A Comeback Lineup for Cannes 2021

The Daily — Jun 4, 2021
Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents (2021)

Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux announced on Thursday morning that “cinema is not dead,”  and then proceeded to prove it by rolling out a full-to-bursting official selection for the festival’s seventy-fourth edition. Twenty-four films will compete for the Palme d’Or, eighteen will premiere in the Un Certain Regard program, six will screen out of competition. There will also be a round of special screenings, a midnight title, and a whole new program. Cannes Première will present ten new works from directors who have had films in competition in the past, “which means,” Frémaux tells IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “they’ll be there without any backlash or questions about their stature.”

Frémaux and festival president Pierre Lescure promise yet more to come. We’ll soon be hearing about the closing night film and a big-budget crowd-pleaser set for a premiere on the beach, and next week, the names of the jury members serving with president Spike Lee will be revealed. Following last year’s cancellation, this comeback edition will open on July 6 with the presentation of an honorary Palme d’Or to Jodie Foster and wrap with the awards ceremony on July 17.

Before we take a quick first look at this fresh lineup, let’s note that Critics’ Week will announce its titles on Monday, followed by Directors’ Fortnight on Tuesday. That may or may not account for some of the missing names many were expecting to hear on Thursday, filmmakers who are believed to have projects at the ready: Claire Denis, for example, or Terence Davies, Joanna Hogg, Joel Coen, Jane Campion, Park Chan-wook, Terrence Malick, Lucile Hadžihalilović, and maybe even Paul Thomas Anderson.


Leos Carax’s Annette, the opening night film starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg and featuring musical numbers by Sparks, is one of seven French films lined up for this year’s competition. France is the actual title of Bruno Dumont’s eleventh feature, with Léa Seydoux as a journalist whose life is upended by a car accident. The title of Jacques Audiard’s story of friends and lovers zeroes in on Paris, 13th District. In François Ozon’s Everything Went Fine, André Dussollier plays an eighty-five-year-old who asks his daughter (Sophie Marceau) to help him die.

Three of the four women with films in the competition are French. Titane, featuring Vincent Lindon, is Julia Ducournau’s long-awaited follow-up to Raw (2016). Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island, the story of a pair of American filmmakers working on projects on the Swedish island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked for decades, stars Mia Wasikowska, Vicky Krieps, and Tim Roth. And demonstrators besiege a hospital in Catherine Corsini’s La fracture.

The fourth female director is Ildikó Enyedi, who won the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1989 for My Twentieth Century. In The Story of My Wife, a sea captain (Gijs Naber) bets a friend in a café that he’ll marry the first woman who walks in. That woman is Lizzy, played by Léa Seydoux, whose third film in the competition is The French Dispatch. Wes Anderson tells three stories from the final issue of an American magazine set in a fictional city in France, and besides Seydoux, the cast features Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Tilda Swinton. Swinton will also appear in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria as a Scottish woman traveling in Colombia, where she begins seeing and hearing things that have her questioning her own identity.

As with The French Dispatch, the inclusion of Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, based on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 book about a lesbian abbess in Renaissance Italy, is no surprise. But Sean Baker’s Red Rocket is. Secretly shot last fall, Red Rocket is a dark comedy about a pimp going on forty who leaves Los Angeles for his hometown in Texas to start anew—until he meets a woman in a donut shop named Strawberry. The third American film in the running is Flag Day, in which Sean Penn directs himself, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, and Katheryn Winnick in the story of a father who turns to crime to support his daughter.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who won a Silver Bear in Berlin just a couple of months ago for Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, is bringing Drive My Car, an adaptation of a story by Haruki Murakami about an aging actor who bonds with his chauffeur, a twenty-year-old woman. Ahed’s Knee is Nadav Lapid’s follow-up to his 2019 Golden Bear winner, Synonyms. It’s a semiautobiographical feature about an Israeli filmmaker who aims to do all he can to salvage democracy in his country. Asghar Farhadi, who shot The Past (2013) in France and Everybody Knows (2018) in Spain, returns to Iran for A Hero, which “boasts a suspenseful plot that’s still under wraps,” according to Variety’s Elsa Keslassy.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui centers on a single mother in Chad who hopes to help her fifteen-year-old daughter get an illegal abortion. Nabil Ayouch’s Casablanca Beats, set at a cultural center where young people seek escape in hip hop, will be the first Moroccan film in competition since Abdelaziz Ramdani’s Âmes et rythmes in 1962. Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, based on a 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania and starring Caleb Landry Jones, is the first Australian film to compete since Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011).

