God, how I wish I could go to the Cannes Film Festival this year. Today, they announced the 20 films in Competition for the Palme D'Or, and the list is full of strong filmmakers and some of my most anticipated films of the year. I always try to catch up with any title that makes the official line-up, but most of the time it is hard. Out of the 20 films in competition in 2008, I have only managed to see 10 of them. The thing about titles officially selected is that they are always interesting films - not always good or great - but films that you want to turn over in your mind a few times. Some of them are downright awful, but they are awful in interesting ways.
So what are the highlights of this year's festival? For most, it would probably be Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds with Brad Pitt, his long awaited WWII "mission" film - something along the lines of The Dirty Dozen. I love the trailer, and I cannot wait to see the film, but for me it ranks a distant second. The film in competition I most want to see is Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which takes place at a French private school in 1913, and has something to do with fascism. No clue what, but Haneke is one of the most provactive and interesting filmmakers around today. His most recent film was last year's remake of his own Funny Games with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, and although many hated it, I thought it was near-great. His best film was the one he made before that though - 2005's Cache, a brilliant thriller about video tapes showing up on the doorstep of an affluent couple, and what they could mean. But all of Haneke's films that I have seen - Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown, Benny's Video, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, both Funny Games and The Seventh Continent - have been excellent. I cannot wait for this one.
Besides those two films, the line-up is strong. Jane Campion (The Piano) hopes to regain form with Bright Star. Pedro Almodovar looks to keep his string of hits alive with Broken Embraces, with Penelope Cruz. Lars von Trier's Antichrist will certainly be provocative. Gasper Noe, of Irreversible and I Stand Alone fame, returns with Enter the Void - no idea what it's about, but it's sure to be violent. Tsai Ming Liang, who made the excellent Goodbye Dragon Inn among others, has a new film - Face. Andrea Arnold, who won an Oscar for her brilliant short Wasp, and a Jury Prize at Cannes for her brilliant feature debut Red Road, has a film called Fish Tank. Old French New Wave master Alain Resnais has another film in competition. Ken Loach, who has made many great, working class films including The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which won Cannes two years ago, returns with Looking for Eric. A year after she made the underrated Elegy, Isabelle Coixet returns with Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, with Babel's Rinko Kikuchi and Pan's Labyrinth's Sergi Lopez. I quite enjoyed Jacques Audiard's The Beat My Heart Skipped a few years ago, so I look forward to his follow-up A Prophet. Ang Lee's gay themed Taking Woodstock, with Dimitri Martin, is also there. Oldboy director Chan-wook Park returns with Thrist, apparently a vampire movie. And Hong Kong action master Johnnie To has a new film called Vengeance. In case you lost count, that's 15 of the 20 films by filmmakers I admire that I would love to see their new films.
I have never heard of Xavier Gianolli, nor do I know anything about his In the Beginning, other than it stars Gerard Depardieu. I heard great things about Brillante Mendoza's Serbis from last year's festival, but haven't had a chance to see it yet, so I don't know what to expect from his Kinatay. Lou Ye's films, like Summer Palace, Purple Butterfly and Suzhou River, often get good reviews, but I have yet to see any of them, so who knows what his Spring Fever will be like. Elia Sulieman is an unknown Israeli filmmaker to me, and I have no clue what his The Time That Remains is about. And despite the fact that Italy's Marco Bellocchio has a long career, I have never heard of him either, although his Vincere, about Mussolini, could be interesting.
In total, there are four previous Palme D'Or winners in competition (Tarantino, Campion, Von Trier and Loach), and Haneke, Almdovar, Lee, Resnais, Arnold and Park have all had films win prizes at Cannes festivals in the past. It will be interesting to see if the Jury, headed by Isabelle Huppert will choose one of these directors (espeically since Haneke directed Huppert to a Cannes prize winning performance in The Piano Teacher), or whether they'll go with someone less well known, or at least less Cannes friendly director.
I look forward to Cannes every year, because it usually gives us the first signal of what movies are going to be great for the rest of the year. Last year for example, the 5 titles in the official line-up ended up in my top 20 films of 2008 (Gomorra, Che, The Class, A Christmas Tale and my favorite film Synecdoche, New York). I may never had taken a chance on the brilliant Secret Sunshine at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival (of which, I'm doing a post on soon), had it not won the best actress prize at Cannes that year. Cannes sets the tone for the rest of the movie year every May. I cannot wait to find out what people think of this year's line-up.