this year. Billed as in the vein of “The Big Short,” “American Hustle,” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” ⁠— films that remain cultural touchstones — “Pain Hustlers” is exactly what Netflix lacks.

Netflix needs films that are essential viewing, rather than colorful noise while cooking dinner. Fewer people will cancel their accounts if there are more must-see movies on the service, delivered at a cadence that minimizes churn. With a proven blockbuster director, prestige scribe, and familiar star, “Pain Hustlers” could do the job.

Awards bait tastes like Apple: Fresh off of its Best Picture win for Sundance acquisition “CODA,” Apple bought worldwide rights to “Fingernails,” the English-language debut of Greek director Christos Nikou. Like his critically adored 2020 film “Apples,” Nikou’s next project has the backing of Cate Blanchett, who is producing.

It’s a package that gives Apple plenty to work with. In the lead are two actors already loved by the Academy: Riz Ahmed, who starred in this year’s Best Live Action Short winner “The Long Goodbye,” and Jessie Buckley, who was nominated for “The Lost Daughter.” The sci-fi film is set in a time when a test can determine whether couples are truly in love, with institutes designed to help them succeed. Skeptical of the positive result she received from her longtime partner, Buckley starts working at an institute as an assistant to a mysterious instructor (Ahmed).

Buyers are picky about packages. There’s plenty for sale, but few offer the specificity that made Netflix and Apple pull the triggers. Endeavor Content’s multi-generational comedy “Maybe I Do” is nearly completed and stars Emma Roberts, Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and William H. Macy; no North American buyer as yet. “Wicked Little Letters,” which will see Oscar-winner Olivia Colman reunite with her “Lost Daughter” costar and Oscar nominee Buckley, is also looking for a buyer before it begins production in the U.K. this fall.

Also awaiting a domestic buyer is “Wild Four O’Clocks,” the directorial debut of “The Batman” writer Peter Craig and starring Michelle Pffieffer; internationally, it’s sold out.

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