At Cannes, Vincent Lindon Still Can’t Believe He’s Jury President

As the star of a Palme d’Or winner, he’s seen how the award can change lives, so he takes his duties seriously.

Recently, Vincent Lindon read the Wikipedia page noting all the people who had served as the president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. He scrolled past Steven Spielberg, Jane Campion, the Coen brothers, Cate Blanchett — people he has long revered and dreamed about working with. And then, at the end of the list, he saw his own name as this year’s president.

Lindon opens his eyes wide in horror just recalling it. “They must be wrong!” he insisted. “They have made a mistake! They’re blind!”

Though Lindon is too modest to consider his place in such storied company, the 62-year-old actor is a major star in France and drew international notice recently for “Titane,” in which he played a musclebound fire captain caring for a pregnant serial killer. That audacious film, from director Julia Ducournau, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last summer, and now Lindon and his jury (which includes the actresses Rebecca Hall and Noomi Rapace and the directors Joachim Trier and Ladj Ly) will be responsible for picking the Palme’s next recipient.

For Lindon, this is a very weighty matter. Over coffee Tuesday morning, he spoke thoughtfully about how he plans to evaluate the 21 films in competition and anticipated how he might feel once the next two weeks’ worth of work is complete.

“I think it’s going to change something in me — my own cinema world won’t be the same,” Lindon said in English. “I don’t know if it’s going to be better or worse, but I’m sure you can’t pass through something so huge without leaving something behind.”

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

How were you asked to become president of the jury?

[Cannes Film Festival director] Thierry Frémaux called me on the phone on the 25th of April and said to me, “Vincent, the stars are now aligned. It’s the 75th anniversary, and it’s been 13 years since a French person was the president of the jury. You’re in many socially committed films, you got the best actor prize [for “The Measure of a Man” in 2015], and you are in the Palme d’Or winner. Would you like to be the president?” I hesitated a long time — one second — before falling down.

I said to him, “It’s not a joke? It’s really Thierry Frémaux on the phone, not one of those fake calls?” We had dinner the same day and spoke and I came back about 1 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I was at my window, watching cars, smoking cigarettes, doing nothing at all. Everything was beautiful — the moon, the sky, the trees. I was in love with everything.

You’ve been to Cannes before to promote your films, but were you ever able to see other movies while you were here?

Not so much, because you have interviews, you are very nervous, anxious. I don’t like to stay too much. You come, you show the movie and then you leave. That’s my way of working.

Even now, do you still feel that nervousness when you present a film?

Oh, much more. You’re carefree when you’re younger. When you get older, you know the way of working better, but you are less carefree and more conscious of what can happen. It’s like when you do your first year in Grand Prix, you can’t imagine that you can die — you just drive fast. When it’s your seventh year, you know that there is risk. You can’t understand, because you are young. Wait, it will come.

How is that sense of nervousness different as the person helping to pick the Palme d’Or winner?

It’s a very big responsibility. Maybe their life is going to change a lot. It’s not nothing — but I’m going to try to live in the present moment. In 15 days, I don’t want to think about the past and say, “Why I didn’t take the time to get pleasure doing that, and that?”

Even now, I am proud and happy to be giving an interview to The New York Times. When I was a young actor in drama school, if a friend of mine would have told me, “Vincent, you’re going to be the president of the jury in Cannes in 2022 and you’re going to give an interview to The New York Times,” I would have said to him, “Yes, sure. Do you think after, I will see the pope?”

You were there when Julia Ducournau received the Palme d’Or for “Titane.” What did that moment teach you about the impact of the award?

There is no advantage without inconvenience in life. For her, I think it was a bomb, for a lot of reasons. She is very young, just 37. When you get the Palme d’Or at 37, you are the top of the mountain and it is very difficult to say, “What else? What movie am I going to write now?” Everything will be a disappointment.

We are very close, Julia and me, and we’ve spoke about that a lot of times. She’s writing her new movie, and it’s like there’s an invisible shooting squad, everywhere, ready to shoot you down. It’s something I’m living right now. After being president of the jury in Cannes, what else? An Oscar? No, I don’t speak English — not enough to get an Oscar.

You speak English pretty well, I think.

Yes, but I won’t be able to play someone from New Jersey. The most that I can hope is to be a foreigner in an American movie. We’ll see.

Over the last year, female directors have received the top prize at many of the major film festivals, including Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Do you think that will inform your jury’s ultimate decision?

I’m not going to see a movie with any preconceived ideas. I have to work with my heart, not my brain [thinking]: “This director is a woman, this director is a man, this one is speaking about something very important socially in the world now.” It’s impossible, because if you do that, you are not in the cinema. After [we decide the winner], if it’s a woman with a social movie, great. I’m going to try not to think about that, because if you do, you’re not free. I’m a free man. My liberty comes at a cost, but it has no price.

What do you mean by that?

I’m an actor. I never did commercials. No cartoon voices. I have no manager, no publicist. I have no social network — no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no TikTok. I have no house, no apartment, no property. So I can say what I want, when I want, to who I want. My father always told me, be free. In the Michael Mann movie “Heat,” Robert De Niro says you must be able to leave everything behind in 30 seconds — he says that to Val Kilmer, like a real gangster. If I want, I can do that. Except I have children.

Which is more significant than any of the other things you named.

Yes. But I try to think like that.

People who predict the Palme winner often take into account the jury president’s own sensibilities. So what are the movies that you love most?

I love Godard, I love James Gray [who has a film in competition, “Armageddon Time”], I love Lars von Trier. I love a lot of very powerful, intellectual movies, but let me tell you, I can die to see “Taken” 45 times. I’m crazy about “The Equalizer.” I’m in love with Tom Cruise, I like Mark Wahlberg, I see all those movies. You can’t say one bad word about Sylvester Stallone, or I get mad! I want to tell you, I love what I love. I have no type.

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