Famed for its glamorous premieres, which welcome the most famous celebrities from around the world, it’s fairly easy to forget that actually, the Cannes Film Festival exists to showcase the best that cinema has to offer. This year, the auteur stakes were high enough to turn some heads away from the red carpet: Croisette favourites like Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes and Lynne Ramsay all made a welcome return.
AnOther spent a week at the festival sifting through its burgeoning line-up, picking out the best of the comeback arthouse greats, the films that took us by surprise, and a few that arrived out of nowhere but left a lasting impression.
1. Jeune Femme
We’re dubbing this Parisian film about the life of a hapless woman trying to find her path in life a kind of Frances Ha, but in reality, Jeune Femme has an identity all of its own. The film follows Paula, a 31-year-old woman who walks out on her boyfriend (taking his cat with her) to start afresh in a city she truly despises. It will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Noah Baumbach’s indie classics and Amy Schumer’s Trainwrecked, but Leonor Seraille’s debut is a singular, funny and sardonic look at how adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Anyone who likes their arthouse cinema doused in positivity and happiness should probably look the other way for this one. Andrey Zvyagintsev is known for his humanist stories of political and social conflict, and they’re made so tautly that he seldom moves outside the ‘masterpiece’ realm. Heavy and yet invigorating, Loveless is no different. We find ourselves in a Russian city, watching as a divorcing man and a woman argue over who will take custody of their child. The next morning, having heard the conversation, the boy suddenly goes missing. It’s a gripping story about the danger of self-obsession that knocks you into a stupor with every slow-moving, mysterious scene.
3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
If you enjoyed the weirdness of Dogtooth or The Lobster, you should run to see Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest. Although it’s a little more restrained with its oddball sensibilities, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is still a serious work of genius. Colin Farrell plays a surgeon who lives a fairly mundane, suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children (Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic), but their humdrum existence is turned upside down by the arrival of a quiet and sadistic teenage boy (Barry Keoghan). It’s a Kubrick-style horror with a lick of comedy that will leave you awe-struck by the time the credits roll.
4. The Beguiled
What do you get when you mix a dangerous erotic novel set during the American Civil War with one of the greatest directors working today? The answer is The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s hotly anticipated comeback to the Cannes competition. Her salacious tale follows a clan of women living in a remote all girls’ school, each one vying for the attention of an injured enemy soldier who winds up in their care. Nicole Kidman delivers yet another brilliant performance as the school’s brilliantly vindictive matriarch, while Coppola’s sharp-witted script and eye for detail makes us wish we were back in the 1860s, witnessing this rich and devious drama unfold in person.
5. The Meyerowitz Stories
The news of an Adam Sandler movie having its premiere in Cannes’ main competition sent shockwaves around the cinephile circles. The man behind many less-than-loved buddy comedies appearing alongside solidified arthouse greats was too strange a thought for some to digest, but the actor’s brilliant collaboration with the king of ‘mumblecore’ Noah Baumbach wound up being brilliantly charming. A comedy about a dysfunctional New York family that converge in their artist father’s apartment to celebrate his new retrospective, it’s hilarious, human, and greatly performed by an ensemble which includes Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson.
6. The Florida Project
Sean Baker had already proved himself a brilliant capturer of Americana on film with his last features, Starlet, and the transgender sex worker comedy Tangerine. His love for social realism appears once again in The Florida Project, a saccharine sweet story of a six-year-old girl’s independence as she roams the motels around the fringes of Disneyland. But beneath the surface, critics were surprised at Sean’s deft handling of a heavy subject. It may look like a lurid Harmony Korine movie, but the film’s heart has much in common with the powerful work of Ken Loach.
7. Good Time
Robert Pattinson may have shown face in films by David Lynch and James Gray before, but it’s his gritty turn in this 1970s-inspired heist movie that has left his harshest critics salivating. In Good Time, Pattinson plays Connie, the man behind a botched bank robbery that has landed his younger brother in prison. Bookended by moments of real emotional grace, the vast majority of Good Time takes us on a neon-coloured, heart racing chase for hard cash as Connie tries to find the money to bail his brother out. Don’t be thrown by its silly exterior; this is a visceral, gut-punching piece of filmmaking.
8. The Square
Ruben Östlund’s follow up to his Golden Globe-nominated family drama Force Majeure is a biting satire about creative oligarchy and soulless modern art – and the Cannes’ audience lapped it up like arsenic-laced cat’s milk. The film follows Christian, the curator of a famous modern art gallery that has just acquired a new work titled The Square, a piece which asks viewers to stand inside a space in which no rules exist and anything can happen. Distracted by his overactive libido and an incident that sees him take extreme lengths to get his stolen phone back, Christian leaves the PR campaign for the exhibition in the hands of two young marketing bigwigs who inadvertently throw the gallery’s reputation into disrepute. It’s hideously funny, but look out for a dinner party scene that accounts for five minutes of the most tense, shocking and invigorating cinema you’ll see all year.
9. I Am Not a Witch
Even before the festival had kicked off, everybody was talking about Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not A Witch. An obscure satirical fable set in Zambia, it follows Shula, a young girl who, for no apparent reason, becomes the subject of a witch trial who’s carted off to live her life with other women who’ve suffered a similar fate, despite the fact that her magical powers haven’t been proven. Rungano originally set out to make a film about freedom, but inadvertently made a gorgeous and accomplished story about womanhood in Africa. With a captivating turn from Maggie Mulubwa as her lead star, something tells us this is a little film from a Brit director that we’ll be talking about for months to come.
10. The Rider
Sometimes, the best films saunter into your life out of nowhere and hit you with a guttural sense of wonder. That’s how I felt after seeing The Rider, the latest film from Chinese-American director Chloé Zhao. A fictional narrative that’s told with real life bronc-riding actors and inspired by true events, it follows Brady: a young rodeo competitor whose life takes a depressive turn when he has a serious accident in the hands of one of his horses. Having been told he should never ride again, we watch as Brady tries to come to terms with having to distance himself from his life passion. It’s a simple story, almost biblical, but it perfectly addresses how we come to discover the reason for our existence. Sweeping, emotional, triumphant; this was Cannes’ quiet masterwork.