The renowned theatrical director Kirill Serebrennikov, known to cinephiles for The Student (2016) and Leto (2018), carries on working despite periodic run-ins with Russian authorities. In Petrov’s Flu, based on a novel by Alexei Salnikov, a feverish comic book artist drifts somewhere between fantasy and reality. Juho Kuosmanen, the Finnish director best known for The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2016), tells the story of Laura, a student traveling from Moscow to Murmansk with a vulgar stranger, in Compartment No. 6.

Joachim Trier completes his Oslo trilogy with The Worst Person in the World, in which a thirty-year-old woman believes she has finally found true love. In Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s The Restless, a bipolar father suffers a severe relapse. And Nanni Moretti settles in with three families living in three apartments in the same building in Three Floors.

Un Certain Regard

Six of the eighteen features selected for Un Certain Regard are first films, and a good number are second directorial outings, including Bonne mère, the story of a housekeeper in Marseille from Hafsia Herzi, known for her performances in films by Abdellatif Kechiche and Bertrand Bonello. Kogonada follows up on Columbus (2017) with After Yang, in which a father and daughter cope with the breakdown of their family robot. In Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, a group of children betray the title by revealing dark and mysterious powers. Aleksey German Jr. tells the story of a professor in Russia who takes on his city’s administration in House Arrest.

Out of Competition

Todd Haynes tackles his first documentary with The Velvet Underground, a group portrait of one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and early ’70s. Tom McCarthy directs Matt Damon as an oil worker who travels to France to clear his estranged daughter of murder charges in Stillwater. Catherine Deneuve stars as a mother whose son refuses to acknowledge his terminal illness in Emmanuelle Bercot’s In His Lifetime. Han Jae-rim’s Emergency Declaration, an action thriller about an airline disaster, stars Song Kang-ho, Jeon Do-yeon, and Lee Byung-hun.

Cannes Première

The single directorial debut in this new program is Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Jane par Charlotte, a film she made with her mother, Jane Birkin. The title echoes Agnès Varda’s 1988 collaboration with Birkin, Jane B. par Agnès V. Andrea Arnold, in the meantime, has been working for six years on a very different sort of portrait, Cow. “When I look at Luma, our cow, I see the whole world in her,” she says.

The ever-prolific Hong Sangsoo, who won a Silver Bear for best screenplay for Introduction in March, is back with In Front of Your Face. Arnaud Desplechin’s Deception is an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 1990 novel starring, once again, Léa Seydoux, as well as Denis Podalydès and Emmanuelle Devos. Kornél Mundruczó’s Evolution, inspired by György Ligeti’s Requiem, focuses on three generations of a single family. And Oliver Stone has a new documentary whose title is pretty self-explanatory: JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.

Special Screenings

Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vital, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowery, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul have all contributed to the omnibus feature The Year of the Everlasting Storm, which producer and distributor Neon is calling “a love letter to cinema and its storytellers.” Karim Aïnouz describes his hybrid feature Mariner of the Mountains as an emotional inventory of his own life, beginning with the love story between his Brazilian mother and Algerian father.

As he did in The Trial (2018) and State Funeral (2019), Sergei Loznitsa has drawn on archival footage to create Babi Yar. Context, a collection of short films that approach the massacres carried out in a ravine in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, by the Nazis during the Second World War from a range of perspectives. It begins with Germany’s invasion of Ukraine in 1941 and conclude with a devastating mudslide in 1961.

All in all, that is a lot of films to screen in just twelve days, and we haven’t even mentioned a good dozen or so here. And again, the lineups for Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight arrive early next week.

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