CANNES, FRANCE — This year’s Cannes Film Festival opened on Friday much as it always has: The stars drifted down the red carpet, the crowd huzzahed and the paparazzi begged for smiles from the jury members Will Smith and Jessica Chastain. Only this time, most attendees need to walk through metal detectors, an accommodation to safety concerns. Founded the year after World War II ended, the festival is celebrating its 70th year during a national state of emergency that was imposed in the wake of terrorist attacks, which have rocked France from Paris to the Côte d’Azur.
Increased security is evident throughout the festival, which until this year had seemed reluctant to change its habits. Large crowds continue to congregate near the red carpet, though civilians seeking a closer look at “Jessica!” and “Will!” are now surrounded by battalions of guards; meanwhile, those entering the festival headquarters have to pass through an intense security gantlet that includes not only metal detectors but also airport-style checks. An anti-drone system is in place as is what one French media organization has called a warship, anchored not far from the Croisette. At a news conference, the festival’s president, Pierre Lescure, went so far as to say that he hoped “North Korea and Syria will not cast a shadow on the 70th edition.”
That’s extreme, of course, although even in normal years a happy festival can be elusive. Cannes attracts a notoriously tough crowd, including movie critics and industry professionals from around the world who never hesitate to catcall even the most established of filmmakers. That the festival has remained an important draw, even in the face of fears about terrorism, is partly a testament to its branding muscle and a genius for riding out cycles of industry crises.
The latest case in point is the outcry over Netflix, which had planned to stream its two competition titles in France but not give them theatrical releases. After French cinema owners protested, Cannes announced that as of next year, competition entries must open in theaters here.
The protest speaks to the heart not only of the French film industry but also of French national identity. France has long adhered to the idea of cultural exception — that culture should not be treated like other goods — to protect its audiovisual…