With the 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival just days away, cinephiles and industryites the world over are preparing for a new round of the best movies from around the globe. But there’s a curious trend at this year’s special anniversary event: a preponderance of Hollywood and American indie cinema. Never particularly lacking in press coverage, a raft of U.S. auteurs — Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, David Fincher, et. al. — will likely once again grab the headlines in Cannes. But this being “le Festival international du film” (as it was once known) what about all those other countries’ movies?
Notwithstanding French director Olivier Assayas‘ “Boarding Gate,” an English-language thriller starring Cannes “It-girl” Asia Argento (starring in three films in official selection) and American director Julian Schnabel‘s French-language “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” starring Cannes “It-boy” Matthieu Amalric (also in three films), here is a list of ten full-fledged foreign-language productions (in alphabetical order) generating buzz and anticipation among critics, distributors and festival programmers. Surely, other discoveries will emerge as the festival goes on, and some of these titles may not live up to expectations, but as with any festival, we can only hope for the best.
“Days of Darkness” (“L’Age des tenebres”), directed by Denys Arcand
Canada (Out of Competition)
International sales: Studio Canal
From French-Canadian director Arcand comes the third installment in a trilogy of films that began with 1986’s “The Decline of the American Empire” and 2003’s Oscar nominee “The Barbarian Invasions,” a Cannes winner for best screenplay. Closing the festival on May 27, the film stars Quebecois actor Marc Labreche as a bored civil servant husband and father of two who dreams up wild fantasies — a la Walter Mitty — to make up for his dull life. Other high-profile cast members include Germany beauty Diane Kruger (“Troy“) and singer Rufus Wainwright. At this point, it’s too early to tell whether the film will aspire to the heights of his 1989 feature “Jesus of Montreal” or stumble like his 2000 Cannes opener “Stardom.” But with Arcand at the helm, one can expect sharp social commentary: According to Telefilm Canada, the film begins with the following assumptions: “Democracy is dead, political corruption rampant, the family destroyed, ethics and morality gone; religions and esoteric practices flourish. Great epidemics lie in waiting. All that remains are games: electronic, Olympic, paraplegic and mediatic.”
“The Edge of Heaven” (“Auf der anderen Seite des Lebens”), directed by Fatih Akin
International sales: The Match Factory GmbH
Fatih Akin’s much-admired 2004 Berlin winner “Head-On” is the first of a planned trilogy of films on love, death and the devil. If “Head-On” was about embattled love, “The Edge of Heaven” chronicles the lives of six characters who are all united by death: Nejat (Baki Devrak), his widower father Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), Yeter, his prostitute girlfriend (Nursel Koese), her Turkish daughter Ayten (Nurgel Yesilcay), her German friend Lotte (Patrycia Ziokowska) and Lotte’s mother Susanne (Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla). One industry insider noted the screenplay is supposed to be excellent. Produced by Corazon International (backers of Akin’s last two films “Crossing the Bridge” and “Head On”), “Edge of Heaven” could be a hard sell with U.S. buyers (“Head On” was a very modest success for Strand Releasing), but watch for the German-Turkish drama to be a potential critics’ darling.
“Flight of the Red Balloon” (“Balloon Rouge”), directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien
France (Un Certain Regard)
International sales: Films Distribution
Inspired by Albert Lamorisse‘s 1956’s French children’s classic “The Red Balloon” (which also has a special screening at this year’s festival), the film tracks a mysterious red balloon that follows seven-year-old Simon around Paris. His single-mother Suzanne (Juliet Binoche) is a puppeteer so completely absorbed in her new show, she hires Song Fang, a Taiwanese film student, to help her care for her son. Billed as Hou’s first “Western” film, cinephiles will undoubtedly be curious to see how the Taiwanese master and Cannes competition regular (“Three Times,” “Millennium Mambo,” “Flowers of Shanghai“) will make of this simple children’s fable. If the lyrical trailer available on YouTube is any indication, Hou won’t disappoint his fans.
“The Man From London,” directed by Bela Tarr
International sales: Fortissimo Films
After the tragically unexpected suicide of the film’s French producer Humbert Balsan and the project’s well-publicized collapse and re-launch, “The Man From London” finally arrives complete in Cannes, with cinephiles’ anticipation high in the wake of the Hungarian master’s previous art-film triumphs (“Werckmeister Harmonies,” “Satantango“). Based on a short story by celebrated Belgian crime-fiction writer George Simenon, “The Man From London” follows a switchman at a railway station who witnesses a murder and ends up retrieving the dead man’s suitcase, which is filled with money. Then according to an available synopsis, “Feelings of guilt and sudden wealth throw his life dominated by routine out of kilter.” Shot by German-born filmmaker Fred Kelemen, the movie stars Czech actor Miroslav Krobot, and also features Tilda Swinton and Hungarian actors Janos Derzsi and Istvan Lenart.
“The Orphanage,” directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Spain (Critic’s Week)
International sales: Wild Bunch; U.S. distributor: Picturehouse
Backed by Guillermo del Toro, this Spanish horror-thriller wowed distributors at Berlin’s European Film Market where, based on a promo reel, the film sold to ten territories, including the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Australia and Latin America. The story focuses on a woman (“The Sea Inside‘s” Belen Rueda) who returns to the long abandoned orphanage where she grew up with plans to reopen it for disabled children. But once there, the old house stirs up forbidding forces and her 7-year-old son’s imagination, who finds himself “an invisible friend.” The 32-year-old Bayona is a first-time feature filmmaker, but he’s widely known for his award-winning music videos, commercials and short films (“Mis vacaciones“).
