As summer movies keep creeping earlier and earlier in April (ahem, Furious 7), the Cannes Film Festival is maybe the only big cinema experience that marks the beginning of actual movie summer. International celebrities annually flock to the biggest, grandest red carpet by the French Riviera—where deals are made, cameras flash, and write-ups on the applause and boos from within the theaters are quickly written up—all this will kick off again on Wednesday, May 13th.
Granted the films that grace the Croisette are generally more artistic and exploratory than your standard “summer movie”—but programmers never shy away from the opportunity to show upcoming Hollywood fare. This year the already critically-approved Mad Max: Fury Road will officially debut, along with both Pixar and Woody Allen‘s newest offerings (Inside Out and Irrational Man, respectively). But all of that noise and flashiness is out-of-competition. What cinephiles and film curios pay closest attention to are the films vying for awards. This year those awards will be handed out by a jury that is headed by the Coen Brothers.
Whenever there’s a big-time American auteur invited to preside over the jury of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival pundits like to guess which films might tickle their fancy. When David Lynch presided over La Croisette in 2002 the award went to The Pianist (although many thought Lynch would’ve been swayed by Paul Thomas Anderson‘s tonal love poem, Punch-Drunk Love and it’s distinct pillow talk of “I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it, you’re so pretty.”); when Quentin Tarantino was the head of the 2004 jury everyone assumed that the stylish and violent Oldboy would win (Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11 won that year); Sean Penn skipped over the acclaimed Italian gangster film (Gomorrah) and instead bestowed the golden frond to The Class, quiet French film about class and education; and most recently there was Steven Spielberg who eschewed populist belief by giving the top prize to both the director and the two lead actresses of the lengthy NC-17 lesbian love-story (and orgasmic opus) Blue is the Warmest Color over, say, the Coen Brothers‘ Inside Llewyn Davis. Really the only time that pundits were correct was when in 2011, when the fantasy-tinged Tim Burton gave the award to the Thai film that featured apes with neon eyes and a talking (and pleasuring) catfish, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
What we expect to speak directly to some of our favorite directors doesn’t seem to line up during the French summers (and a surprise is so much more welcome)—so instead of trying to think what Joel and Ethan Coen might be looking for, I’m just going to list the five competition titles I’m most looking forward to. And then five films that will be screening at Cannes in different sections. But before I go there, I should say that it is appropriate that this year’s competition is very eclectic, since the Brothers Coen, themselves, are hard to put into a specific box.
5 Films (In Competition) To Look Forward To:
Carol (directed by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven); starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, and Kyle Chandler
Carol follows the relationship between two very different women in 1950s New York. A young woman in her 20s, Therese (Mara) is working in a department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol (Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, moneyed marriage. As the story unfolds—their lives begin to unravel with Carol becoming more fearful of losing custody of her daughter in the case of separation when her husband (Chandler) threatens her competence as a mother because of her previous affair with her best friend Abby (Paulson), and new relationship with Therese.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Because Haynes hasn’t made a feature-length film since 2007 (I’m Not There)—which is far too long from one of the most original voices that kickstarted America’s New Queer Cinema. The subject matter (relationships falling apart due to societal constructs of acceptable relationships and gender roles) and the era (both Mildred Pierce and Far From Heaven were set in the 50s) hit Haynes’ perfect melodramatic sweet spot. Haynes is also a great director of women in sophisticated leading roles (Julianne Moore in Safe, and Far From Heaven; Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce) and this team-up of Blanchett and Mara is very promising.
Do you still need more reasons? This is also ace cinematographer Ed Lachman‘s (The Virgin Suicides, Mildred Pierce) first work on a feature film since the Austrian Paradise trilogy he shot in 2012. Also, did we mention this is an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) novel? Yep, this one has the highest amount of my personal anticipation—top, bottom, and all around.
The Lobster (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth); starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman)
An unconventional love story set in a dystopian near future where single people, according to the rules of the Town, are arrested and transferred to the Hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the woods. A desperate man (Farrell) escapes from the Hotel to the Woods where the Loners live and there he falls in love, although it’s against their rules.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: The Lobster is the English-language debut of the playful and sadistic Greek director of Dogtooth and Alps. And just re-read that synopsis. It’s like Logan’s Run meets Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It will either be amazing, or a curious letdown, but it definitely promises to be interesting.
