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.
Competition vets who’ve yet to win the big prize include Xavier Dolan, whose Matthias and Maxime is swarming with a group of friends in their late twenties in Québec. Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor is based on the life of Tommaso Buscetta, the first mafia boss to turn informant. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite looks to be a suspenseful story of one family’s threatening preoccupation with another. Kleber Mendonça Filho has teamed up with Juliano Dornelles on Nighthawk, in which a filmmaker ventures into a remote region of Brazil to make a documentary and discovers that the locals may be hiding dangerous secrets. In the comedy It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman discovers that wherever he goes in search of a new home, Palestine is somehow always with him.
Rounding out the competition is a groups of first-timers who are nonetheless no strangers to cinephiles. In Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers, a Bucharest police officer is planning to use a secret whistling language to pull off a big heist. Diao Yinan, who won the Golden Bear in Berlin for Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), has a gang leader and a desperate woman team up for a dangerous game in The Wild Goose Lake. Ira Sachs’s Frankie stars Isabelle Huppert, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei, and Jérémie Renier in the story of a family confronted by a life-changing experience while vacationing in Portugal. In Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe, starring Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, and Kerry Fox, a corporation’s creation of a new plant species may not be going as harmlessly as planned.
Un Certain Regard
Here’s where programmers from around the world go hunting for their most auspicious discoveries. Past award winners have included Porumboiu, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hong Sangsoo, Mia Hansen-Løve—the list is long. Anticipation is already simmering for Beanpole, the young Russian director Kantemir Balagov’s story of two women trying to rebuild their lives in Leningrad following the devastation of the Second World War. Albert Serra is bringing Liberté, which follows a group of French libertines fleeing the ultra-conservative government of Louis XVI.
Other eye-catchers so far include Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life, which is based on a novel by Brazilian writer Geovani Martins and follows two sisters in Rio de Janeiro from the 1940s to the 1970s. A wayward teen and an aging bullfighter clash in Annie Silverstein’s Bull, and in Danielle Lessovitz’s Port Authority, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, a young drifter falls for a girl who introduces him to LGBTQ culture in New York. And Maryam Touzani’s Adam tells the story of a Moroccan single mother’s life-changing encounter with another.
Two names leap out immediately, Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara. Last fall, Herzog told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn that he shot Family Romance, LLC in Japan with nonprofessional actors—and Herzog doesn’t speak Japanese. “I would craft the dialogue in a way that a situation was very precisely described to the actors,” he said. “It was very lively, very warm, very beautiful that way.” Ferrara’s Tommaso, shot in secret, is said to be an intimate portrait of a man not unlike himself played by Willem Dafoe.
Cannes will also present two films that have already scored awards elsewhere. Waad Al Kateab and Edward Watts’s For Sama, a diary of life in war-torn Aleppo, was named best documentary at SXSW this year, and Share won a screenwriting prize for writer-director Pippa Bianco and an acting award for Rhianne Barreto at Sundance.
At the top of this morning’s press conference, Frémaux and Lescure noted that the titles they’d be listing represented about ninety percent of the official selection. Additions are on the way, and when it came time to take questions, the very first one addressed the absence of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Set in Los Angeles in 1969, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and in supporting roles, a slew of stars including Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Tim Roth. “Tarantino is putting all his effort into having it ready,” said Frémaux. “He wants it to be shown in 35 mm so the post-production is a bit longer [and] he’s still editing. I wish him courage to be ready and to do a great film—what I saw is magnificent.”
Hopes are also high for James Gray’s Ad Astra, an ambitious science fiction project that also stars Brad Pitt. Back in February, Gray noted that several of his shots will “come in from the VFX houses and right now our delivery date is late April, early May, which is really, really cutting it close.” Eric Kohn is currently considering possible explanations for the absence of a few other missing titles, including Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke; Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow; Greta Gerwig’s Little Women; Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson; and Pablo Larraín’s Ema with Gael García Bernal.
Rumored contenders that will most definitely not be screening in Cannes are any titles distributed by Netflix. Last year’s showdown between the streaming giant and French theater owners who insist on a three-year window between a film’s theatrical premiere and its online debut resulted in Netflix pulling such titles as Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs from consideration—and Venice was more than happy to take them. This year, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat with Meryl Streep and Noah Baumbach’s The King with Timothée Chalamet are among the films that will have to wait for a fall festival bow. “We’ll have to have a more flexible, scalable situation,” Lescure said today. “Everything will change in four to five years to come.”
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