Plenty of movies that started at this year’s Cannes Film Festival without U.S. distribution eventually found it: Sony Pictures Classics landed one of the favorites of the competition with “Toni Erdmann,” expected to be a foreign language player in the Oscar race, and the company also nabbed the Studio Ghibli-produced “The Red Turtle.” Strand Releasing picked up Alain Giraudie’s eccentric character study “Staying Vertical,” while IFC Films got the Palme d’Or-winning “I, Daniel Blake.”
But there were many other highlights from the program that remain without a distributor. Cannes isn’t always the easiest place for smaller, stranger films to find buyers, but they still exist once the festival ends and deserve to find homes. Here are some of the highlights in that regard.
Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s absorbing drama has a secret weapon: Thirty years after “Kiss of the Spider Woman” first brought her international acclaim, Sonia Braga delivers an extraordinary performance as the resident of an old Recife apartment building standing her ground in the face of avaricious developers looking to kick her to the curb. It’s the ultimate tough cookie role: Shrewd, domineering and confident against daunting odds, she turns an ageist threat into an opportunity to reclaim her youth. —Eric Kohn
Sales Contact: SBS International
“The Death of Louis XIV”
Starring the legendary Jean-Pierre Leaud as France’s beleaguered king, who died from gangrene in 1715, Albert Serra’s engrossing followup to inventive Casanova drama “The Story of My Death” maintains a clinical air as it tracks the regal character slowly fading from existence. While the king’s closest advisors swirl around him, speaking in frantic, whispered tones about their options, “The Death of Louis XIV” evolves into a nuanced treatise on the aimlessness of wealth and power in the face of mortality.
Like most of Serra’s work, the movie’s spare, contemplative approach is not engineered to impress everyone — and yet “The Death of Louis XIV” played quite well at Cannes, igniting interest from buyers drawn to its haunting atmosphere and historical vision. —EK
Sales Contact: Capricci
The French-Belgian debut from Julia Ducournau is a surreal, deliriously twisted coming-of-age story that suggests “Heathers” by way of “Dogtooth.” The plot only skirts the surface of its strange narrative: A young woman joins her sister at a massive veterinarian school campus, where she’s subjected to a series of humiliating hazing rituals and discovers her taste for human flesh.
Wait a minute. Veterinarian schools have campuses with hazing rituals? And…cannibalism? Writer-director Ducournau’s memorable first feature takes its off-kilter logic at face value, developing a mesmerizing look at the experience of a young woman waking up to her desires in a world of peculiarities. Alternately beautiful and grotesque, it’s bound to please horror fans and cineastes alike. —EK
Sales Contact: Wild Bunch
“The Cinema Travelers”
Presented without any title cards or talking heads so that audiences might find their own way, “The Cinema Travelers” follows the traveling cinemas that have toured the remote corners of India for more than 70 years. With all the sky-is-falling talk about the death of film, it can be easy to forget that cinema is still something of a newborn art — barely a century has passed since the movies were born, and so (in art years) they’re really just learning how to crawl. How refreshing then to see a documentary like “The Cinema Travelers,” a wise and wistful documentary that puts things in perspective by inviting viewers not to think of new ripples in the landscape (e.g. Netflix and VOD) as signs of decay, but rather as the symptoms of a form that’s simply shedding its skin. —David Ehrlich
Sales Contact: Submarine
“Dog Eat Dog”
Paul Schrader’s wacky crime drama stars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe in the playfully discursive story of three knuckle-headed thugs drawn into a plot to kidnap a child. Matthew Wilder’s script, adapted from Edward Bunker’s novel, is a gleefully vulgar romp through gangster movie tropes, with a hyperstylized approach that suggests everything from “Natural Born Killers” to early Godard. Cage delivers one of his most appealingly offbeat turns in years as the ringleader of the ill-fated group, and Schrader himself surfaces in an an amusing turn as a criminal overlord. The story is secondary to Schrader’s colorful narrative, which opens and closes with a pair of memorable killings that seem to both celebrate and indict the role of violence in modern entertainment. “Dog Eat Dog” may not work for everyone, but it’s a wild ride with a lot of fun bells and whistles for anyone willing to latch onto them. —EK
Sales Contact: Arclight Films
A coming-of-age story set in an Italian juvenile detention center, Claudio Giovannesi’s “Fiore” puts a very literal spin on the idea of “arrested development.” But some puns run deeper than others, and this vibrant slice of romantic neo-realism — powered by one of the most magnetic and unbridled teen performances since Katie Jarvis’ in “Fish Tank” — leverages its potentially one-note premise to pose an interesting question: What’s the difference between growing up and just getting older?