Bayona is joined in Critic’s Week by a couple of other hot Spanish-speaking talents making their feature debuts: successful Mexican commercial director Simon Bross‘s “Bad Habits,” which recently won a major prize at the Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival and was acquired for international sales by Fortissimo; and Mexican super-star Gael Garcia Bernal‘s “Deficit,” which is about class conflict at a family gathering in Mexico.
“Persepolis,” directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
International sales: Dreamachine; U.S. distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Much loved across the world, Satrapi’s bestselling autobiographical animated novels “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” and “Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return” chronicle her coming-of-age during the rise of the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s and early ’80s, through the Iran-Iraq war, her high-school education in Austria, and her return to Iran as a young adult. Few, if any, 2-D black-and-white animated first features have ever nabbed a competition berth at Cannes. If the movie contains the poignancy and sharp political observations of the books, it should live up to its highly coveted slot. Executive produced by Hollywood bigwig Kathleen Kennedy (“E.T.,” “The Bourne Ultimatum“) and starring Chiari Mastroianni (also appearing in Christophe Honore‘s competition musical “Les Chansons d’amour“) as the voice of Marjane, the film also features the voices of Catherine Deneuve as Marjane’s mother, Simon Abkarian as her father and French legend Danielle Darrieux as her steely grandmother. Sony Classics came on board the film during last year’s festival.
“Secret Sunshine,” directed by Lee Chang-dong
South Korea (Competition)
International sales: CJ Entertainment
While one of the leading figures of South Korea’s New Wave, the films of Lee Chang-dong (“Green Fish,” “Peppermint Candy,” “Oasis“) have seen little big-screen time in the U.S. But following a recent groundswell of support for the nation’s cinema (see “The Host“; Park Chan-wook‘s revenge trilogy; or Kim Ki-Duk, whose latest “Breath” is also in competition), Lee’s “Screen Sunshine” comes to the Croisette with strong momentum — and already one major critical champion, Variety and L.A. Weekly critic Scott Foundas. In a blog post (http://blogs.laweekly.com/foundas/let-the-sunshine-in/) from Paris, Foundas caught an advanced screening of the film and called it “nothing less than superb,” and “a secular hymn to the small triumphs and cavernous tragedies of the everyday, and to our awesome ability to cope.” The film has already screened for the Korean press, who reportedly have been rallying around actress Jeon Do-yeon as a viable contender for Best Actress in Cannes. The film co-stars Song Kang-ho, the popular actor from “The Host.”
“Silent Light,” directed by Carlos Reygadas
International sales: BAC Films
For some, a new film from young Mexican auteur Reygadas (“Japon,” “Battle in Heaven“) heralds the arrival of a potential masterpiece, visually breathtaking and thematically provocative. For others, it could portend self-indulgence and head scratching. Either way, Reygadas’ new project stimulates for its sheer originality: Set in a Mennonite community in Mexico, starring non-professional actors and shot in the old Germanic language of Plautdeitsch, the film tells the story of a married man who falls in love with another woman, testing both the will of community and God. “I love the sound of this language and that this culture has been supported for so many years,” Reygadas told the Associated Press, while casting in Germany. “Now Mennonites have to migrate because the economic situation is so bad, but their story is unbelievable.”
“Terror’s Advocate” (L’Avocat de la terreur”), directed by Barbet Schroeder
France (Un Certain Regard)
International sales: Wild Bunch; U.S. distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Outside of “Sicko,” veteran director Barbet Schroeder’s new film is perhaps Cannes’ most highly anticipated documentary. A portrait of Jacques Verges, the controversial lawyer known as “The Devil’s Advocate,” infamous for representing many perceived as indefensible (from Pol Pot to Mao Tse Tung, Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein), the film promises to be straightforward and impartial, following in the footsteps of Schroeder’s prior nonfiction outing “Idi Amin Dada,” a portrait of Ugandan dictator General Idi Amin. After acquiring the U.S. rights to the film in February, Magnolia Pictures‘ Eamonn Bowles said, “Barbet’s clear eyed sensibilities, coupled with his sense of humor and absurdity, are the perfect match for this explosive subject matter.”
“Triangle,” directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To
Hong Kong-China (Out of Competition; Midnight)
International sales: Dreamachine
A last-minute edition to this year’s Cannes lineup, this thriller sounds like a warped Hong Kong action version of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” The story follows three friends — Hong Kong superstars Louis Koo (“Election“), Simon Yam (“Exiled“) and Sun Hongh Lei (“The Road Home“) — who learn about an ancient treasure buried under a high-security government building. But when they get a hold of the loot, greed tests their relationship, while gangsters are hot on their trail. Billed as the first film to be shot in the style of the ‘exquisite corpse’ game, with each director passing off one part of the story to the other, “Triangle” will be a must-see midnight event for fans — and distributors — of veteran Hong Kong mavericks Tsui, Lam and To.
The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE’s special section.