There’s no film festival in the world quite like Cannes. The early Summer affair has always prided itself on its unique balance of unattainable cultural elitism and shameless celebrity fetishising. This is a festival not open to public viewings, with only the press and most coveted (or glamourous) figures of the industry invited, and is arguably the most impactful event on the film calendar outside of Oscar season. For the films selected for a coveted competition slot, the festival’s power is close to limitless, with hyper-focused critical and business attention on your little movie, more than it would ever get elsewhere. Cannes has another reputation as the arbiter of acclaim for an entire country’s cinematic output: Your film’s not just your baby, it’s a national legacy. Of course, it’s also the festival home to the most enthusiastic booing sessions, with everyone from Quentin Tarantino to David Lynch meeting the jeering rite of passage at Cannes.
This year, the festival’s competition line-up is a fascinating mixture of big names and relative unknowns, with major studios pretty much shunned entirely and streaming services Netflix and Amazon becoming newly dominant. There are a grand total of three women directors on the slate out of nineteen, which is depressingly considered progress by Cannes. Europe still reigns supreme as the most represented continent, although there are no Spanish language films at all (a surprise given that this year’s jury president is Pedro Almodovar), nor are there any names from China, South America, Africa or Australasia. All in all, it’s very Cannes.
While this humble writer shall not be treading the beaches of the festival - unless anyone wants to send me there now - there is still much to look forward to. How will this year’s jury (which includes Will Smith, Jessica Chastain and, returning for her revenge following last year’s prize debacle, director Maren Ade) find the competition, and which members will come to blows, as is tradition? Who’s getting booed this year? Will jury member Fan Bingbing dominate every red carpet she deems worthy of her presence (obviously)? Whatever the case, the films themselves offer much to be excited for, and this list, while completely subjective and ruled purely by my tastes and whims, is not to be taken as gospel, I hope it introduces some of you to some new names and films to anticipate.
This list is ordered from least to most anticipated, and a low placement on this list doesn’t necessarily indicate disdain for it. Some films have more information available than others, with also plays a part in how much I am anticipating something, but most of it is just my personal taste, so embrace your inner Cannes critic and boo as you so desire.
While the latest film by Michel Hazanavicius was always going to be in competition this year, it seems as though its status remains that of the designated critical punching bag. While Hazanavicius hasn’t done much of note following his Oscar winning work on The Artist, he was bound to ruffle a few feathers when it was announced he’d be helming a biopic of filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard. His take won’t be a life-long study of the highly influential director, but will rather focus on a period in the 60s where he met actress Anne Wiazemsky on the set of his film La Chinoise and began an affair. At the time, Wiazemsky was 17. It doesn’t inspire much hope, I must say. It’s billed as a comedy, something Hazanavicius has a decent track record with, and to his credit, Louis Garrel as Godard is some top-notch casting, but when Godard himself tells you the idea sucks, perhaps there’s something to it.
The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumbach has had a good run with Ben Stiller. Greenberg gave the Frat Pack slapstick specialist a chance to shine in more abrasive material, and While We’re Young let him act his age and explore generational tensions with those darned millennials. Teaming up with the indie darling for another dramedy, this time centred on family strife in New York, seems like a great idea. Did I mention Adam Sandler is also in this one? Sandler has done great work - his performance in Punch Drunk Love means I can never fully write him off, regardless of how damn tempting that is - but in recent years has descended into such puerile laziness that even the traditional distribution system had enough, sending him scuttling to Netflix. Apparently, the streaming service has had great fortunes with his platform-exclusive films, and now they’ve decided to up their prestige game by acquiring his collaboration with Baumbach. If nothing else, it will be fascinating to see how Netflix try to enter the critical game in a more focused manner, following the incredible Oscars success of their rivals at Amazon. French theatres are already angry at Netflix for refusing a traditional cinematic release model for their films, so success at Cannes could signal a great leap forward for them. But still, Adam Sandler.
A Gentle Creature
Inspired by a Dostoyevsky short story, Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s drama has all the markers of a good old fashioned existential crisis: The wife of an imprisoned man must journey to the impenetrable prison where he is incarcerated and find answers regarding his fate. Loznitsa himself has described A Gentle Creature as a return to “good old cinema… dedicated to the cinema that we remember”, and the film is a marked contrast from his last effort, a documentary called Austerlitz that examined Holocaust sites and their modern-day status as tourist traps.