Lanthimos has assembled a very interesting cast of under-appreciated actors. How much they get to perform—in what sounds like a mood and reaction piece—will be something to watch early reviews for.
Louder Than Bombs (directed by Joachim Trier (Olso, August 31); starring Jesse Eisenberg, Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne, Amy Ryan, Devin Druid)
An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed (Huppert) three years after her untimely death brings her eldest son Jonah (Eisenberg) back to the family house, which forces him to spend more time with his father Gene (Byrne) and withdrawn younger brother Conrad (Druid) than he has in years. Each struggles to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Trier—a native Norwegian, who’s making his English-language debut—has hit 1 for 2 for me. His debut, Reprise, was a highly praised Sliding Doors—type of friendship parable that followed multiple different outcomes after a friend submitted his first publishing manuscript. But it didn’t land for me. Oslo, August 31 was magnificent however. Oslo followed a recovering addict for one day, when he was released from rehab for a job interview—but it wasn’t about his potential to relapse, it was about time. Specifically how his inability to handle the day-to-day had led to a lost batch of years, and everything in Oslo is either new to him, or years ahead of him.
Like Lanthimos, Trier is making his English debut with a solid cast of international actors. I can definitely see Eisenberg being the spawn of Huppert (The Piano Teacher) and Byrne (The Usual Suspects).
Sicario (directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy); starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal)
In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official (Brolin) to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past (Del Toro), the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Villeneuve has made two films (Prisoners and Enemy) that I have some major issues with (Prisoners presents every abused person first as a potential boogeyman suspect, then reveals that they too were abused, and then shuttles them to the side for the next suspect—it never allows any moment of humanity for victims, just shadows, darkness, assault, and suicide; Enemy presented the duality of man as something as simple as just wanting to screw another man’s love interest)—but issues aside it is undeniable that Villeneuve is a very talented filmmaker. And a lot of people love those films. I’m going to continue to check out his films because I know he’s got one that will eventually resonate with me. And this one he has Roger Deakins (The Man Who Wasn’t There, Skyfall) as the cinematographer again (Deakins lensed Prisoners, too) and so—at the very least—Sicario is going to look amazing regardless of whether or not the narrative lives up to the look.
Youth (directed by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty); starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano)
Two friends—one a film director (Keitel) preparing his last film, the other a retired conductor/composer (Caine)—vacation together in a plush Alpine hotel and observe the antics and entanglements of their children and younger colleagues from the vantage point of old age.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Did you see The Great Beauty? Watch it, and then watch the Youth trailer (below). Caine and Keitel as buddies? Sold. Even if the trailer makes it out to be something more like a Euro-set Last Vegas—I believe that, like Beauty, there will be multiple small and beautiful truths that Sorrentino will be able to shed a unique light on.
Other Films in Competition at Cannes 2015: The Assassin (directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien); Chronic (directed by Michael Franco); Dheepan (directed by Jacques Audiard); Macbeth (directed by Justin Kurzel); Marguerite & Julien (directed by Valerie Donzelli); The Measure of a Man (directed by Stephane Brize), Mia Madre (directed by Nanni Moretti), Mon Roi (directed by Maiwenn); Mountains May Depart (directed by Jia Zhang-Ke); Our Little Sister (directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda); Sea of Trees (directed by Gus Van Sant); Son of Saul (directed by Laszlo Nemes); Tale of Tales (directed by Matteo Garrone)
5 Films Outside of the Main Competition To Look Forward To:
Amy (directed by Asif Kapadia (Senna); starring Amy Winehouse) — Midnight Special Screening
A warts-and-all documentary looking at the life and career of the late Amy Winehouse, who became an international soul star before sinking into addiction and passing away tragically early at the age of 27.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Senna—a documentary about the Brazilian Formula 1 racing driver, using mostly home videos and native broadcasts—was one of the best documentaries of the past decade, particularly for eschewing the typical biographical format. The less talking heads the better. Will Amy have the same approach? Will her estate allow Kapadia to traverse the more difficult parts of the singer’s life with full honesty?
