Cannes 2019

Stars and Surprises in the 2019 Directors’ Fortnight Lineup

On Film / The Daily — Apr 23, 2019
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse (2919)

The fiftieth anniversary edition of the Directors’ Fortnight is also the first to be overseen by the independent program’s new artistic director, Paolo Moretti. Today, the Italian programmer whose résumé includes stints at the Venice and Rome film festivals, unveiled a lineup of long-anticipated titles and complete surprises, including new work from Robert Eggers, Lav Diaz, Bertrand Bonello, Rebecca Zlotowski, Takashi Miike, Luca Guadagnino, and Ariane Labed. While Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux has promised to add another two or three films to the official selection, with yesterday’s announcement from Critics’ Week and another today from the Association for Independent Film Distribution (ACID), all the strands of programming to be presented on the French Riviera for two weeks beginning in mid-May are very, very close to complete.

The Directors’ Fortnight was founded in 1969 by the French Directors Guild in the wake of the uprisings of May 1968 that led to the cancellation of Cannes’s twenty-first edition. In 2008, Scott Foundas wrote a lively history of the Fortnight for the LA Weekly, noting that in its first year alone, the program screened sixty-eight features, including Bernardo Bertolucci’s Partner, Robert Bresson’s A Gentle Woman, Nagisa Oshima’s Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, and Susan Sontag’s Duet for Cannibals. Among the directors whose first screenings in Cannes were at the Fortnight in the 1970s were Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets), Dušan Makavejev (WR: Mysteries of the Organism), and Werner Herzog (Even Dwarfs Started Small). Foundas notes that Pierre-Henri Deleau—the Fortnight’s first artistic director who eventually stepped down in 1998—invited “science fiction, horror, and other genre films considered too déclassé for respectable festivals”—George Lucas’s THX-1138 (1971), for example, and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). “In the ’80s and ’90s,” writes Foundas, “even as the official selection became hipper to the times (and, with the creation of the Un Certain Regard sidebar, more aggressive in trying to wrest films away from Deleau’s grasp), the Fortnight continued to flourish, presenting the Cannes—and, in many cases, major film festival—debuts of Sofia Coppola, Atom Egoyan, Michael Haneke, Spike Lee, and the Dardenne brothers.”

French Headliners

New features from France bookend this year’s edition, which will open on May 15 with Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin. The comedy, starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel, centers on a man obsessed with scoring an exorbitantly priced deerskin jacket. On May 25, the Fortnight will close with Benoît Forgeard’s Yves, in which a young musician befriends a smart refrigerator at his grandmother’s suburban home. This refrigerator is indeed so smart that it ends up ghostwriting the rapper’s first hits.

Bertrand Bonello (House of Tolerance, Nocturama) will criss cross between the stories of a fifteen-year-old Haitian girl and her aunt, a voodoo priestess, as well as between the Haiti of 1962 and present-day Paris in Zombi Child. Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central, Planetarium) has cast model and lingerie designer Zahia Dehar in An Easy Girl as a sort of mentor to her younger cousin, encouraging her to make the most of a long hot summer on the Mediterranean coast. And Fabrice Luchini and Anaïs Demoustier star in Nicolas Pariser’s second feature, Alice and the Mayor, the story of a sharp young philosopher brought in by Lyon’s municipal government for fresh ideas.

Other Standouts

When Cannes announced its lineup last week, many wondered what had happened to The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers’s long-awaited follow-up to his hit debut feature, The Witch (2015). Now we know that it’s landed at the Fortnight. Shot in black and white on 35 mm and set in a world of sea-faring mythology, The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who discussed what appears to have been an arduous shoot during a conversation that Interview published last fall. At around the same time, Arte France Cinéma announced that it was backing a new film from Lav Diaz tentatively titled 2019. If The Halt, starring Piolo Pascual, is the same project, it’s a political thriller based on a screenplay Diaz wrote twenty years ago, “a sort of premonition,” he says, since it’s about the rise of a new Filipino despot. Little is known yet about First Love other than that it comes from prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, who’s previously been invited twice to compete in Cannes with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011) and Shield of Straw (2013).

Two promising features come from young women directors. Peruvian director Melina León’s feature debut, Song Without a Name, is shot in black and white by Inti Briones, who was Dominga Sotomayor’s cinematographer on Too Late to Die Young (2018). The story of an investigation into the disappearance of a newborn baby in the late 1980s is based on true events. Also set in the late ’80s, albeit in Kabul, is The Orphanage, from Afghan filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat, who returns to the Fortnight after her third feature, Wolf and Sheep, won the Art Cinema Award in 2016.

From Sundance

Some industry insiders will be puzzled by the inclusion of Babak Anvari’s Wounds. For one thing, the mystery starring Armie Hammer as a bartender who discovers a phone that delivers ominous and unsettling messages is distributed by Netflix. While the Fortnight emphasizes its independence from Cannes, the differences between the world’s highest-profile festival and the streaming giant have yet to be resolved, and as a result, for the second year running, no Netflix titles will be screened at Cannes. Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman suggests that the Fortnight’s decision to show Wounds “will be welcomed by filmmakers, many of whom have been frustrated that their movies made with Netflix can’t play at all on the Riviera.” And then there’s the reception of Wounds following its premiere at Sundance in January. While the British-Iranian writer-director’s feature debut, Under the Shadow (2016), was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, critics have so far had mixed reactions to Wounds. The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee called the film “a confused, haphazard jumble of ideas, gore and tone, a misfiring curio.” John DeFore, on the other hand, reviewing this “festering marriage of H. P. Lovecraft and David Cronenberg” for the Hollywood Reporter, suggested that “voracious genre consumers should get off on trying to decipher the densely textured film's murky ambiguities.”

The Fortnight has invited one other film that premiered at Sundance, Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty. Reviewing this “warm, fiercely independent comedy-drama” for Variety, Peter Debruge noted that it “eschews anything resembling formula in favor of a boisterous and freewheeling joyride drawn from Mikhanovsky’s own experience as the driver of a wheelchair-accessible transport vehicle.” And Screen’s Tim Grierson found that Mikhanovsky “shows enormous sympathy for his characters without being precious or patronizing.”

Shorts and Specials

Robert Rodriguez will conduct a master class and show Red 11, an experiment in which the director has set out to prove that it’s still possible to shoot a feature for seven thousand dollars, just as he did when he made his first feature in 1992, El Mariachi. When it premiered last month at SXSW, Griffin Schiller, writing for the Playlist, suggested that Red 11 “functions as an allegory for the director’s filmmaking school of thought [and illuminates] his own personal journey.”

Luca Guadagnino is bringing a film to Cannes for the first time. The Staggering Girl runs thirty-five minutes, stars Julianne Moore, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller, KiKi Layne, Mia Goth, and Alba Rohrwacher, and features a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. While it’s set in the world of fashion and produced by Valentino, Guadagnino insists that it’s not an ad.

Among the names that leap out from the shorts lineup is Ariane Labed, the actress known for her work with Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari; Olla will be her directorial debut. Beatrice Gibson, the London-based artist and filmmaker, will bring Two Sisters Who Are Not Sisters. And Gabriel Abrantes, who codirected Diamantino with Daniel Schmidt and won the top prize at Critics’ Week last year, will present The Marvelous Misadventures of the Stone Lady.

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