The Cannes Film Festival is generally regarded as the most important event in the filmgoing calendar. The invitation-only festival is renowned for its strict dress code, baking heat, and extravagant parties. It is seen as the place where true auteurs can show their latest works. The audience is noticeably vocal, unafraid to boo at the screen if a film is not up to their standard, which makes it one of the toughest crowds to get past. (This is especially true compared to the relative generosity of Berlinale and Sundance audiences.)
Seemingly unable to avoid controversy, the festival reappeared in the news again thanks to a recent spate with Netflix. This came to a head when the streaming giant withdrew its entire slate (including films from Paul Greengrass and Alfonso Cuarón, as well as a lost classic by Orson Welles) from the event. Despite this, Cannes still has a strong selection of potentially great films. These range from arthouse cinema to horror to big-budget extravaganzas.
Films that debut at Cannes usually have a long waiting time before they are in cinemas in the USA. For example, You Were Never Really Here took a whopping 11 months to feature in North American cinemas. This makes attending the festival essential for any cinephile who wants to get an early pulse on future film conversations. To help you get an idea of what to expect, here’s a handy list of some films to keep an eye on:
The Wild Pear Tree
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is something of a Cannes regular. He won the Palme d’Or with Winter Sleep in 2013, and showed his last five films on the Croisette. He is known for slow, ponderous takes that depict everyday people dealing with existential issues. Despite these trappings, his movies are imbued with a gentle humanism that makes them easily watchable. His upcoming film, The Wild Pear Tree, will tell the story of a young writer who returns to his native village in the hope of getting his book published. Ceylan is known for his long runtimes; his latest, stretching just over three hours, is no exception.
Under The Silver Lake
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell burst on to the horror scene with It Follows, a smart scary movie that was as intellectually rigorous as it was terrifying. In many ways, with films like Don’t Breathe, Get Out, A Quiet Place, and Hush following in its wake, It Follows (released in 2014) predated the elevated, low-budget horror revolution that has proved such a welcome antidote to tentpole franchises. Returning to the big screen after four years with Under The Silver Lake, Robert Mitchell’s latest is already attracting a lot of pre-release buzz. Billing itself as a comedy neo-noir, and starring Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough, this could be the breakout hit of the fest.
The House That Jack Built
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Truly Cannes’ enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier finally returns since his controversial jokes about being a Nazi while promoting Melancholia at the 2011 fest. While it’s true that press conferences take their toll on people, Von Trier’s attempt at humour was widely decried by those in attendance, leading him to be declared persona non grata. Now he returns with the serial killer drama The House The Jack Built. Starring Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman, Von Trier has stated that the film will celebrate “the idea that life is evil and soulless.” Over his long career he has been a Cannes regular, winning the Palme d’Or in 2000 for Dancer In The Dark.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Even if this film was never released, it would still be legendary. Terry Gilliam has tried to make his spin on the Don Quixote tale nine times over the past nineteen years. He has been thwarted by threats as diverse as flooding, illnesses, loss of funding, insurance issues, and more. These were all made into the cult classic making-of documentary Lost In La Mancha, released in 2002. Even now, a new legal challenge may prevent the film from being shown as the closing film of the festival. With so much riding on it, there is a strong chance that Quixote, starring Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver, simply won’t be able to live up to the hype. Then again, this is the man who directed Brazil.
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Since winning Best Foreign Language film for A Separation back in 2011, every film by Asghar Farad has been treated as an event. One of the best moralists in film, he uses drama as a means to explore unsolvable ethical dilemmas. Having already directed films in Farsi and French, his latest, Everybody Knows, will mark his Spanish Language debut. Starring real life couple Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, previously seen together in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Everybody Knows will open the competition. Expect this to be another rigorous and heartfelt drama, and easily one of the biggest contenders for the Palme d’Or.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Ron Howard
Serving as a much needed antidote to Von Trier’s nihilism is the latest Star Wars movie. It will depict the early years of Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich. Screening Out of Competition, the Cannes premiere is a ploy to get good reviews ahead of general release just a couple of weeks later. A film beset by so-called production troubles, there’s been rumours about whether it will live up to the high standard set by the last three Star Wars movies. Nevertheless, Ron Howard is a safe pair of hands. This film, if not setting the world on fire, should be a relatively entertaining experience.
The Image Book
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
A mesmerising 58 years since the debut of Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard is still at it, returning for the first time since 2014’s Goodbye To Language. Always experimenting with new forms of cinema, new Godard films are always worth looking out for. Known for his tinkering with the form itself, his recent films have divided critics. Some have called them masterpieces, with others finding them almost indecipherable. His latest has been filmed in various countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and promises to be an exploration of the Arabic world.
Directed by Spike Lee
A Spike Lee movie is always worth a watch due to the way he fuses his message with the form, revealing a type of didactic art that pops out of the frame and forces you to reconsider your position on things. This is his first big-name film since the highly underrated Chi-Raq. Titled BlacKkKlansman, the film will tell the story of an African-American police officer who somehow becomes the head of a local chapter of the KKK. Coming at a time when Nazis and other far-right extremists have been marching down American streets again, this film could be Do The Right Thing for the Trump generation.
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé is one of cinema’s most provocative filmmakers, creating works of art that are completely unforgiving (Irreversible) and border on the pornographic (Enter the Void, Love). What they all share is a love for showy-filmmaking that swings for the fences. His latest, showing at Critic’s Week, promises to be a doozy. It tells the story of street dance enthusiasts hosting a party that quickly goes out of control. Given his track record, expect this to be a crazy head-trip that dives headfirst into madness.
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu
Rafiki is the first film from Kenya to premiere at the festival. It has already been banned from its native country for its same-sex content. This isn’t the smartest move from the Kenyan authorities, as the film is now probably ten times more popular as a result. While lesbian stories have been building up a lot of steam in recent years, they have been almost always white. Rafiki promises to be an important correction to that. Judging from the trailer, it looks gorgeously shot and deeply empathetic. This is likely to be the breakout queer hit of the festival.
Be sure to check back next month for our coverage of the Cannes Film Festival.