In a normal world, the 73rd Cannes Film Festival would have ended a few days ago, and we'd still be mulling over the spats and bust-ups, jury disagreements, beach-side publicity stunts and hammy audience walkouts.
Everything at Cannes is a performance, even watching a film, but this year the curtain is down on the world's biggest outdoor stage: in mid-April, the organisers accepted the ineluctable realities of Covid-19 and announced that the Festival would not proceed in its "original form". At the start of this month, we learned that it would not be proceeding at all.
Well, not in the real world anyway. Although Cannes' artistic director Thierry Frémaux has resisted calls to mount a virtual 2020 festival, he has said he intends to organise themed events in cinemas under the banner 'Cannes hors les murs' - Cannes beyond the walls. These may entail screenings of films that should have premiered at this year's festival, such as Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch and Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, and could involve collaborations with other festivals such as Deauville, Toronto, San Sebastian, New York and Venice.
In addition to all this, a Cannes Virtual Market will take place between June 22 and 28, providing agents and distributors with access to screenings of finished films, early footage of new projects, trailers, sales meetings and so forth.
Timed to coincide with what would have been the normal Marché du Film, it's part of a larger attempt to keep cinema and cinema distribution going through these desperate times.
The virtual market might help, but it's a poor substitute for the real thing: the Marché du Film provides a platform for thousands of new movies every year, and is arguably the world's most important cinema sale.
The Marché was the brainchild of novelist and French minister of culture André Malraux, who established it in 1959 to broaden the Cannes festival's commercial appeal and help strengthen France's cinema industry. It was a crass move, in the opinion of the nouvelle vague zealots, who a decade later would stage a protest that prematurely ended the 21st festival.
This battle between commerce and high art is constantly waged at the heart of a festival that's simultaneously vulgar and sublime. Over the years, Cannes has championed some truly great arthouse films from all over the world through awards such as the Palme d'Or. It's also witnessed an endless stream of seedy publicity stunts, premiered shoddy Hollywood blockbusters and played court to some pretty dodgy customers.
Cannes, in ways, is eternally at war with itself, torn between the high-minded desire to showcase groundbreaking cinema and the commercial exigencies that keep it afloat.
It was founded, though, with the lofty aim of combatting fascist bias at the Venice Film Festival. In 1938, the top prize at Venice had been jointly awarded to Leni Riefenstahl's brilliant but morally suspect Olympia, and a pro-fascist Italian film called Luciano Serra, Pilot. Chillingly, the award was called the Coppa Mussolini.
To make matters worse, Jean Renoir's anti-war masterpiece La Grande Illusion had been given short shrift at Venice in 1937, and French cultural types were having none of it. So government minister Jean Zay, diplomat Philippe Erlanger and film critic Robert Favre le Bret came up with the bright idea of staging a rival festival in the south of France. Biarritz was initially considered before the small and attractive Côte d'Azur city of Cannes was chosen: the inaugural festival was held there in September, 1939. It lasted one night.
In a major coup for the event that would presage Cannes' symbiotic relationship with Hollywood, stars including Gary Cooper, Norma Shearer, May West and George Raft crossed the Atlantic to attend the opening night at the Casino Municipal, and a screening of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Next day, those spoilsport Nazis invaded Poland, and the festival was postponed: it didn't reappear until 1946.
After several skipped years and various teething problems, the Festival de Cannes established itself as the world's premier international film gathering, a showcase for French and foreign arthouse films, but also for the film-makers and stars of Hollywood.
Cannes' sense of itself as a centre of cinematic excellence was sometimes undercut by the crassness of some of the mainstream films it premiered, but also by the dubious tradition of louche photo shoots on La Croisette that may have been started by Brigitte Bardot, who grabbed the headlines in 1953 when she posed in a bikini: "I've never seen one of those before," remarked an impressed Kirk Douglas.
A year later, Robert Mitchum and an Egyptian actress called Simone Silva went one better. She had been named Miss Festival of 1954 and was posing on La Croisette with Mitchum when she suddenly whipped her top off. If Mitchum seemed amused, the powers that be at Cannes were not: Miss Silva was evicted.
Cannes loves melodrama and hardly a year passes without some unfortunate entry (usually an American film) being subjected to a mass mid-screening walkout. Booing and hissing are common occurrences, as Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code discovered to their cost, but it's the walkouts directors most fear.
Cannes loves to champion the controversial. Nagisa Oshima's In The Realm of the Senses had them queuing around the block at the 1976 festival, despite or possibly because of the fact that the film was laden with scenes of sexual sadism, coital strangulation and castration.
Leave it to Lars von Trier, however, to come up with the festival's most shocking onscreen moment. His 2009 entry, Antichrist, featured a penis that gushed blood and an excruciating scene where Charlotte Gainsbourg amputated her clitoris with a pair of rusty scissors. Some gasped, others politely applauded, and Gainsbourg won the festival's best actress award.
The most intense battle of recent years has been the one with Netflix, which was denied access to the event a few years back due to its practice of giving films either short cinema runs or none at all. But Thierry Frémaux and his team have relented, it seems: given the fact Netflix now makes more movies per year than all the big Hollywood studios put together, it was the festival that stood to lose most, and risk becoming irrelevant.
Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods was set to be the first Netflix movie premiered at Cannes since 2017, a clear sign that a compromise had been reached. Let's hope the truce holds till 2021.
For more culture and entertainment news, reviews, and features directly into your inbox sign up for our weekly newsletter HERE.