Bad film fan confession here, but I must admit that I only know who director Jacques Doillon is because he was married to Jane Birkin. Boo if you must. That does put me at something of a disadvantage for judging his entry in the festival this year, a biopic of the iconic sculptor Auguste Rodin and his relationship with Camille Claudel. That period in the artist’s life is one that has been covered extensively in pop culture, notably the French film Camille Claudel that starred Isabelle Adjani, but Rodin seems to offer a more wide-reaching portrait of the artist’s life beyond his affair with Claudel.
In The Fade
Fatih Akın has experience in exploring the intersections of his native Germany and ancestral Turkey, and is certainly not afraid of rustling a few feathers, so his latest film, the thriller In The Fade, feels especially pertinent given its focus on tensions in the German-Turkish community in Hamburg. The film also signals the German language film debut of Diane Kruger, who has surprisingly never made a film in her native tongue. Akın is a previous Cannes prize winner, having taken home an award for the screenplay of 2007’s The Edge of Heaven, so expect a lot of buzz for this one.
The Day After
If you ever want to feel lazy, check out the filmography of Korean director Hong Sang-soo, who has made a staggering 14 films over the past decade alone. The Day After isn’t even his only film at Cannes this year, with Claire’s Camera, starring Isabelle Huppert, getting a special screening. Not much is known about The Day After, which puts it low on this list, but Hong Sang-soo is a filmmaker worth your time. This will also be an interesting Cannes for him and his leading lady, Kim Min-hee, best known to American audiences for the best film ever, The Handmaiden. The pair were rumoured to be having an affair when Hong confessed he and Kim were in love at a festival press conference, as you do.
The last film by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, White God, was a fierce revenge fantasy that just happened to be about a canine uprising against the system. Imagine Homeward Bound with more revolution. It’s a fascinating film, if only to see all those dogs let loose, and his newest effort sees him on similarly unreal territory with that political twist. Much has been made about the political overtones to many of this year’s films, both in and out of competition, but Jupiter’s Moon may be the most off-the-wall take on them, as it follows a young immigrant shot while illegally crossing the border, who then discovers he has the power to levitate. Enjoy Mundruczó’s idiosyncrasies before Hollywood gets their hands on him (his English language debut will be a Bradley Cooper starring thriller written by Max Landis. Just saying).
The Safdie Brothers have been Cannes fixtures since their feature debut, The Pleasure of Being Robbed. Their last film, Heaven Knows What, was an unflinching drama based on the life of its actress, Arielle Holmes, and her time as a homeless heroin addict in New York. Good Time could be the stepping stone to a wider audience, with Robert Pattinson in the lead as a bank robber on the run. Pattinson himself has carved out a solid post-Twilight career as an indie favourite, and the Safdie Brothers feel like a natural fit for his brand of layered brooding (minus sparkles). The film is one of A24’s release, and following the glorious Oscars success of Moonlight, they’ll be keen to keep ahead of the game amidst a growing market where every streaming service seems determined to push out an award winner.
120 Beats Per Minute
Pop culture centred on the AIDS crisis of the 1980s tends to be American in its focus, with the most prominent examples including Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and the musical Rent. The work of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP actually spread worldwide, and Robin Campillo’s drama 120 Beats Per Minute will offer the Parisian perspective on the movement in the early 90s. Campillo’s most notable work is probably as a screenwriter (his adaptation of The Class for Laurent Cantet won him a Cesar Award), but he has a fascinating duo of directorial efforts to his name, including the zombie drama Les Revenants (later adapted into two TV series) and the very daring Eastern Boys. 120 Beats Per Minute could be a much needed portrait of an oft-overlooked moment in our all too recent history, and a fresh perspective from a director of incredible potential.
Of the three women helming films in competition this year, the chances are Naomi Kawase is the one you’re least familiar with. The Japanese director is a curious anomaly - a regular of Cannes whose films seldom receive wider international distribution or acclaim. Indeed, when you google her, the fourth result is an exasperated piece wondering why she keeps being invited back to Cannes. That hardly seems fair to Kawase, given that Cannes regularly invites back far worse male directors and nobody bats and eyelash (hey, Roman Polanski is returning to Cannes this year, just to remind you all that France “respects its directors” but not its women). Kawase’s work is certainly of merit: Her sharp focus on issues of alienation and loneliness are often sharp portrayals of life on society’s fringes, and there’s a real thrill to see such a distinctly feminine style on-screen. Kawase may rub many critics the wrong way because she is so blatant about her desire to win the Palme D’Or, which is apparently considered gauche (unless a man does it). Radiance, a romantic drama about a photographer slowly losing his eyesight, promises much of Kawase’s visual vivacity. Here’s hoping most of the world gets a chance to see this one.
