Love it or hate it, the Cannes Film Festival exists in a class of its own, and the newly announced 2018 program is no exception. The 10-day event on the cusp of the French Riviera finds thousands of people from the international film community crowding into a small strip of land known as the Croisette, where revered auteurs compete for attention in the majestic Palais des Festivals, while photographers crowd the red carpet alongside an ocean of tuxedos and sparkling gowns. The lavish display often obscures the actual quality of the movies, but Cannes always has a wide range of options. Artistic director Thierry Fremaux and his covert team of programmers are notorious for screening films up until the very last moment, even late into the night before the announcement of the Official Selection.
This year’s program, revealed this morning at an early press conference, reflects that frenzied process. While many familiar names stand out, there are a few surprises as well. Though the festival’s decisions tend to be a well-guarded secret up until the last moment, one major development got out early this year — the decision by Netflix to pull five titles from various sections of the festival after Cannes maintained its policy of requiring films in competition to have a guaranteed theatrical release in France. With that big twist out of the way, there is much more to explore in this year’s lineup, from the range of countries and filmmakers to the ones that didn’t make the cut. Here are some of the big takeaways. Read the full lineup here.
Netflix Isn’t the Only Absent Distributor
Netflix faced a challenging proposition with Cannes, which demands that all films in its competition must receive a theatrical release in France. Whether or not that winds up the case for the 17 competition films unveiled so far, the bulk of this year’s titles face an uncertain future in U.S. theaters. So far, there are only three films in competition with American distributors: A24’s “Under the Silver Lake” from “It Follows” director David Robert Mitchell, Focus Features’ Spike Lee drama “BlacKkKlansman,” and “Cold War,” the latest from Oscar-winning Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”), which was acquired by Amazon Studios last year. (For now, it’s the only Cannes competition entry from Amazon, which has previously had several more titles there.) This is typical for Cannes, which tends to favor a range of international films that face a challenging market for foreign-language films in the U.S. Nevertheless, it’s bound to come up more this year in the wake of the Netflix spat as one of the more ironic developments to come out of this year’s selection.
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Two Americans Could Win the Palme
American movies usually don’t dominate Cannes competition, and this year’s no exception. In a repeat of last year’s outcome, there are two American films in competition. Mitchell’s movie, “Under the Silver Lake,” runs a whopping two hours and 20 minutes and follows Andrew Garfield in a loopy detective story that has been described as equal parts “Chinatown” and “Mulholland Drive.” (Harmony Korine’s “The Beach Bum” wasn’t ready.) Announcing the “Silver Lake,” Fremaux acknowledged producer-distributor A24 ( “a young producer very active in auteur film”), highlighting the big jump for Mitchell here after his first two films played in Critics’ Week. As one of the younger filmmakers in this high-profile slot, he also brings one of the more ambitious follow-ups, and it seems likely that the Cannes response will be a complex one to set the stage for the movie’s summer release. Best-case scenario: He goes from festival breakout to internationally revered artist. Worst scenario: “Southland Tales.” Either way, it should be a fascinating dialogue.
Mitchell’s film was expected to make the cut at Cannes for some time. The more surprising development: Spike Lee! The iconic director launched his career at Cannes and left a big mark with “Do the Right Thing,” but years have passed since he returned there with a new feature. “BlacKKKlansman,” which was produced by Jordan Peele’s MonkeyPaw Productions and revolves around the real-life story of a Colorado police officer (John David Washington) who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. Lee’s narrative features haven’t exactly clicked with critics and mainstream audiences in recent years, which attests in part to the creative risk that has remained a part of his work even in this later stage, but the incendiary and topical nature of “BlacKKKlansman” is sure to generate a heated discussion about modern racism in America — especially with the iconoclastic Lee at the helm. (Expect a lively press conference.) As a bonus, Fremaux revealed that 91-year-old legend Harry Belafonte surfaces in the cast.
So Where Are the Women?
One of the biggest criticisms that Cannes has faced is the minimal presence of women in the lineup. In its 71-year history, only one woman has won the Palme d’Or — Jane Campion, for “The Piano” in 1993 — and female filmmakers have never dominated the lineup. This year doesn’t change that. Cannes has announced three women directors in this year’s competition, the exact same number as last year’s section. Fremaux and festival director Pierre Lescure will likely see an even stronger backlash this time around, as the momentum of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to highlight gender disparity in the industry.
At the press conference, Fremaux acknowledged the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault revelations (referring to Weinstein, at different moments, as both an “earthquake” and a “hurricane”). “The world is not the same as it was last September,” he said. “The world will never be the same again.” But he argued against connecting that scandal with the pressure to program more women directors. “We have to make a difference between the women filmmakers and the issues,” he said.
“There are not enough women directors but we don’t have time to talk about that here. Our point of view is that the films are selected for their intrinsic qualities. There will never be a selection with a positive discrimination for women.”
However, he did note that there are more women than men on the jury, headed by Cate Blanchett. (IndieWire has more analysis of Cannes’ track record with women directors here.)
The three women that did make the cut present a welcome range of sensibilities. Lebanese actress-turned-director Nadine Labaki will make her third appearance at Cannes with “Capernaum,” which explores the daily lives of migrants in Beirut. “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go, Now?” established her bonafides as the Middle East’s finest director of crowdpleasers, so this may be the most accessible of the three women-directed films in competition.
However, there should be plenty of cinephile anticipation for the latest feature from Alice Rohrwacher. The Italian director became a breakout filmmaker in Critics’ Week with her debut “Corpo Celeste” and followed that up with the irreverent rural drama “The Wonders,” about a family in the countryside that auditions for a reality show. It won her the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2014, as well as a Lincoln Center residency where she developed her third feature. Shot in super 16mm, “Lazzaro Felice” is a more peculiar rural story, about the life of a man with the apparent ability to travel through time. Expect a challenging, unexpected narrative from a filmmaker whose ambition is increasing each time out.
The third woman in competition will emerge as one of its big discoveries. Eva Husson’s sensual “Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)” was a breakout at TIFF’s Platform section that has gone on to find an international audience… on Netflix. Her profile will expand to a vast scale as she brings one of only three French features to competition, her sophomore effort “Girls of the Sun,” which stars Emannuelle Bercot (herself a Cannes-acclaimed filmmaker whose “Standing Tall” opened the festival three years ago) as a journalist embedded with a Kurdish female battalion fighting to take back its village. Expect an intense, riveting survival tale, one that will inevitably face some complaints about positioning a white woman’s perspective on a Middle Eastern challenge — but will undoubtedly increase Husson’s profile with her capacity to tackle a timely cross-cultural tale.
Still, the minimal number of women in competition leaves out one big name that many cinephiles have been anticipating…
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