What year of Cannes is this again? Woody Allen’s opening the festival, Steven Spielberg’s got an out-of-competition slot, Pedro Almodovar’s in the main competition. All of these things have come to pass before. Cannes’ allegiance to its club of world-class filmmakers is only rivaled by its adoration of stars. But even as the 69th edition of the festival provides a global platform for the likes of Allen’s “Cafe Society,” opening this year’s festival, Spielberg’s “The BFG,” and Almodovar’s “Julieta” — among several other internationally renowned auteurs — they aren’t the whole story.
Other notable filmmakers and stars in this year’s venerated Official Competition — Nicolas Winding Refn with the cannibal thriller “Neon Demon,” Belgian duo the Dardenne brothers with “The Unknown Girl,” Olivier Assayas with the Kristen Stewart vehicle “Personal Shopper” — have been long expected to show up. However, Cannes usually gets its pick of the litter among the best in current cinema, which means that there’s plenty of room to pick apart the details of its selection. Here are a few striking developments from the announcement of the 2016 program.
More surprisingly, Iranian heavyweight Asghar Farhadi (the Oscar-winning “A Separation”) seemed like a safe bet for Cannes with the untitled project he shot last year. It’s not there, and neither is Terrence Malick’s cosmic mystery “Voyage of Time,” which many assumed to be reaching its competition. Chilean director Pablo Larrain was widely expected to land in Cannes competition with his period drama “Neruda,” and Mexico’s Amat Escalante had a shot at following up his first Cannes competition slot (for the ultra-violent “Heli”) with “The Untamed.” No such luck for either Latin American director. The legendary Alejandro Jodoworsky, meanwhile, didn’t surface with “Endless Poetry,” but that’s allegedly heading to nearby Director’s Fortnight, where the octogenarian filmmaker premiered “The Dance of Reality” in 2013.
And lest we forget: Oliver Stone’s “Snowden,” in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the exiled contractor, was pushed out of a release date last fall into this year — which would make it an easy fit for Cannes, given the director’s pedigree. At the same time, Stone hasn’t made a strong narrative feature in a number of years, so it’s possible this one simply didn’t fit the festival’s standards.
Finally, here’s a bevy of other notable filmmakers (many of whom have a history at Cannes) with projects known to be in various stages of completion who didn’t surface in the lineup today: Fatih Akin, Bertrand Bonello, Marco Bellochio, Arnaud des Pallières, Francois Ozon, Joaquim Lafosse, Emir Kusturica, Wim Wenders, Stephen Frears, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Cate Shortland, Lucrecia Martel, James Gray, Denis Villeneuve, Andrew Dominik, David Michod, Ari Folman, John Cameron Mitchell. Of course, their absence is a nice reminder that a whole world of movies exists well beyond the confines of this particular festival lineup.
The Diversity Issue
However, Cannes tends to wield its Un Certain Regard sidebar like an excuse note to show the broader reach of its lineup. “In spite of all the appearances, we make no distinction between competition and the other parts of the selection,” said artistic director Thierry Fremaux at the 2016 press conference. Whether or not that’s the case — most filmmakers would unquestionably prefer the Official Competition designation — this year’s UCR does include an additional four women directors, though two of them are associated with one project. Sister filmmakers Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s “The Stopover,” which stars Greek actress Ariane Labed (a regular in Yorgos Lanthimos’ films), focuses on a pair of female soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The other women filmmakers in the section are newcomers Maha Haj (“Omar Shakhsiya,” from Israel), and Stephanie Di Giusto (“The Dancer,” France).
Needless to say, just a few months after #OscarsSoWhite made international headlines, expect this year’s Cannes to keep that conversation going. The festival may claim that its emphasis on quality above all else makes it difficult to choose films on the basis of other demands, but that’s unlikely to placate most people. “We know the risks we are taking,” Fremaux said at this year’s press conference. “Sometimes, those risks are transformed into pain.” The complaints about diversity will hurt more than ever this year.
— Peter Yeung (@ptr_yeung) April 14, 2016
The Year of Jarmusch
But Jarmusch will also walk the red carpet with a documentary — yes, another documentary at Cannes! — about Iggy Pop and the Stooges called “Gimme Danger.” (Notably, last year’s midnight section showcased the Amy Winehouse documentary “Amy,” which eventually won the Oscar.) Jarmusch’s roots in the New York underground as both director and musician make him ideally suited to tackle this seminal punk figure. He’ll be making a lot of headlines this year.
Stepping Up to the Big Leagues
However, the big advancements for established directors include Albert Serra’s “The Last Days of Louie XIV,” which has a Special Screenings slot. The Catalonian filmmaker’s “Story of My Death,” a provocative riff on the life of Casanova by way of Dracula, returns to the past with this peculiar take on French royalty starring the great Jean-Pierre Leaud. He’s going to UCR, but it’s still a major platform for this niche filmmaker.
The aforementioned Ade’s “Tony Ermann” is worthy of anticipation on the strength of her previous feature alone, while Brazilian critic-turned-filmmaker Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Aquarias” marks a major step forward for a director whose first film “Neighboring Sounds” was acclaimed on the festival circuit even as its slow-burn experimental approach to portraying a small Brazilian community alienated broader audiences. “Aquarias” is also said to take place in an insular environment, but it carries a more peculiar twist, with its focus on older woman played by Sonia Braga who lives alone and has figured out a way to travel through time.
France’s quietly transgressive Bruno Dumont last came to Directors Fortnight with his acclaimed mini-series “Li’ll Quinquin,” and rumor had it that his new film “Slack Bay” had been offered an opening night slot there as well. Instead, he’ll bring the Juliette Binoche-starring film, about a bunch of tourists who vanish from a beach in 1910, into the bright lights of competition.
Then there’s Alain Guiraudie, whose queer thriller “Stranger By the Lake” shocked UCR audiences just a few years ago. With his mysterious “Rester Vertical” in competition, the meticulous French director may be on the verge of finding a whole new audience.
Middle Eastern Promises
No Love For Big Countries
A Sundance Surprise
For that reason alone, many expected this year’s edition to showcase the big Sundance 2016 winner, Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation.” But it’s possible that Fox Searchlight, which spend a record $17.5 million on the film, felt that Cannes wasn’t the best place to showcase this celebratory portrait of the slave revolt led by Nat Turner. While many consider it moving, the sentimental drama is hardly a critics favorite, and that mentality tends to rule the show at Cannes. Instead, Cannes programmers went with actor-turned-director Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” which played out of competition at Sundance and stars Viggo Mortensen as a man reentering society after isolating himself for 10 years. A surprise hit at that festival, “Captain Fantastic” is now poised to become an overseas success as well.
Other directors get a late-career boost. Eighty-six year-old Paul Vecchiali will premiere a film for the first time at Cannes with “The Cancer,” an intimate family drama screening out of competition.
A Closing Night Surprise
“Is the closing movie cursed?” one reporter asked Fremaux at the 2016 press conference. The garrulous programmer was quick to point out that not all Cannes closers have been such disappointments, as previous entries include “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Thelma and Louise.” “We’ve tried several solutions,” Fremaux said. “Maybe we’ll say, after this year’s festival, that it wasn’t a good idea.”
That’s about as humble as reps for this world-class gathering are willing to get. Stay tuned to see if its other risks paid off.