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9 Shockers From the 2016 Cannes Film Festival Lineup: Snubs & Surprises

9 Shockers From the 2016 Cannes Film Festival Lineup: Snubs & Surprises

READ MORE: 2016 Cannes Film Festival Announces Lineup, Including New Films From Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster and Many More

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. 

Notable Omissions

With so many big titles in production around the world, a lot of possible additions to the lineup inevitably didn’t make the cut. In some cases, they may not have been ready, or the festival programmers didn’t like what they saw. Explanations will vary depending on who you ask, but there were many notable omissions this year. Few expected Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” to be ready in time for Cannes, and that appears to have been the case. Ben Wheatley, a rising star of British cinema, made the action movie “Free Fall” with Brie Larson quite a while ago, but it also appears to be angling for later this year. Other high-profile titles expected to hit the fall circuit include Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between the Oceans,” starring Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, as well as Clint Eastwood’s Tom Hanks vehicle “Sully.” Already, the last quarter of the year has started to take shape.

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 

For years, Cannes has weathered controversy over the small number of women directors in its lineup, and it hasn’t dodged that issue with this year’s selection. Only three women directors wound up in this year’s main selection: Maren Ade, the German filmmaker whose intense relationship drama “Everyone Else” was a sleeper hit in 2009, steps up to competition with the similarly-themed “Toni Erdmann.” Cannes fixture Andrea Arnold (whose “Fish Tank” was a hit in competition; she later served on the jury) returns with “American Honey,” a hard-partying midwestern tale. And French actress-turned-director Nicole Garcia also returns to Cannes, where her drama “Charlie Says” played in 2006, to premiere “From the Land of the Moon,” an adaptation of Milena Agus’ WWII-set co-starring Marion Cotillard and Louis Garrel.

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.

Topical Non-Fiction

As usual, Cannes offers no dedicated spot for documentaries beyond its Cannes Classics section, and few non-fiction offerings surface in this year’s lineup. Nevertheless, the programmers have made one topical selection with “The Last Resort,” a documentary directed by Thanos Anastopoulos and David Del Degan about the migrant crisis. Even more exciting is the return of Cambodian director Rithy Panh, whose tender diary films have turned him into a cinephile favorite. His last one, “The Missing Picture,” landed a surprise Oscar nomination for foreign language. Just as that movie ruminated on his troubled childhood in the fractured country, Panh’s “Exile” draws from archival images to revisit other moments in his life threaded into a broader national history.  

The Year of Jarmusch

It’s been three years since the last time we got a Jim Jarmusch movie (“Only Lovers Left Alive,” a surprise delight in Cannes competition). Now, the filmmaker best known for his deadpan character studies is making up for the gap with two new films, both of which will play Cannes. “Paterson,” a New Jersey-set tale starring Adam Driver as a bus driver who moonlights as a poet, landed an expected competition slot. (The film is said to be a small, accessible work by the filmmaker’s standards, and is in good hands with Amazon Studios.)

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

Cannes’ Official Selection will showcase seven first films this year, but a lot of directors with established track records will get a massive boost in publicity simply by upgrading to the main selection. Amusingly, 27-year-old Xavier Dolan isn’t among those newcomers. While he’ll premiere his adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s “It’s Only the End of the World” in competition, he already landed that slot for “Mommy” in 2014, where he shared a Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard. That gives him a leg up on even Jodie Foster, whose “Money Monster” will screen out of competition and mark her first time at Cannes as a filmmaker. 

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

Even as Farhadi won’t make it to Cannes this year, the fate of Middle Eastern cinema doesn’t rest on his shoulders alone. There are no Middle Eastern filmmakers in competition, but several in UCR. These include Iran’s Behnam Behzadi with “Inversion,” the aforementioned Haj with “Personal Affairs,” and fellow Israeli Eran Kolirin — previously at Cannes with the crowdpleaser “The Band’s Visit” — premiering “Beyond the Mountain and the Hills.” There’s also a filmmaker from Egypt, Mohamed Diab, whose “Clash” reportedly focuses on Islamic fundamentalism and his country’s recent challenges with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

No Love For Big Countries

Despite its international reach, this year’s lineup under-represents much about the state of international cinema: There are no films in the Official Selection from Australia, China or India, despite each country’s vibrant industry. Latin America and Eastern Europe also have diminished roles. Expect some of these oversights to be rectified by Directors Fortnight and Cannes’ Critics Week, as well as smaller festivals later this year. 

A Sundance Surprise

Cannes doesn’t usually showcase much from Sundance, and the rumor mill in recent years has suggested that Fremaux didn’t want to represent on the Park City gathering at all. However, it has turned to Sundance to acknowledge some aspect of African American cinema: “Precious,” “Fruitvale” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” all landed UCR slots. 

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. 

Elder Intrigue 

British director Ken Loach has been a Cannes regular for decades, but after 2014’s “Jimmy’s Hall,” he claimed to be retired. Nevertheless, he’s back again with “I, Daniel Blake,” which focuses on the plight of a middle-aged carpenter, the kind of working class drama that has been Loach’s trademark for years. But he’s not the only the filmmaker in his eighties jockeying for the Palme d’Or this year. Paul Verhoeven returns to the spotlight a decade after his hit WWII thriller “Black Book” for his inaugural French language effort, “Elle,” which stars Isabelle Huppert as the victim of a home invasion attack seeking revenge. Both directors may be in the later stages of their careers, but recent efforts suggest they haven’t lost touch with the ingredients that made them worth tracking in the first place. 

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 

While Cannes always starts with a bang, it has struggled to find an equally strong finale. Last year’s edition ended with the environmental documentary “Ice and the Sky,” while the previous year’s slot went to a restoration of Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars” presented by Quentin Tarantino. The somewhat random trajectory of the closing night slot at Cannes has been an issue for the festival, since so much press and industry leave before the end of the second weekend. So this year, the festival has found a simpler solution: There will be no closing night film. Instead, the Palme d’Or winner (chosen by a jury headed by George Miller) will receive an encore screening. Whether the festival considered other options first remains unknown, but the decision marks a historic shift.

“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. 

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