Andrey Zvyagintsev is not beloved by the Russian government. His last film Leviathan, which received an Oscar nomination, was partly funded by the country’s Ministry of Culture, where its head minister decried it as an unnecessarily negative representation of Russia designed more to appeal to the West. State guidelines were even proposed to ban movies that “defiled” the national culture, whatever that means. On top of that, Leviathan was accused of libeling the Orthodox Church, reinforcing stereotypes of Russians being vodka swilling thugs, and operating as Western endorsed anti-Putin propaganda. While his reputation at home may be somewhat mixed, Zvyagintsev’s acclaim abroad has never been stronger. Loveless doesn’t seem like it’ll bring the Russian government back on board, with descriptions of its plot - a young boy disappears amidst his parents’ constant fighting - focusing on its brutality and lack of hope in humanity. We’re sure Putin’s booked his seats already.
Who could say no to a French psycho-sexual thriller? François Ozon is an immensely versatile filmmaker, with 16 films under his belt in 20 years, and a huge array of genres explored, from comedy to drama to good old fashioned sex thriller. L’Amant Double seems to be a return to the days of one of his best films, Swimming Pool, with the trailer being simultaneously tense and delightfully trashy (and NSFW so be warned). L’Amant Double stars two actors familiar to Ozon fans - Marine Vacth and Jeremie Renier - who play a young woman and her therapist turned lover, who is hiding his past from her and playing with her mind. Imagine a Parisian Brian De Palma and you’re halfway there. Ozon has been in competition before but never taken home a prize. With a jury president at the helm who knows a thing or two about heated melodramas, perhaps luck is on his side this time round.
Upon the festival’s initial announcement of its line-up, many wondered about the absence of Swedish director Ruben Östlund, whose previous drama Force Majeure had won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the festival in 2014. Luckily, this week, The Square was added to the official competition slate. Inspired by one of his own art installations, The Square takes places in the art world of Gothenburg, where a museum manager hires a PR firm to create buzz for a new performance piece, which quickly turns nasty. Östlund’s greatest fascination remains human behaviour, and how it shifts when faced with unexpected circumstances. The Square has already been billed as provocative, which is a term that becomes less inspiring with each passing year, but more of the scathing black comedy found in Force Majeure would be welcome during these dark times.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has been on a roll since his Oscar nominated film Dogtooth brought him international recognition. His bold voice, strange yet mundane, allegorical with deceptively horrifying moments, translated well to the English language with his first foray into non-Greek film, The Lobster. Following that satirical relationship drama’s success at Cannes 2015, Lanthimos is sticking with its star Colin Farrell for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, described by its lead as being even more strange and horrifying than its predecessor. Nicole Kidman is also on board, and this is one of four features she’ll be promoting at the festival (out of competition, she has How To Talk To Girls At Parties, where she’ll play a punk rock alien, and a role in the new season of Top of the Lake, which will premiere its first two episodes there). Not much is known about the plot beyond a line about the bond between a strange teenage boy and an older surgeon and his wife, but knowing Lanthimos, that dull-sounding set-up will undoubtedly reveal something much more absurd and unsettling. Also Alicia Silverstone is in this one.
If you know anything about Michael Haneke, you’ll be aware that the title of his latest film is probably some sort of cruel joke. Fortunately, artfully presented despair and crushing unease is Cannes’ bread and butter, and the festival has always been kind to Haneke, having awarded him the Palme D’Or twice for two consecutive films. Happy End sees Haneke at his most politically prescient, with this drama focusing on a family in Calais to the backdrop of the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s certainly a festival of political film this year, with the shadow of the French elections looming overhead. Haneke could pull off a third win here if the jury are kind, and it doesn’t hurt to have Isabelle Huppert in your cast following her biggest period of international recognition and her Oscar nomination. Haneke’s never an easy watch but he’s always wholly worthwhile.
“What have you done to me, you vengeful bitches?”
