Leave it to Spike Lee and Lars Von Trier to wake up a festival that lacked fireworks, that is until Monday night’s unusual dueling premieres set festgoers off in all directions.

The big news was Lee’s return to the Palme d’Or competition for the first time in decades (since Jungle Fever in ’91) with  about an 8 minute standing ovation after the World Premiere of his BlacKkKlansman in the early slot Monday evening. The Focus Features August 10 release is a rather incredible true story set in the early ’70s when a black detective named Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, even becoming phone pals with the notorious David Duke (played nicely by Topher Grace) in order to thwart a suspected attack.

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Lee doesn’t hold back and makes it extremely timely with not-so-veiled references to the Trump era, and the rise once again of white supremacism. He really hits home by the end of the film with actual footage from Charlottesvillle and other recent racially-charged incidents that put a sobering reminder that nothing has really changed, only gotten worse. The film also is full of satire and humorous moments as well, with Lee right back in the wheelhouse of movies like Do The Right Thing that first brought him to Cannes. It’s a winner in every way and sure to spark debate.  Stallworth is still living but didn’t make the trip to the South Of France, but Lee and his cast were here including, among others, an excellent John David Washington (Denzel’s son) as Stallworth, and Adam Driver as the colleague who stands in for him when face to face encounters with the Klan are required.

The enthusiastic response led to the most raucous and spirited party of the festival, a Motown night at Le Mome on the beach where, nearing 2AM, Lee and wife Tonya were still leading the revelers in celebration, including setting off sparklers everywhere.  Among the guests was Donald Glover, in town for tomorrow night’s international premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Movie in which he plays Lando Calrissian.

This was unquestionably a triumphant return to form and Cannes for the director, and Focus executives including Peter Kujawski and marketing head Jason Cassidy were also seen standing on couches dancing the night away. “We came here to start hot and we are going to keep it going,” Kujawski told me at the party. As for the early August date, similar to where Detroit opened and failed last summer, Cassidy isn’t concerned and said it was perfect for this film which they expect will be Lee’s strongest in years. He said so far the only competition on the date is a shark movie.  Critical raves certainly won’t hurt and those have already started to come in. There’s already talk of a Palme d’Or that eluded him for Do The Right Thing 30 years ago, but you can never tell which way the winds are blowing with Cannes juries.

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On the flip side, the 10:30 premiere (there are always at least two nighttime red carpet galas in Cannes) was controversial to say the least.  Since it comes from bad boy director Lars Von Trier no one should be surprised. Von Trier is returning in an out of competition slot for his latest, The House That Jack Built, a serial killer thriller  starring Matt Dillon with such extreme violence – towards women especially – that the festival felt compelled to slap a warning on their official schedule. When Cannes , where anything goes, puts a warning on something you better watch out. I overheard a couple of press people talking about the warning that portions of the movie might be too disturbing, which led one of them to say, “that’s exactly why I am so excited to see it.” Although I couldn’t get an exact number on the walkouts, they were numerous, with one journalist telling me he lasted only 45 minutes before bolting out in disgust. He said it made the Gaspar Noe film of the night before look tame by comparison. Another told me that watching Von Trier’s film was like “spending two hours in hell.” On the other hand, one other filmgoer told me he thought it was amazing and was among those cheering at the end for the obligatory ovation which apparently drowned out any scattered boos. Von Trier is back this year for the first time in seven years since being booted from the festival for insensitive press conference remarks involving references to Adolf Hitler. 

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No need to worry this time around. The fest has not scheduled a conference with him conveniently since the film is out of competition and they don’t generally do press confabs for those films. One person working on it told me Von Trier is press shy right now, thinking that the film will speak for itself and that everything in it virtually sums up his career.

What a way to start the final week of Cannes 2018.