Directors’ Fortnight 2023 Lineup

Leonor Silveira in Manoel de Oliveira’s Abraham’s Valley (1993)

In 2008, the Harvard Film Archive presented a retrospective celebrating the hundredth birthday of Manoel de Oliveira. The Portuguese director lived for another six years, during which he made three more features. Previewing the HFA series for the Boston Phoenix, Michael Atkinson focused on Abraham’s Valley, “a three-hour-plus, self-consciously literary, and hyper-rehearsed study of the Madame Bovary template.” The film premiered at the 1993 edition of Directors’ Fortnight, the independent program founded by the French Directors Guild in 1969 following the cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival during the upheaval of May 1968. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Abraham’s Valley, the Fortnight will present a Special Screening and has put the film’s star, Leonor Silveira, on its poster for the fifty-fifth edition.

Silveira plays Ema, an attractive young woman who takes on a series of lovers after she’s married off to an older man, a friend of her father’s. “Oliveira’s approach is kind of a Bresson/Buñuel bouillabaisse, stressing the stiff artificiality of his scenes, and the narration over the action (which describes dialogues and actions as they happen), while at the same time going for a sarcastic satire whose very flatness is part of the joke,” wrote Atkinson. Abraham’s Valley is “a kind of exhaustive study of bovarysme rather than its dramatic expression.”

This year’s Directors’ Fortnight will open on May 17 with the presentation of the Carrosse d’Or, a lifetime achievement award, to Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé, “probably Africa’s greatest director,” as Jonathan Rosenbaum suggested in 2002. The opening night film will be Cédric Kahn’s The Goldman Case, a chronicle of the 1976 trial of Pierre Goldman, a left-wing intellectual and activist accused of killing two pharmacists during a botched robbery. He was acquitted and freed but then mysteriously assassinated in 1979.

The Fortnight will close on May 26 with In Our Day, Hong Sangsoo’s second feature of the year. Hong’s twenty-ninth feature, in water, premiered at the Berlinale in February. In Our Day stars Kim Minhee as a woman temporarily staying with a friend, a cat-owner, and Ki Joobong as an older man, a loner whose cat has died. Visitors arrive and ramyun noodles are served with hot pepper paste.

Kahn and Hong are among the handful of established names in a lineup that, like Critics’ Week’s, will offer plenty of opportunity for discovering fresh talent. Julien Rejl, who was appointed to take over artistic direction of the Fortnight from Paolo Moretti last summer, promises that the twenty features and ten shorts he and his team have selected will “embody a spirit of resistance to any form of ideology and to dominant narratives.” In France, the Fortnight has a new name, too. Quinzaine des Cinéastes is more gender-inclusive than the masculine Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.

Pierre Niney stars The Book of Solutions, Michel Gondry’s first feature in seven years. It’s a comedy about a director battling the demons that have been stifling his creativity. Bertrand Mandico, whose The Wild Boys was named the best film of 2018 by Cahiers du cinéma, will present She Is Conan. “My film is the complete opposite to John Milius’s Conan,” Mandico told Variety’s Martin Dale last year. “It’s not a violent or harsh tale. It explores the different stages of the life of Conan—from the Sumerian era to the near future. It’s more dreamlike, again a bit like Cocteau or Paul Schrader’s Mishima. Each stage of the character’s life is shown with a different aesthetic and rhythm, but there is an underlying unity and evolution of the character.”

Three features will arrive in Cannes from the U.S. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Good Time, Her Smell) will present the first feature he’s directed, The Sweet East. Written by Nick Pinkerton, the road movie tracks a young woman’s run-ins with cultists all across America. Joanna Arnow, whose short film Bad at Dancing won a Silver Bear in Berlin in 2015, has also completed her first feature. The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, executive produced by Sean Baker, centers on a woman in a long-term BDSM relationship. And Weston Razooli describes his Riddle of Fire as a “neo-fairytale film.”

In A Song Sung Blue, the debut feature from Chinese director Geng Zihan, a teen moves in with her chaotic father when her mother takes a summer job in Africa. Vietnamese filmmaker Pham Thien An’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell, another first feature, follows a man’s search for his long-lost brother. Indian director Kanu Behl’s Agra maps the sexual dynamics in a multigenerational family cramped together in one house. And In Flames is a Pakistani horror movie about a mother and her daughter who face off against evil forces.

After this year’s Fortnight wraps, the festival will be taking much of its lineup to thirty-two theaters throughout France for a ten-day run in June of its new event, The Fortnight Extended.

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