Daphne (rookie actress Daphne Scoccia, supposedly riffing on her own tumultuous teen years), is a wild child who’s crashing with a friend in Milan, spending her days robbing people of their cellphones at knifepoint. But Daphne, for all her fire, isn’t exactly a master criminal, and she’s soon cornered by the cops and shipped off to kid jail. There’s a raucous, lived-in energy to the place; its rhythms and protocols believably well-observed. Daphne acts out, brooding in her room and lighting her bedsheets on fire; she isn’t exactly feral, but she feeds off whatever chaos she can cause. “Fiore,” it turns out, is something of a love story. Ironically, sparks first fly during one of Daphne’s stints in solitary confinement, as a brooding young ruffian whispers at her from behind a barred window on the boys’ side of the building. His name is Josh (Josciua Algeri, also in his first film), he’s got high cheekbones and a heavy stare, and he readily admits that he physically threatened his last girlfriend. That brief interaction is all that’s needed to spark a connection between these two attractive people who are cut off from the outside world. —DE
Sales Contact: Rai Com
Following kids on the lam with a bag of loot, Nathan Morlando’s “Mean Dreams” combines a poetic tale of backwoods crime with first-rate performances, breaking no rules but following some familiar ones to a satisfying degree. Writer-director Morlando’s second feature (after 2011’s “Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster”) hails from the Terrence Malick playbook of alienated souls roaming about gorgeous natural scenery — specifically, it calls to mind “Badlands” — while adhering to a simpler set of dramatic circumstances, and hitting some agreeable notes in the process.
Morlando’s ace in the hole is his first-rate cast, which includes a terrific villainous turn by Bill Paxton, but mainly relies on rising star Josh Wiggins (“Max”) as 15-year-old Jonas, who falls in love with his next-door neighbor and decides to rescue her from her downtrodden existence in rural New York. The good-natured Casey (Sophie Nélisse, “The Book Thief”) catches Jonas’ eye when her family arrives in the provincial town as she immediately latches on to a kindred spirit her own age. Their relationship develops quickly — perhaps a bit too quickly — but given the circumstances, it comes as no great surprise: Wandering the golden fields surrounding their properties, it’s almost as though they’re the only people on the planet. When Jonas discovers that Casey’s father is a crook, the couple wind up on the lam with some of his stolen cash, and “Mean Dreams” builds a tense showdown in the woods that’s never less than gripping. —EK
“I’m not healthy,” says the grief-stricken father, asking the doctor for some medicinal marijuana. “You’re not sick, either,” she replies. It’s a quick exchange in Israeli writer-director Asaph Polonsky’s droll debut, typical of his movie’s mordant sense of humor, but the moment leaves its mark — seldom has dialogue so succinctly articulated the purgatory of profound loss.
“One Week and a Day” opens during the waning minutes of Vicky and Eyal’s Shiva for their 25-year-old son, Ronnie. It’s been seven days since the first guests starting shuffling through their house in the suburbs of Israel, and Eyal (Shai Avivi) — establishing the film’s droll tone — all but shoves the last of the mourners out of his front door. Left alone in their living room, it immediately becomes clear that he and Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) are coping in very different ways; she’s itching to get back into the swing of things, while he’s flopping around in a pair of shorts and making no overtures towards returning to work. Following two very different paths of mourning as they wend in strange directions before ultimately knotting together in the same place, “One Week and a Day” is a sweet and subdued look at the absurdity of life after death. —DE
Sales Contact: New Europe Film Sales
Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” was an object of fascination in large part because it provided a closeup look at events already processed from afar, by sitting alongside Edward Snowden as he made his famous NSA leaks. Her followup, “Risk,” offers similar appeal by operating as a sort of prequel to the Snowden era, with an intimate perspective on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the midst of his site’s biggest disclosures of government documents over the course of half a decade. While Assange has spent the past four years in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where he found asylum in the wake of sexual assault allegations, “Risk” provides a broader context for the operations prior to that publicized moment.
Unlike “Citizenfour,” there’s not a whole lot here that hasn’t already been revealed through the scrutiny of Assange’s iconoclastic legacy, but the filmmaker’s skillful treatment of the material yields another look at major historical events on an intimate level. A series of snapshots that make the case for WikiLeaks as a serious newsgathering enterprise, the movie won’t win Assange new supporters, but certainly offers clarity to his organization by showing that they aren’t just messing round. —EK