And with that, Sofia Coppola has returned. Coppola, one of one four women ever to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar, is most widely considered a filmmaker rooted in the contemporary. Even her period pieces like The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette are blatant in their modern-day parallels and desire to evoke modern sensibilities in a classical setting, such as her use of 80s music in Marie Antoinette. The Beguiled seems to be her first full-on foray into a period setting, with the civil war presenting the backdrop to a psycho-sexual drama between a wounded soldier (Colin Farrell) and an all-girls school headed by Nicole Kidman. The trailers have been heated Southern gothic affairs, full of sex and blood and the kind of Nicole Kidman death-stares that will spawn a million gifs. Coppola has a mixed reception at Cannes: Marie Antoinette was infamously booed, but she is one of the few women filmmakers who has pride of place in the festival’s inner circle. Cannes could always use a few more vengeful bitches.
The last time Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho came to Cannes, he brought his genre-bounding dystopia-on-a-train epic Snowpiercer with him. Sadly, while the film received top reviews, distributor Harvey Weinstein still demanded cuts, and when the director refused to yield, old Harvey Scissorhands basically held the film back out of spite (it still hasn’t received a UK release, for instance). Having learned his lesson to never get in bed with The Weinstein Company again, he’s decided to see how his luck with Netflix fares. Okja is another multilingual adventure with an array of incredible actors on board - Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun - and an environmental fable centred on a young girl called Mija who fights to save her monster best friend Okja from an all-powerful corporation, headed by Swinton’s terminally peppy CEO. The most recent teaser for the film had Swinton in an unexpectedly twisted ad for the Miranda Corporation with echoes of Black Mirror. It’s heartening to see a studio support Bong Joon-ho’s expanding ambition, although one can’t help but hope this also receives some sort of cinematic release. Wouldn’t you want to see a pornstached, shorts wearing Jake Gyllenhaal on as large a screen as possible?
Allegedly, when Todd Haynes’s masterful drama Carol premiered at Cannes to rapturous reviews, the only reason it didn’t get a bigger prize from the jury, or at the very least allow Rooney Mara to solely claim the best actress prize, was because jury member Xavier Dolan didn’t really like the film and put his foot down. Fortunately, he’s not around to ruin any more Cannes prizes this year (no, I’m not still bitter over last year’s mess), and Haynes can return to the festival with his most ambitious film yet. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick (the same author behind the source material for Martin Scorsese’ Hugo), Wonderstruck straddles two time periods, the 20s and 70s, following two deaf children connected through history. One half will be shot as a black and white silent film, and the lead role has gone to a young deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, which is a rare occurrence in an industry that still treats disabilities as inspirational stories to be retooled by able-bodied actors on the Oscar trail. Haynes’s old must Julianne Moore is also in the ensemble, alongside Michelle Williams and James “Rusty Venture” Urbaniak. Amazon Studios have been pushing this one hard since Cinemacon, remaining eager to establish themselves as the new icons of indie film distribution. Haynes’s track record is consistently excellent, but this could be his first true commercial smash if Amazon play their cards right.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay is back! One of the best filmmakers of her time, Ramsay has only made three feature films to date, and suffered great misfortune in between. Her attempt to adapt The Lovely Bones fell apart when the book became a beloved hit and producers wanted a more faithful movie with a bigger director, and the shambles of the production of Jane Got a Gun almost killed her career. Fortunately, she has returned, and on her own terms, with another literary adaptation and a major star in tow. You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix as a former marine who works to removed trafficked women from brothels, and is forced to deal with the fallout of a mission gone wrong. The Taxi Driver parallels are obvious, but the original novella, written by Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death), has more in common with Drive in terms of style and tone. It’s perfect Ramsay material - a near silent genre piece that gives her room to work purely through visuals. Few directors work as skillfully with faces and details in the way Ramsay does. She’s an uncompromising and immensely assured filmmaker, and it’s damn good to have her back, with Amazon distributing, having fought hard to acquire it over A24. If I must be more objective, there are some concerns over the film, as the Cannes director Thierry Frémaux admitted during the press conference announcement that the film wasn’t actually finished. From what I can gleam on Instagram, shooting has now wrapped up, but talk about cutting it fine. Still, I have hope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see a Ramsay directed gritty noir thriller where Joaquin Phoenix hits bad men in the face with hammers.