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Cult Filmmaker Guy Maddin Finally Makes It to Cannes (With Help From Two Oscar Winners)

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The Cannes Film Festival launches auteur filmmakers, and the best among them have known scenes of triumph at the iconic French seaside festival.

But not Guy Maddin, who for all his accolades as an original and idiosyncratic auteur prized for titles like The Forbidden Room and The Saddest Music in the World, has never — until now, that is — brought a film to the Croisette.

It took Maddin and co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson casting Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Alicia Vikander and getting the backing of executive producer Ari Aster to get their absurdist political satire Rumours to the Cannes red carpet.

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“Once we got some legitimate Oscar-winning movie stars, and other movie stars that are amazing, all of a sudden Cannes cleaned its glasses off for a closer look,” Maddin tells The Hollywood Reporter of the stars aligning ahead of a May 19 world premiere at the Lumière theater. Rumours — which follows world leaders stranded in the woods during a G7 summit and was shot in Toronto — will screen out of competition ahead of a Bleecker Street release later this year.

The Cannes debut for Maddin comes after a four-decade career during which he played in a different sandbox than fellow Canadian auteurs like Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, as they understood that art house films anchored by Hollywood names can get you to Cannes.

“I don’t think in the early days of my career I was making Cannes pictures, and history has changed a few things and maybe Cannes and I have met each other halfway,” says Maddin, who has increasingly collaborated with Evan and Galen Johnson, including on 2018’s The Green Fog, a wildly experimental feature that combed through San Francisco-produced films and TV shows to craft an eerie, funny echo of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo.

Among his career highlights along the way was Maddin’s six-minute ode to Soviet-era propaganda films, The Heart of the World, which played on opening night at the Toronto Film Festival in 2000 and brought a cheering Roy Thomson Hall audience to its feet.

With Rumours, for which Protagonist Pictures is handling international sales in Cannes, the director says he’s continuing to push himself in new directions, even after almost four decades behind the camera. 

“I’ve been evolving quite a bit and we really don’t want to keep making the same movie over and over again,” he says. “I’m proud of much in my early career, but once I started working with Evan and Galen, I was able to evolve and speed the evolution into some new territories.”

In addition to Blanchett and Vikander, the star-studded cast for Rumours includes Charles Dance, Roy Dupuis, Denis Ménochet, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rolando Ravello, Takehiro Hira and Triangle of Sadness star Zlatko Burić. For much of his career, Maddin created films for the most part without big stars, leaving him to promote his releases on his own. 

“In my earlier years, because I was just a low-budget auteur filmmaker, I found myself wishing that journalists wanted to speak to my actors, because they weren’t household names. They usually just wanted to speak to the auteur, if anyone at all,” he recalls.

Everyone in the Rumours cast, except a busy Hira, at work elsewhere, will be in Cannes to help lift the weight of launching the world premiere from Maddin’s shoulders. “Charles Dance is an amazing storyteller. Well, they all are. Rolando Ravello from Italy, he’s an unbelievably charming storyteller. Adorable and everybody loves him,” the Canadian filmmaker says in praise of his cast.

Landing Blanchett follows Maddin in 2008 going to the Sydney Film Festival with My Winnipeg, a phantasmagoric film about his hometown and his childhood. “[Blanchett] was the head of the jury that year, so she would have seen [the film] then,” he recounts.

It must have made an impression on Blanchett, since in 2022 she named My Winnipeg as one of her Criterion Closet picks (along with Tár director Todd Field). Later, the star would be introduced to Maddin in a meeting arranged by Midsommar director Aster, in which the possibility of Blanchett appearing in Rumours was discussed. “Then we had a chat, I told her about my co-directors and she said OK. So it was pretty simple,” Maddin recounts.

Evan Johnson, who did the early heavy lifting on the Rumours script in close collaboration with Maddin and Galen, insists there’s comedy to be wrung from seven world leaders attempting to maintain their dignity while facing existential peril as they draft a customary G7 statement to reorder the world — all while stuck in the woods.

“One world leader alone is kind of funny, and you get two of them together and it’s a little bit funnier. But seven of them is a critical mass, it writes itself because that’s a lot of indignity crammed together in one place,” he explains.

The co-directors amped up the dramatic and unnamed threats as bumbling politicians find themselves alone in a forest without their aides and security personnel.

Says Evan: “We threw some antagonistic, semi-supernatural or fully supernatural perils at them in order to turn the writing process into something more difficult and high stakes than it would otherwise be.” 

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