The truth behind Netflix’s surprise film ‘breaking the Cannes boycott’

The truth behind Netflix’s surprise film ‘breaking the Cannes boycott’

To viewers’ surprise, a film with the involvement of Netflix opened the 77th Cannes Film Festival (Picture: Chi-Fou-Mi/Arte France Cinema)

Netflix stunned audience members on Tuesday night when it was revealed to be involved with the opening film at Cannes Film Festival 2024 – despite a very public boycott of the festival.

Le Deuxième Act (The Second Act) is a new dark and satirical comedy from French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, starring No Time to Die Bond actress Léa Seydoux, alongside fellow French stars Louis Garrel and Vincent Lindon.

It was featured in the premiere outside competition slot during a starry turn of events that included Hollywood icon Meryl Streep being awarded with an honorary Palme d’Or ahead of the screening.

However, when the movie’s start revealed the Netflix logo on screen, as well as a later production nod in the beginning credits, the audience of critics and industry members were left bemused.

This confusion was expressed audibly too, with people gasping and laughing as they saw the logo appear – but why the fuss over Netflix?

Well, the streaming platform has been involved in a headline-grabbing boycott of the premier French film festival since 2018.

Léa Seydoux stars in The Second Act, alongside Louis Garrel (L) and Raphaël Quenard (R) (Picture Stefanos Kyriazis/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

Having debuted their 2017 awards hopefuls Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories in competition slots that year, Cannes then announced the rule that all movies hoping to qualify for the festival’s competition must have a distribution deal agreed in France.

This then effectively banned any films from competing at the festival that didn’t respect France’s strict 36-month window between theatrical and home or streaming release.

Yes, that’s right – three whole years.

Given the nature of Netflix and its love of day-and-date releases across the world in almost all instances, this was a major roadblock for the streaming platform.

Festival director Thierry Frémaux made the announcement after facing pressure and complaints from cinema owners that Netflix’s previous two contenders had skipped French cinema release.

So why did it appear on Tuesday that Netflix had gone back on its public stance of showing none of its films at Cannes?

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Well, despite the labelling, the new film is not a Netflix original movie nor a co-production. understands that the streamer’s logo was incorporated into the beginning credits as it was a pre-buy for the French market only.

It was showcased alongside all the parties involved in the making, financing and distribution of the film, including Canal+, which has the first distribution window.

For those keen to see prolific and secretive director Dupieux’s latest – which was praised as ‘a bubbly apéritif’ by Deadline and a ‘cheerfully mischievous, unrepentantly facetious fourth-wall-badgering sketch’ by The Guardian – it will be on Netflix sooner rather than the three-years-later. But fans still face a bit of wait.

Netflix is credited at the start of The Second Act, but its famous boycott remains in place (Picture: Chi-Fou-Mi/Arte France Cinema)

The Second Act will arrive on Netflix’s French service 15 months after its theatrical release courtesy of Diaphana Distribution, which was also on Tuesday, the same day of its premiere, understands.

It’s also not the first film to be presented at recent editions of Cannes, post-boycott, to have been pre-purchased by Netflix in France.

Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom, Boléro, Vermines (Infested) and Johnny Depp’s controversial comeback film Jeanne du Barry are other examples.

A source told ‘Cannes has clear rules, which Netflix respects. Those rules mean that Netflix films are not eligible to be shown in competition.’

So it sounds like there’s no end in sight yet to the streamer’s official boycott with its original films of both competing and outside competition slots at Cannes; Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos insisted in 2018 that it doesn’t make sense for them to screen their films at the festival in either instance.

‘We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker. There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival,’ he told Variety.

Last year’s Cannes film Jeanne du Barry was another that had a pre-purchase deal with Netflix but was not, technically speaking, a Netflix film (Picture: Why Not Productions/Alamy)

‘They’ve set the tone. I don’t think it would be good for us to be there.’

Sarandos also called the then-new rule ‘completely contrary to the spirit of any film festival in the world’ as they, in his mind, are there ‘to help films get discovered so they can get distribution’.

‘Under those rules, we could not release our films day-and-date to the world like we’ve released nearly 100 films over the last couples of years – and if we did that, we’d have to hold back that film from French subscribers for three years under French law.’

The platform therefore said it meant their films ‘are not qualified for the Cannes Film Festival competition’, and so they would stay away completely.

The Second Act is a meta-comedy about a young woman who brings her boyfriend to meet her father, although the boyfriend is busy trying to palm her off onto someone else.

It’s also a film about its actors making a ropey rom-com, who frequently break character to argue with one another and complain about their lines. has contacted Netflix and Cannes Film Festival for comment.

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