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Countdown to Cannes: Why Directors' Fortnight Could Be a Treasure Trove of Discoveries

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire May 7, 2014 at 11:54AM

Our Countdown to Cannes column takes a look at various movies and filmmakers at the upcoming festival in the south of France worthy of anticipation.
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Daniel Wolfe's "Catch Me Daddy."

Our Countdown to Cannes column takes a look at various movies and filmmakers at the upcoming festival in the south of France worthy of anticipation.

The Cannes Film Festival receives so much attention from around the world that one can easily forget that the official lineup is actually quite small, and most of it lacks much surprise.

Of course, with 18 films in the main competition and 19 in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, there are plenty of major filmmakers with new work that could very well deliver on expectations. From French legend Jean-Luc Godard’s sure-to-be-divisive "Goodbye to Language" to Belgian masters of bittersweet drama the Dardenne brothers' "Two Days, One Night" and Turkish expert of slow-burn suspense Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep," this year’s competition looks like an excitingly diverse selection of some of the most intriguing filmmakers working today. Un Certain Regard has more unknown quantities, but even there, plenty of high profile names stand out — from actor Mathieu Almaric’s fourth directing effort, "The Blue Room," to Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut "Lost River."

However, if you really want to go digging from some cinematic discoveries from around the world, the place to look is down the road at Directors’ Fortnight.

Technically a separate festival, much like the even smaller Critics’ Week section, Directors’ Fortnight was launched in 1969 in the midst of May 1968 protests that resulted in the cancellation of the larger festival. With time, however, Directors’ Fortnight has functioned less like an alternative to Cannes than as a widening of its playing field: Certainly the main competition gets priority on the crop of titles available to premiere in mid-May, but with its allegiance to major auteurs, relationships with various studios and sales companies, those slots fill up fast. Directors’ Fortnight has the opportunity to recognize new talent and offbeat works that are sometimes just as good—and in a few cases a whole lot better—than the competition titles.

'Cold In July'

This edition is no exception. Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop has given slots to two well-received Sundance Film Festival titles, including the Grand Jury Prize-winning "Whiplash" and genre director Jim Mickle’s "Cold in July," while Cannes' official selection has no Sundance presence whatsoever. But more than that, Directors' Fortnight contains a handful of curiosities that may register as some of the most significant discoveries playing along the Croisette this year—and several of them suggest a common theme of lean crowd-pleasing genre experiments that should generate some excited reactions from audiences that choose to stick with the smaller festival. In the past, Directors' Fortnight has welcomed an edgy sensibility that’s especially kind to newcomers (both Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese premiered their early work there), and the new program looks like no exception.

Teens On the Lam

Among the less prominent ingredients of the lineup, Daniel Wolfe’s feature-length debut “Catch Me Daddy” stands out. While Waintrop pegged the movie in a Variety interview as a "thriller with biblical accents," the U.K. production is described by the British Film Council as the story of a teenager who skips town with her boyfriend after he abandons the army; with a pair of bounty hunters on their tail, the young woman continually faces the advances of her menacing father until she finally manages to face him down. Setting aside the enticing description, Wolfe has a track record that automatically makes his feature-length debut worth checking out: He directed the extended 2012 music video for "Time to Dance," by French rock band The Shoes, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a ruthless killer. Aside from ranking among the actor's fiercest roles without asking him to utter a word, "Time to Dance" exhibits a kind of frantic energy that suggests early Danny Boyle, even as it evokes similarly unnerving portraits ranging from Brian De Palma's "Scarface" to Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void." (Watch the entire video HERE.)

The End of Days Down Under

"These Final Hours"

"Catch Me Daddy" isn’t the only Directors’ Fortnight entry with a touch of genre-based intensity taken in fresh directions. Another debut with a tantalizing premise is "These Final Hours," the first feature by Australian filmmaker Zac Hilditch, which explores the experiences of several Perth locals in the aftermath of a meteor that strikes the other side of the planet. With the countdown to the end of days setting the plot in motion, "These Final Hours" suggests recent post-apocalyptic dramas like "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World," except that Hilditch’s story unfolds over the course of a single hedonistic end-of-the-world party in which plenty of chaos erupts. Though it premiered under the radar at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year, much of the world has yet to get a look at a curious project that Screen Daily contributor Frank Hatherly singled out in a review last summer for its strong performances and impressive special effects.  

Fast and Furious From South Korea

Another relative newcomer with a promising genre entry is Korean director Seong-Hun Kim’s "A Hard Day," an action-packed thriller about a cop who attempts to cover up his role in a hit-and-run. Early reports point to the commitment of actor Lee Seon-kyun to endure a series of physical stunts that literally tore up his body; with so much souped-up action dominating Hollywood productions, the notion of a naturalistic action production is enticing, particularly because Korean cinema has a long-standing tradition of delivering the goods in this regard. (Watch the trailer HERE.)

Not Exactly New, But Still Noteworthy

Even while singling out these titles suggests a collective sensibility among many of the new filmmakers at the festival this year, Directors' Fortnight also includes more established figures who deserve singling out. Argentinean director Diego Lerman has steadily gathered acclaim on the festival circuit since his 2002 debut "Suddenly." His fourth feature "Refugiado" focuses on a 7-year-old who grows jealous when his mother becomes pregnant. It promises elements of a thriller and a road trip as the child and his single mother cope with domestic abuse and eventually strike out on their own.

It’s exactly the sort of contained story that could generate a strong response at Director's Fortnight, but French director Céline Sciamma’s "Girlhood" could very well keep it company in that respect. Sciamma has made a name herself as a perceptive chronicler of troubled young women with "Water Lilies" and "Tomboy"; with "Girlhood," which opens the festival, she sticks to familiar turf with a project said to focus on Parisian girl gang. Sciamma and Lerman aren’t exactly newcomers, but they’re overdue for broader acclaim, and these projects may just solve that conundrum.

Celine Sciamma's "Girlhood."

Don't Forget the Fixtures

Yet there are even more accomplished filmmakers in the lineup with tantalizing projects: French provocateur Bruno Dumont will receive a special screening of his four-part television miniseries "Li’l Quinquin," a detective story that—because Dumont, director of unsettling portraits of disarray like "Outside Satan" and "Camille Claudel 1915," never indulges in clichés—will likely turn that premise into something entirely fresh. But looming above all is 84-year-old documentarian Frederick Wiseman, whose three-hour look at London’s prominent museum with “National Gallery” sounds like a concise project compared with last year’s nearly five-hour "At Berkeley."

There are plenty of reasons why the main competition could have passed on these movies: lack of interest, lack of space, timing issues or other boring details. Whatever the case, the result is another Directors’ Fortnight lineup filled with potential surprises. We'll know soon enough whether Cannes’ loss is Directors' Fortnight gain, but for now, the available evidence holds promise.

This article is related to: Reviews, Festivals, Countdown to Cannes, Cannes Directors' Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival, Directors' Fortnight, Celine Sciamma, Whiplash, Cold in July