Friday, April 15, 2016

Thoughts on the Cannes Film Festival Line-Up

The Cannes Film Festival remains the most prestigious Film Festival in the World, and the Palme D’Or arguably cinema’s most prestigious award. Every year, their 20 film Official Competition Lineup gives us several of the year’s best films, and many others that will keep film buffs talking for a while. We’re still waiting on some of last year’s acclaimed entries – including Palme winner Dheepan by Jacques Audiard in North America (I believe that’s set for a May release) but yesterday came the announcement of the Official Lineup, so as I do every year, I offer some thoughts on the selections, and some absurd predictions on prize winners.
Films in Competition
  1. Toni Erdman - Maren Ade – If you’re one of the lucky people who watched Ade’s last film, - the brilliant Everyone Else – then her long awaited for follow-up, this immediately becomes one of the most anticipated films at Cannes (it may just top the list for me). It sounds, um, weird – it’s about a father who comes to visit his daughter, believes she has lost her sense of humor, so he tells a lot of jokes. Everyone Else was brilliant – so I’m down for anything Ade does.
  2. Julieta - Pedro Almodovar – I haven’t been a big fan of Almodovar’s recent work – I’m So Excited was horrible, and The Skin I Live In was average at best (even Broken Embraces, which I liked, is nowhere near his best). On the surface I’m cautiously optimistic about Julieta – a film that takes place in two time periods documenting one woman’s life (starring Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte). This is in Almodovar’s wheelhouse, so it could be his return to form, or a confirmation that his best days are behind him.
  3. Personal Shopper - Olivier Assayas – Olivier Assayas is one of the most interesting directors in the world right now, and re-teaming with Kristen Stewart – who was so great in his Clouds of Sils Maria – has be curious, as does the fact that this is apparently a ghost story in the fashion world in Paris. I am certainly curious.
  4. American Honey - Andrea Arnold – Andrea Arnold is a wonderful director – winning an Oscar for her great short, Wasp, winning a Cannes Jury Prizes for her feature debut, Red Road and the wonderful Fish Tank. Her last film, 2011’s Wuthering Heights, was a fascinating take on a classic novel. American Honey finally returns her to the director’s chair – in a story of hard parting among teenagers in the Midwest. At this point, Arnold has become a director I will follow anywhere – and this is certainly among my most anticipated films of the year.
  5. The Unknown Girl - Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne – The Dardenne Brothers are Cannes Royalty – they’ve won two Palmes (for Rosetta and L’Enfant), a Grand Jury Prize (The Kid with a Bike), a screenplay Prize (The Silence of Lorna) among others. They churn out a high quality film every time, and every time it goes to Cannes, and every time it’s in the discussion for awards. This one has two Dardenne regulars – Olivier Gourmet and Jeremie Renier – in a story of doctor trying to find the identity of an anonymous woman who died. Whether or not this wins prizes, it will almost definitely be one of the most talked about films of the year in film circles.
  6. It's Only the End of the World - Xavier Dolan – Canadian wunderkind Dolan returns with his sixth film – about a writer, played by Gaspard Ulliel, who returns to his estranged family to inform them he’s dying. The supporting cast – includes Lea Seydoux, Marion Cottillard and Vincent Cassell. As with all of Dolan’s stuff, expect many to love it, and many to hate it. This is his second film in competition – the last one, Mommy, won a Jury Prize.
  7. Slack Bay - Bruno Dumont – French director Bruno Dumont likes to screw with his audiences – his films are almost always very violent, disturbing, sexual and provocative – sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. Slack Bay – which deals with a bourgeois family deformed by inbreeding in 1910 will almost certainly be controversial. If it wasn’t, it would be a Dumont film. He has found some favor in Cannes before – L’humanite won the Grand Jury Prizes (and Best Actor and Actress), and Flanders, so who knows?
  8. Paterson - Jim Jarmusch – Jim Jarmusch’s newest film stars the ubiquitous Adam Driver has a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who is also a poet. This sounds like classic, small scale Jarmusch – and will almost certainly be a good film. He has been at Cannes many times over the years – and won the Grand Jury Prize for Broken Flowers in 2005.
  9. Staying Vertical - Alain Guiraudie – Guiraudie is making his follow-up to the wonderful, Hitchcock-ian thriller Stranger By the Lake, and that alone makes this one I am very curious about - and since that’s about the only thing I know about it that will have to do.
