The French event has fallen out with Hollywood and Netflix. So, is its rival now more relevant, asks Robbie Collin.
The first thing to know about the rift between Cannes and Venice is that ultimately it's Hitler's fault. When Venice was founded in 1932, it was the first film festival anywhere in the world, but within a few years it had morphed into a fascist pageant, closely overseen by Benito Mussolini and his cronies in the Italian government. Among the international filmmaking community, this perversion of purpose was a great cause for concern — and the last straw came in 1938, when the jury was leant on by none other than the German Fuhrer himself, and were forced to split the top prize between the propagandistic Nazi epic Olympia and Luciano Serra, Pilot, an Italian pro-war drama.
So Cannes was established the following year as a detoxed alternative. The first edition was planned for September 1939, with a programme including The Wizard of Oz and Goodbye, Mr Chips, but the outbreak of war on the third of that month put paid to that. Yet Cannes returned in style in 1946, and ever since has been synonymous with cinema in all its glamour, delirium, pretension and grace.
That rather puts its current scraps over the Oscars, MeToo and Netflix into perspective — though it isn't overstating things to say that each one presents its own existential threat. Hollywood no longer seems to want to premiere its brightest awards-season hopes there, while every year seems to throw up a new sexism scandal.
Meanwhile, as filmmakers turn to streaming platforms for creative freedom, Cannes's high-profile falling-out with Netflix — as of last year, films have to be eligible for release in French cinemas to be allowed to compete — has left the festival looking treacherously out of step with the times.
For Venice, this has presented a golden opportunity. The received wisdom is that Cannes has lost the initiative to its older cousin in recent years, a belief backed up by those supposedly all-important Oscar tallies. Since 2000, only two Best Picture victors have had their world premieres on the Croisette, No Country For Old Men and The Artist, versus Venice's four — The Hurt Locker, Birdman, Spotlight and The Shape of Water, plus some notable near misses, including La La Land and Roma.
Unlike Venice, which is essentially just premieres and Aperol spritz, Cannes is a fully fledged trade show, where deals are struck, rumours spread — and, yes, boundaries crossed.
As for the Netflix feud, it's an accident of geography first and foremost. Unlike Italy, France has long-standing (and now outdated) laws that bar any film released in cinemas from being broadcast for three years — either on terrestrial television or a streaming service.
As the business itself continues to shape-shift, there's no question that Cannes has to work harder than its rivals to keep up. But this is the festival that beat the Nazis. It'll be fine.