Arabian Nights (directed by Miguel Gomes (Tabu); starring Rogerio Samora, Joana de Verona) — Director’s Fortnight
A dozen stories of Portuguese contemporary life inspired by the classic Arabic tale 1001 Nights.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Tabu was a fantastic experiment on how memory functions—partially as a silent film, but with rock and roll moments in colonial Africa—as more of a feeling about a person than a specific recollection of what they said to you. Arabian Nights is six hours. If Gomes could rouse me with no dialogue for an hour, then I will certainly give him the benefit of six hours.
Cemetery of Splendour (directed by Apitchatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives); starring Jenjira Pongas Widner, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Ruengram — Un Certain Regard
In Kohn Kaen, a lonesome middle-aged housewife tends a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms and romance.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Weerasethakul is one of the best experimental filmmakers working. His films require patience. But they reward in dreams. Whether it’s a holographic cow spirit (Tropical Malady), neon-eyed apes (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives), or a spirited workout session that follows an exhaustive trip through a hospital pipe (Syndromes and a Century)—Weerasethakul is always allowing spirits into our most common and mundane environments.
Green Room (directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin); starring Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Mark Webber) — Director’s Fortnight
A young punk rock band find themselves trapped in a secluded venue after stumbling upon a horrific act of violence, fighting for their lives against a gang of white power skinheads intent on eliminating all witnesses.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Blue Ruin ultimately ran out of gas, but its first hour is the closest we’ve had to a Blood Simple. low-budget crime marvel of tension—in quite some time. So I’ll watch whatever Saulnier does next. The fact that he has Patrick Stewart as the head of a skinhead group makes me even more excited. Also Poots, Yelchin, Shawkat, and Webber are actually a believable punk band. Are they in the Northwest?
Just going by synopsis, and the talent behind the camera, Green Room has the potential to be this year’s genre festival breakout, following It Follows, which is actually a hard act to follow.
Takulb (directed by Brilliante Mendoza (Kinatay); starring Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, Aaron Rivera, Rome Mallari) — Un Certain Regard
After the Supertyphoon Haiyan, which changed the city of Tacloban in the Philippines into its horrendous state, the lives of Bebeth (Aunor), Larry (Diaz) and Erwin (Rivera) intertwine. The survivors are left to search for the dead, while keeping their sanity intact, and protecting what little faith there may be left. A series of events continue to test their endurance.
Why It Deserves Your Attention: I’m ending on a wholly superficial level. I know nothing about this film, or the filmmaker, but from all of the Cannes press kits of their official films, this image stood at the most. I’m a sucker for dust and palm fronds. And especially dust in sunlight. I was made for Cannes.
Also worth mentioning (but we couldn’t post any photos as all promo is very NSFW):
Love (directed by Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void); starring Karl Glusman, Amoi Muyock, Klara Kristin) — Midnight Special Screening
January the 1st, early morning. The telephone rings. Murphy wakes up next to his young wife and 2-year-old child. He listens to his voicemail: Electra’s mother, sick with worry, wants to know whether he has heard from her daughter. Electra’s been missing for a long time. She’s afraid something really bad has happened to her.
Over the course of a long rainy day, Murphy finds himself alone in his apartment, reminiscing about the greatest love affair of his life, his two years with Electra. A burning passion full of promises, games, excesses and mistakes…
Why It Deserves Your Attention: Actually, I suppose I’m ending with the film that will likely be one of the most talked about films of the festival. Because: real sex. Because the Cannes posters that are plastered on the Croisette feature an ejaculating penis and a naked breast. Unsubtly: the semen spells out the title.
I’ve not loved a Noe film (Enter the Void, Irreversible) because I think he just wants to provoke—but he does have immense skills in filming what he chooses to provoke with—whether it’s neon convulsions or collapsing skulls. Love will no doubt provoke, be talked about, applauded and booed. Reactions will be, err, coming soon.
Check back for more Cannes 2015 coverage, including reviews, interviews, and photos. Be sure to follow our Instagram for photos as they come in, and our Twitter for the live awards announcement on May 24.