  10. Aquarius - Kleber Mendonca Filho – Mendonca Filho’s debut film, Neighboring Sounds, about an insular neighborhood afflicted by violence in Brazil, was masterful – a film that slipped through the cracks in North America, but should not have. His next film stars Sonia Braga, and apparently she can travel through time. That’s all I need to know to make this one highly anticipated to me.
  11. From the Land of the Moon - Nicole Garcia – French actress turned filmmaker Garcia has a fine caste – Marion Cottilard and Louis Garrel top lining – in this WWII era film, about a “passionate woman” trapped in a loveless marriage who falls for another man. That sounds clichéd to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be great. Since I don’t know Garcia’s work as a director however, it isn’t among my most anticipated.
  12. I, Daniel Blake - Ken Loach – The least surprising inclusion in the lineup is the new film from director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty – if their new film is ready in time, it’s playing in competition at Cannes, even if there’s little doubt that his best films are behind him (it’s been downhill since the 2006 Palme winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley). Who knows, maybe this will be a return to form – and Loach has a wonderful career, so who the hell knows?
  13. Ma'Rosa - Brillante Mendoza – Philippine filmmaker Brillante Mendoza is a fixture on the festival circuit, and almost always controversial. His films never really get released in North America – the major reason I haven’t seen his films is because they are not easy to find. This is his fourth time at Cannes – he won a Best Director Prize for Kinatay. I know nothing else about this film, so who knows what it will be.
  14. Bacalaureat (Graduation) - Cristian Mungiu – Palme winning director for Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) returns with this movie starring Vlad Ivanov (who played the abortionist in that film, and has carved out a niche of creeps since then) that is apparently about parenting. His last film, the wonderful Beyond the Hills, won the Best Actress and Best Screenplay prize at Cannes – which makes this a formable film for Prizes – but more importantly, his talent makes this one of the most anticipated films in competition.
  15. Loving - Jeff Nichols – While Midnight Special plays in North American theaters, Jeff Nichols’ newest film, Loving, will be debuting at Cannes. A period piece based on a real case, where an inter-racial couple (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who take their case to the Supreme Court in 1967 to strike down racist, interracial marriage laws. Neither has the top billed role though – that is, of course, Nichols’ favorite Michael Shannon (although I have no idea what he’s playing). I think Nichols is one of the best directors around, so while this screams “OSCAR BAIT” –and has a November release date to back it up – I don’t much care. I cannot wait to see it.
  16. The Handmaiden - Park Chan-Wook – Korean director Park Chan-Wook – who has won a Grand Jury Prize for Oldboy and a Jury Prize for Thirst – returns to Cannes with The Handmaiden, a period genre piece about a woman who falls in love with a thief. Park is known for his ultra-violent films, so who knows where this one will go – although stills from the film certainly look “classier” than his normal work, so who can really tell what this will turn out to be.
  17. The Last Face - Sean Penn – Sean Penn’s first directorial effort since 2007’s Into the Wild stars Charlize Theron as an African aid worker and Javier Bardem as a doctor during a “political/social revolution” on that continent. It’s hard not to pre-judge this as yet another Hollywood film about Africa starring non-Africans, but Penn is a fine director, and the two stars are excellent, so I’ll try to remain cautiously optimistic.
  18. Sieranevada - Cristi Puiu – The Romanian director behind The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Aurora makes the leap from Un Certain Regard to the main competition with his latest – although what the hell it is about, I have no idea – and Puiu’s own description about it being about people who escape into fiction when overwhelmed by grief doesn’t much help matters. Still Puiu is a fascinating filmmaker and those two previously mentioned films are both great – so this will be anticipated by me.
  19. Elle - Paul Verhoeven – Count me among those who think that Verhoeven’s return to the Netherlands result in his best film – 2006’s Black Book, which is what makes this – his first proper film since then (there was the experiment Tricked – which I should probably catch up sooner or later) one that I cannot wait to see. The fact that it stats Isabelle Huppert is a bonus. The fact that it’s been described as a variation on the rape/revenge film has me intrigued (have we seen that too much? Yes – but Verhoeven is a director who is capable of doing something new with it – he’s also capable of making trash out of it, but if it’s in Cannes, will assume it isn’t that).
