Cannes is the closest thing we have to a cinematic Olympics (Oscar doesn’t count, because he’s not really international, if we’re being honest). All the most interesting and exciting auteurs from around the world coming together to premiere their newest films? Sounds like a dream! That is why, after the Official Selection was announced this morning, I couldn’t do anything but obsess over the selected titles and try to find out all I can about them.
Looking at the films in competition, two trends emerge for this year’s festival. First, we have lots of established foreign directors making their English language debut. Second, there is an unprecedented (in recent years) lack of Latino or African films among the seventeen selected movies. We’re dealing here with fourteen European or American titles, and three East Asian ones (two Chinese, one Japanese). Also, only two of the directors are female, and only the three Asian auteurs are people of color.
It’s a pity that we have such a seemingly conservative Cannes selection after a very whitewashed Oscar season earlier this year. In any case, this might be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t dealing with a list of extraordinary films here. Only time will tell if they’re any good, but in the meantime, here are the seventeen films in competition (with commentary from yours truly).
Dheepan (Directed by Jacques Audiard)
The official press release saw it fit to point out that “Dheepan” is only the working title of French auteur’s Jacques Audiard newest film. In case you don’t remember, Audiard is the man behind Rust and Bone, the Oscar-nomianted A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, which I’ll be watching for the 2005 Project pretty soon. This new film deals with Sri Lankan immigrant working as a caretaker in Paris. That sounds a little bit like French mega-hit The Intouchables, but considering Audiard’s previous work, as well as the fact that the protagonist is a Tamil warrior, this will probably be a more challenging film.
A Simple Man (Directed by Stéphane Brizé)
To be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of Stéphane Brizé, and this seems to be his first time premiering a movie at Cannes. He is one of the four French directors in this year’s competition. He has been directing features since 1996, and as far as the movie is concerned, I only know that the original French title (Le loi du marché) translates literally to “The Law of the Market”.
Marguerite et Julien (Directed by Valérie Donzelli)
Donzelli is the third French director, and one of the only two females, in this year’s competition. I know Donzelli’s previous film, Declaration of War, which was a very memorable autobiographical movie about a couple dealing with their child’s terminal illness. I’m assuming this new project deals with Julien and Marguerite de Ravalete, who were executed in 1603 after being charged with adultery and incest. Period pieces are my jam, so I’m really excited about this one.
The Tale of Tales (Directed by Matteo Garrone)
Here we have the first international auteur making their English debut this year. Garrone, who won the Grand Prize of the Jury for the crime saga Gomorrah in 2008, seems to have been inspired by the Pentamerone a seventeenth century Italian fairy tale collection by Giambattista Basile. The very international cast includes Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, and Vincent Cassel.
Carol (DIrected by Todd Haynes)
I don’t know what to say except that I’m very excited. After all, I’ve already named Carol my most anticipated movie of the year. And how could I not, when the brilliant Todd Haynes hasn’t directed a feature since 2007’s I’m Not There. That’s seven years! And I know he made the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce in the meantime, but come on! A 1950s lesbian drama starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle “Coach Taylor” Chandler? Bring it on.
The Assassin (Directed by Hou Hsiao Hsien)
I don’t want to lose cinephile cred, but I’m unfamiliar with Mr. Hou’s work. That will change soon, though, since I’ll be watching Three Times for the 2005 Project. What I do know about Hou is that he is considered the foremost contemporary example of “slow cinema”, so I wouldn’t expect too many thrills from this movie despite the pulpy title. Apparently this is the story of a 9th century assassin who must kill the man she loves, with beautiful actors Qi Shu and Chen Chang starring as the couple.
Mountains May Depart (Directed by Zhang-ke Jia)
Jia won the Screenplay award in 2013 for his anthology of violence A Touch of Sin. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jia’s latest is another anthology film: a triptych set in the 1990s, present day Australia, and 2025 respectively.
Our Little Sister (Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)
After watching the beautiful Like Father, Like Son, I’ve been dying to see any of Koreeda’s other movies (some of which are supposed to be even better). Based on the one film of his that I’ve seen, I’d be excited for anything the director would want to de next. The movie is based on the manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida, and it sounds like the perfect fit for as humane a director as Koreeda.
Macbeth (Directed by Justin Kurzel)
We’ve been hearing about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy for a while now. Kurzel is not the kind of big name that usually makes the competition line-up, but the involvement of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard seems to have helped the film secure a slot. I’ll probably watch this, if nothing else, for the promise of seeing Fassbender and Cotillard sharing the screen, but I must say upfront that Macbeth is my least favorite of the Shakespeares I’m familiar with.
The Lobster (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
The second international auteur making his English-language debut is Yorgos Lanthimos, most famous for directing the absolutely crazy, but also amazing Dogtooth. His latest movie promises to be equally insane, focusing on a dystopian future in which you either find a partner or you are turned into an animal forever. If that weren’t enough, check out this all-star cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, and my imaginary girlfriend Lea Seydoux.
Moi Roi (Directed by Maïwenn)
This stars Vincent Cassel, and seems to focus on a couple’s relationship through the years. What I really want to talk about is the fact that somehow no one saw it fit to let me know that the woman who played the blue opera singer from The Fifth Element had found success as a director! Maïwenn is the second of the two female directors in this year’s competition, and from what I’ve heard about her previous film Polisse, she’s supposed to be a very good one.
Mia Madre (Directed by Nanni Moretti)
Cannes favorite Nanni Moretti is not making his English-language debut, but he is working with John Turturro in this movie about a filmmaker (Margherita Buy) trying to finish a movie while her mother is dying. According to this Hollywood Reporter review, it’s supposed to be a sober drama undercut by the comedy of the relationship between the two lead actors.
Son of Saul (Directed by Lászlò Nemes)
Nemes joins a select group of filmmakers who have premiered their first feature as part of the official Cannes competition. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but this must bring tremendous pressure, as I’m sure a lot of people might be extra hard on the movie, expecting it to justify its inclusion in this line-up. As for the plot, IMDb makes it sound pretty dour: “In the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son.” Does this mean the man takes the body of the dead child as his son? Because that sounds like the kind of magic realism that is often found in Eastern European cinema.
Youth (Directed by Paolo Sorrentino)
Fresh off the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, Sorrentino is not making his debut, but nonetheless working in the English language in his latest movie, which stars Michael Caine as a retired composer and conductor. This is the only of the selection that has released a trailer so far, and based on that first look, this looks very much like a Sorrentino movie, and Michael Caine looks very much like a Sorrentino favorite leading man Toni Servillo.
Louder Than Bombs (Directed by Joachim Trier)
The last of the filmmakers making English-language debuts is Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier. I haven’t seen his movies (I know, I know!), but I hear they’re both terrific. There doesn’t seem to be a reliable description of what this one is about, but it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, and David Strathairn. Not a shabby cast at all.
Sea of Trees (Directed by Gus Van Sant)
Is it too bad if I’m already tired of the McConaissance? I blame True Detective. That show exhausted me, although if anything might re-spark my interest, it could very well be this two-hander between McConaughey and Ken Watanabe, starring as two men that meet in the Aokigahara, also known as the Japanese Suicide Forest.
Sicario (Directed by Denis Villeneuve)
For some reason, I seem to be incapable of getting excited about a Villeneuve movie despite not having seen any of them. They just don’t seem like movies I’d enjoy. Consider this one, which does star the lovely Emily Blunt, but is described as the story of a FBI agent on a mission to take down a Mexican cartel. The fact that it’s a female in the lead intrigues me, but if you want your movie about American fighting (or rescuing) foreigners to excite me, it better be a very, very nuanced take on the conflict.