The Cannes Films to Get Excited About

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CannesPhotography by Clement Jolin, from the book Portrait de Villes

With the festival kicking off tomorrow, we take a look at some of the key films and talking points for this year

The Lobster
After Dogtooth and the under-seen Alps comes Yiorgos Lanthimos’ eagerly anticipated third full-length film, and his first in English. It’s something of a trend in Cannes this year for ‘world’ directors to be working in English: witness Paolo Sorrentino getting an all-star international cast on board for Youth, his follow-up to The Great Beauty, and the Norwegian director Joachim Trier working with Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg on the intriguing Louder Than Bombs. It doesn’t always work out all that well – see (or rather, don’t) Arnaud Desplechin’s mealy Jimmy P. starring Benicio del Toro or, more infamously, Wong Kar-Wai’s risibly awful My Blueberry Nights. 

From what insiders tell me, however, The Lobster is set to be a bit of a treat. It stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, AnOther cover star Léa Seydoux and Ben Whishaw, intriguingly, as The Limping Man. Thierry Fremaux has already called it “one of the most strange and mysterious films to show in competition” (and don’t forget that the last time we got a strange and mysterious film in competition, it was the riotously batshit and brilliant Holy Motors by Leos Carax). Now posters for the film have appeared and they are beautiful: delicate, somehow sorrowful, mysterious. The Coen brothers, who are presiding over the jury this year (including Jake Gyllenhaal, Xavier Dolan and Sienna Miller), could very well go for this one.

It’s been eight years since Todd Haynes’s last feature film, the excellent Bob Dylan non-biopic I’m Not There. Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, sees him reunited with his gnarliest Bob, Cate Blanchett, in the title role. The film will tell the story of the passion between a young sales assistant (played by Rooney Mara) and a much older, married woman (Blanchett).

Haynes’s sensitivity, his feel for period and for manners, his generosity and empathy towards his female characters, his subtle subversion, and his ability to coax brilliant performances from actors, make him a natural fit for this project. It will also be good to see Blanchett sink her teeth into something juicy. I have a slight quibble, which is that Haynes did not write this film (the script is by Phyllis Nagy): how close is he to the film? Is it simply a studio commission for him, or has he been given the chance to put his own imprint on the material? I long to see him create a story of his own, after his perfectly fine Mildred Pierce and now this adaptation; nevertheless, you can expect his gorgeously queer aesthetic to be all over this.

There has to be one every year, and this year Gaspar Noé’s Love is the self-appointed shock of the festival before it has even begun. This is in no small part because the shy and retiring head of Wild Bunch films, Vincent Maraval, tweeted a glimpse of the film’s eye-wateringly candid poster last week. (Warning: N even slightly SFW) The picture, upon release, immediately made the lubricious poster for Sorrentino’s Youth look haggard and boring.

We now also have this rather self-parodistic summary to go on (caps not mine): “LOVE occurs beyond GOOD and EVIL. LOVE is a genetic need. LOVE is an altered state of consciousness. LOVE is a hard drug. LOVE is a mental disease. Love is a game of power. LOVE is to surpass one's self. LOVE is a blinding light. Love is sperm, fluids and tears. LOVE is an arousing sexual melodrama about a boy and a girl and ANOTHER GIRL.” Hmm. Noé is a gifted maker of images, with an eye for colour and for the visceral, but his traditional sledgehammer approach might very well tip the film towards the diabolical. At any rate, it is set to make a splash. 

Italy has three films in competition this year: besides Youth (starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and others), we’ll also get to see The Tale of Tales by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) and Mia Madre by Nanni Moretti (one of two returning Palme d’Or winners along with Gus Van Sant, who is presenting the closely guarded Sea of Trees starring Matthew McConaughey).

The plot of Youth is apparently as follows: “A retired orchestra conductor is on holiday with his daughter and her friend in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip's birthday.” Search me. But if Sorrentino can pump anything like as much directorial razzle-dazzle into it as he chucked at The Great Beauty, the film should be worth a look.

The Tale of Tales, by Garrone, is a bit of a departure after the tense realism of Gomorrah and the wryness of his reality-TV satire, Reality. This new film finds him in a different mode, drawing on the faiytales of 17th century author Giambattista Basile, with Salma Hayek playing the Queen of Longtrellis and Vincent Cassel the King of Strongcliff. It sounds audacious at any rate, and could just as easily win everything as find itself booed out of town.

Finally, Moretti’s Mia Madre looks like it might find him in the same vein as The Son’s Room: telling the story of a film director torn between her work and her private life, the film marks a break from his two latest, more elliptical excursions with The Caiman (about Berlusconi) and Habemus Papam (about the papacy). Opposite Margherita Buy, a favourite actor of Moretti’s, we’ll get to see the Coen brothers’ old mucker John Turturro acting in Italian. Can’t wait. 

The rejects
This year, perhaps above all other years, there have been some startling snubs and omissions. So all eyes will be on new films by great directors who have somewhat enigmatically been left out of the main competition. Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been unceremoniously relegated to the sidebar category Un Certain Regard for Cemetery of Splendour after the last film he showed here, Uncle Boonmee, only went and won the Palme blooming d’Or. Many will say he should be competing alongside Moretti and Van Sant. Meanwhile the festival darling Miguel Gomes (Tabu) finds himself in another sidebar category, The Directors’ Fortnight, for his scorchingly anticipated 1001 Nights. From what I hear, at least one of these films is magnificent. Expect an outcry if either of them turns out better than the films in competition.

See photographer Clement Jolin's photographic love letter to the Cannes Film Festival here.