  20. The Neon Demon - Nicolas Winding Refn – As someone who loved Drive and hated Only God Forgives (and am fairly neutral on Refn’s work before them), I will remain optimistic about his latest – a female lead (Elle Fanning), neon-colored, Hollywood horror film. Refn remains a gifted stylist, and perhaps The Neon Demon will show that Only God Forgives was a fluke – or that Drive was. Either way, I’m seeing this as soon as possible.
Palme D’Or: Sieranevada - Cristi Puiu
Grand Prize of the Jury: American Honey – Andrea Arnold
Jury Prize: Toni Erdman – Maren Ade
Best Director: Paul Verhoeven, Elle
Best Actor: Gaspard Ulliel, It’s Only the End of the World
Best Actress: Emma Suarez & Adriana Ugarte, Julieta
Best Screenplay: Loving – Jeff Nichols

Making predictions about Cannes winners – based on no information, is always a little silly – but I enjoy doing it anyway. This year has me stumped though. Normally, the safest bet for the Palme win is a director who has won something at Cannes before, but not the Palme, and is seen as overdue – the last two winners, Winter Sleep by Nuri Bilge Ceylon and Dheepan by Jacques Audiard, certainly fit that mode. Here though, that list would include filmmakers like Brillante Mendoza and Bruno Dumont – who are controversial, so you wonder if that sort of consensus could form around them, Olivier Assayas, Park Chan-wook and Nicolas Winding Refn – whose filmography, or current film (in Assayas’ case) maybe too genre to win the major prize, and Jim Jarmusch, whose film seems like it could be too small and Xavier Dolan, although I wonder if he’s too young (and divisive) to win. That leaves two time Jury Prize winner Andrea Arnold – but she doesn’t quite have the same feeling as being overdue. You do have a few Palme winners in the mix as well – but with his recent output, I’m not willing to go all in for the latest from Almodovar, Ken Loach is hardly doing his best work lately, I cannot help but think that Mungiu may be too new to win a second Palme right now (although, the Dardennes did) and the Dardennes would become the first filmmakers ever to win three – which makes them unlikely. The Jury President is Mad Max’s George Miller, so perhaps being to genre won’t hurt – and he may be more willing than some to go “Hollywood” – although the American films don’t feel like Palme winners to me. So, I’m going slightly off board with by Palme pick – going with Cristi Puiu for Sieranevada – he has won a Prize in the Un Certain Regard category, and he’s certainly a great filmmaker. For the Grand Jury Prize, I’ll go with the previously mentioned Arnold – she is a great filmmaker, and the latest will probably be great. The Jury Prize to another female filmmaker – Maren Ade, whose film sounds perhaps a touch too weird to win one of the big ones, but could easily find fans on the Jury. For Best Director, I think one old timer (Miller) will reward another – Paul Verhoeven for Elle, which will likely be too violent to get more than this. For Best Actor, I’ll guess than Dolan’s talented star Gaspard Ulliel will take it for what should be a show-off role in it’s Only the End of the World. But don’t count out Romanians Vlad Ivanov for Bacalaureat or Mimi Branescu for Sieranevada or Hollywood stars Michael Shannon (or Joel Edgerton) for Loving, Adam Driver for Paterson and Javier Bardem for The Last Face. Cannes juries often love to give a duo prize for acting in the same film, so for Best Actress, I’ll guess the two stars of the Almodovar film Julieta - Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte. They could easily face stiff competition from Sonia Braga in Aquarius, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Charlize Theron in The Last Face – not to mention Marion Cotillard in either It’s Only the End of the World or From the Land of the Moon (Cotillard seems to enter Cannes every year as a favorite here – although she keeps not winning it). Finally, to add a little Hollywood to the proceedings, I’ll go with Jeff Nichols winning the screenplay award for Loving.
Am I going to be wrong in my Predictions? Almost certainly (I will say, I did pick Dheepan, Carol and The Assassin to win prizes last year, and they all did – The Assassin Best Director, which I called, and Carol for best Actress – although I guessed Blanchatt, and Mara won). I wanted to predict Aquarius – such is my love for Neighboring Sounds – but couldn’t find a spot to do so. If I knew anything more about Staying Vertical, I may well have picked that for something as well. Either way, I cannot wait to start hearing the reactions for Cannes next month.

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