In Cannes, standing ovations are constantly spreading – but that’s what they were designed for

CANNES, France — The Cannes Film Festival is on, which means the stopwatches are off.

Nowhere is the length of standing ovations at high-powered premieres more carefully recorded and analyzed than in Cannes. Did a movie get a triumphant eight-minute standing ovation? Or did the audience only stand for four or five minutes?

How could such an improbable metric reach the entire world within minutes of its premiere? And why is everyone standing for so long? Does anyone’s hands get tired?

Such radiant displays of enthusiasm are a hallmark of Cannes, and sometimes a bit of a marketing ploy for films seeking resonance far from the Croisette. If Cannes, the world’s biggest and glitziest film festival, stands for cinematic excess, then its thunderous applause might seem like the ultimate exaggeration. Doesn’t anyone need a bathroom break?

Less well known, however, is how Cannes pageantry shapes and distorts the standing ovation. When the audience rises to their feet at the Grand Theater Lumière, Cannes’ biggest screen, they don’t just stand and applaud the film they’ve just watched.

Right after the film ends, a cameraman swoops down and starts filming the director and crew members sitting in the middle of the theater. This video is played live on the screen for everyone inside, while the camera, often very patiently, closes up each prominent actor. The applause is only partially for the film; this also applies to all stars.

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When “Indiana Jones and the Disc of Fate” premiered in Cannes recently, the camera gave Mads Mikkelsen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ethann Isidore, Harrison Ford and director James Mangold their own moment to pray. Finally, the trade publications – which have reporters in the theater to keep time – were at five minutes into the standing ovation. Variety described it as a “lukewarm” reception.

Inflation can be such a blow that it even affects the status of Ok. In most places in the world, a five-minute standing ovation would be considered a dream response. Cannes is said to be as lukewarm as a day-old espresso.

Reviews of “Dial of Destiny” were indeed mixed. But it’s also possible that the audience – or the film’s stars – had enough of a 142-minute film preceded by a tribute to Ford. The next day, a visibly emotional Ford described the experience as “indescribable.”

“The warmth of this place, the sense of community, the welcome,” Ford said. “And that makes me feel good.”

How long the standing ovation lasts depends largely on whether the film’s stars push it through or pander to the camera. At the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “Flowers of the Killing Moon,” after a close-up of the film’s extensive cast, Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the film’s cast continued to applaud even as most of the audience stood still. Members of the Osage tribe then added more life to the applause with loud, celebratory roars.

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In the end, nine minutes was the call of “Flowers of the Murderous Moon”, which was enough to mark the peak of this year’s festival. Scorsese’s period epic brings titles every film wants from Cannes. Movies don’t get second chances, a first impression is one after all.

And for those who experience such responses firsthand, it can be deeply emotional. In 2015, Todd Haynes’ glossy ’50s romance “Carol” opened to a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

“I don’t think we said on the poster that there was a 20-minute standing ovation at Cannes,” says Christine Vachon, the film’s producer. “But when it happens and a film is celebrated after a lot of hard work, of course it’s incredibly gratifying.”

The longest standing ovation at Cannes so far goes to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which clocked in at 22 minutes, enough to watch an episode of “Seinfeld” without commercials. Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” on its way to winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2004, was applauded for 20 minutes, and Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” in 2012 for 18 minutes.

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A standing ovation that breaks the stopwatch does not always mean quality. Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” isn’t exactly a modern-day classic, but it hit the 15-minute mark in 2012.

Cannes has long been known for its passionate reactions. Some highly respected films, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, have famously been booed at the festival. But tantrums are more likely to be heard at press screenings than formal-dress gala premieres. For these, the ovation is more or less a matter of etiquette.

This year’s festival featured the most star-studded films. Haynes’ “May December,” with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, nearly matched her “Carol” with an eight-minute standing ovation. Karim Aïnouz’s historical drama “Firebrand,” starring Alicia Vikander and Jude Law, did the same. Vikander called the high-decibel roar of the crowd a stirring, unforgettable experience.

“I got a little chill,” Vikander said. “It really suits you.”

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