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Spanish director Victor Erice explains Cannes absence in Open Letter

UPDATED with festival response: Spanish director Victor Erice, who was absent from the Cannes Film Festival premiere of his film Close Your Eyes, has posted an open letter criticizing festival Delegate General Thierry Frémaux over his handling of the selection of his film and explaining his decision not to attend.  

Revolving around an investigation into the disappearance of an actor during a film shoot, Close Your Eyes is Erice’s first feature in three decades.

The film premiered to strong reviews on May 22 in the Cannes Premiere sidebar, created in 2021 to welcome films from more established filmmakers, with key cast Helena Miquel, Jose Coronado, Ana Torrent, Manolo Solo and María León in attendance but without Erice.

In an open letter posted on the website of Spain’s El Pais newspaper on Thursday, Erice said he had submitted the film to Official Selection as well as the Cannes parallel section of Directors’ Fortnight.

He explained that while he was waiting for a response from the festival, Directors’ Fortnight head Julien Rejl had offered the film the Opening slot for the section.

“I immediately wrote to Thierry Frémaux to tell him that if Close Your Eyes was not going to be selected, could he notify me in good time (it is something that is customary), so that I could consider the other options that were being offered to the film, such as Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, or Locarno or Venice, outside of Cannes.”

Erice said the Directors’ Fortnight selection committee had kept the offer open for as long as possible.

“I found out about the final fate of Close Your Eyes from the official press conference on the morning of April 13. As I have already said, on the 28th of that same month I informed Frémaux of my desire not to attend his presentation, explaining my reasons,” he wrote.

“When taking a decision on the world premiere of Close Your Eyes, dialogue and consultation would have been the natural thing between two interlocutors like Thierry Frémaux and myself (director and co-producer of that film), who have known each other for some time,” he wrote.

“This consideration for the other, it’s precisely this that I have missed in his relationship with me. And not so that he would grant me a favor or a privilege, but rather so that he would give me the opportunity to assess and choose among the other alternatives that Close Your Eyes had.”

The festival responded to the open letter with a statement on Thursday afternoon saying the selection of Close Your Eyes has taken place under usual conditions.

“The director was notified of the Official Selection invitation for his film on April 12. From the beginning, there was a continuous dialogue between Thierry Frémaux and Christian Jeune and with the Spanish producer and the French distributor, Thierry Frémaux having himself exchanged with Victor Erice,” read the statement.

“The Cannes Film Festival is the first to be surprised by the suggestions being made around the selection of the film because it is above all proud and happy to have welcomed Close Your Eyes by Victor Erice to its 76th edition.”

Erice said he had felt compelled to write the open letter following suggestions in the Spanish press from Cannes film festival sources that the film had arrived too late to be considered for Competition.

The director said this was “false” and that a final cut giving a “reliable account of the film” had been sent to Cannes in a QuickTime format in March.

“After QuickTime, a DCP of Close Your Eyes was sent to Cannes, with the final color grading and sound mixes, which has been screened at the Palais des Festivals,” he wrote. “Therefore, it is untrue to state or insinuate that the Committee has not been able to see it as it was not “finished” until a few days ago, arguing that this has been the reason why it has not appeared in Competition,” he wrote.

“More than one may wonder: if the film was ready to be screened at Cannes Premiere, why wasn’t it ready to be submitted to Competition?”

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