The competition lineup announced this morning by Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux and festival president Pierre Lescure naturally features the usual roster of internationally renowned auteurs (Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodóvar, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Jim Jarmusch, Bong Joon-ho, Ken Loach) but also a good handful of younger talents on the rise (Mati Diop, Ladj Ly, Justine Triet). Four of the nineteen films in competition are directed by women, and the official selection as a whole will offer a total of thirteen. “Romanticism and politics” are the thematic threads running through the seventy-second edition, suggests Frémaux, but there’s also another way to slice this list. Beginning with Monday’s unveiling of the official poster featuring the late Agnès Varda, and on through yesterday’s announcement that Alain Delon would be receiving an honorary Palme d’Or, Cannes 2019 will be at least in part a celebration of French cinema.
Vive la France!
All three of the up-and-coming filmmakers mentioned above, for example, are French. Mati Diop, niece of the great Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty and a captivating actress known for her work in films by Claire Denis, Antonio Campos, and Matías Piñeiro, has directed four short films and one documentary. Atlantique, a story of young love in a Senegalese coastal town, will be her first fiction feature. Les Misérables, the debut feature of Ladj Ly, is a reworking of his César-nominated short about the tensions between gangs and the police in Seine-Saint-Denis, the northeastern suburb of Paris. And Justine Triet’s Sibyl focuses on a psychotherapist’s growing obsession with one of her patients, an actress played by Adèle Exarchopoulos. Triet’s third narrative feature also stars Virginie Efira, Gaspard Ulliel, and Sandra Hüller.
Céline Sciamma has seen her films premiere in Un Certain Regard, Cannes’s section for more challenging work, and in the French Directors Guild’s independent program, Directors’ Fortnight. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, set in 1760 and starring Noémie Merlant as a painter drawn to her subject, a young woman about to be wed (Adèle Haenel), is Sciamma’s first film to be invited to the competition. Arnaud Desplechin is a true Cannes veteran. Oh Mercy!, in which two investigators (Roschdy Zem and Antoine Reinartz) face off against two suspected murderers (Léa Seydoux and Sara Forestier), will be his sixth film to compete for the Palme d’Or.
In 1966, the Palme d’Or went to two films, Pietro Germi’s The Birds, the Bees and the Italians and Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman, a lush romance starring Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Lelouch reunites with his two stars for a third time after A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later (1986) with The Best Years of a Life, screening out of competition. Another premiere out of competition will be Nicolas Bedos’s second feature, La belle époque. Featuring Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, and Fanny Ardant, the film imagines a company that allows people to return to the favorite years of their past.
Bruno Dumont is following up on 2017’s Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc with Jeanne, another musical that will track the life of the Maid of Orléans through her victorious battles in the Hundred Years’ War, her trial, and her fiery death. Jeanne is one of four French titles set to premiere in the Un Certain Regard program. Christophe Honoré will return to Cannes with Room 212, in which Chiara Mastroianni and Vincent Lacoste play a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. French-born Galician director Oliver Laxe’s A Sun That Never Sets focuses on a man released from prison who returns to his small village in the Galician mountains. Born in Algeria, Mounia Meddour moved to France as a teen and eventually married director Xavier Gens, her production partner. In Papicha, a young Algerian woman organizes a fashion show to protest encroaching restrictions on women’s freedoms.
One of five special screenings, Alain Cavalier’s Etre vivant et le savoir is based on his friendship with Emmanuèle Bernheim, the late novelist (Friday Night, adapted by Claire Denis) and screenwriter (Swimming Pool, directed by François Ozon).
The Big Guns
Last week, word leaked—and was then officially confirmed—that Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die, starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, and a galaxy of stars playing the dead and the undead, would open the festival on May 14. Frémaux didn’t announce a title for the closing night slot on May 25, but with a sly grin, he did promise that there would be one. Pedro Almodóvar’s Love and Glory, starring Antonio Banderas as an aging director, has opened in Spain, and Manuel Yáñez-Murillo has reviewed it for Film Comment, calling the film a “heartrending, meditative, and deeply confessional culmination of [Almodóvar’s] prolonged immersion in the waters of autofiction.”
Also returning to the competition are the Dardennes, twice winners of the Palme d’Or. In Young Ahmed, a Belgian teenager’s interpretation of the Koran has him planning to kill his teacher. Ken Loach, another two-time Palme winner, will bring Sorry We Missed You, which focuses on a family in northeastern England struggling with the debt they’ve accrued since the financial crisis of 2008. Terrence Malick, who won the Palme in 2011 for The Tree of Life, will tell the true story of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian who refused to fight for the Nazis, in A Hidden Life.