18 Shocks and Surprises From the 2018 Cannes Lineup, From Spike Lee to Jafar Panahi — and No Terry Gilliam

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.

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.

“Under the Silver Lake”

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.

“Bang Gang: A Love Story”

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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Claire Denis Gets Cut?

Japan’s Naomi Kawase usually lands in Cannes competition, so the absence of her Juliette Binoche vehicle “Vision” may strike some Cannes regulars as odd. However, there’s one woman director with a long-gestating feature that many assumed to make the cut this year — Claire Denis’s deep-space survival story “High Life,” her rare venture into the English language, starring Robert Pattinson. Despite Denis’ international renown for such evocative dramas as “Beau Travail” and “35 Shots of Rum,” her biggest, starriest production in recent memory is nowhere in the lineup — not in competition, out of competition or even Un Certain Regard (where she’s played before). In fact, Denis has never cracked Cannes competition this century, and that doesn’t seem like it will change now. Expect the film to surface somewhere else soon, possibly Directors’ Fortnight, where her Binoche vehicle “Let the Sunshine In” (opening in New York later this month) premiered in 2017.

…And Ceylan, Too

Another auteur who seemed likely for a competition slot this year: Previous Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose three-hour-plus “Winter Sleep” took the prize in 2014. The Turkish auteur been a regular presence at Cannes for years, so it seemed like a safe bet to assume that his similarly sprawling “Ahlat Agaci” — about a young writer who returns to her traditionalist home — would bring Ceylan back for Palme contention. No dice. It’s unclear if the director simply wasn’t finished in time, or if the festival’s programmers chose not to include it for other reasons, but Ceylan’s absence is one of the more jarring ones for those who expect the festival to include certain auteurs on autopilot.

Wither Lars von Trier?

Once upon a time, Lars von Trier was one of those auteurs. He scored the Palme d’Or nearly 20 years ago for “Dancer in the Dark,” and continued to find a warm reception at the festival up until the premiere of “Melancholia” in 2011. It was then that the foulmouthed rebel made his notorious Nazi comments at a press conference, generating a backlash that led the festival to deem him “persona non grata” (after the film’s premiere, of course). Trier wasn’t welcome back — not right away, anyway.

But Fremaux has hinted that things may have changed with time, and now Trier’s Matt Dillon-starring drama “The House That Jack Built” seems to be ready to go, though it wasn’t a part of today’s announcement. The rumor mill suggests that the movie was the center of a heated debate among Cannes’ board of directors the morning of the press conference, and no decision has been made yet.

Lars Von Trier

Axel Schmidt/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Fremaux bought himself some time on this one. “We will answer in a few days,” he told one journalist at the press conference. If Von Trier does go, he will surely be the source of more controversy no matter what. The bigger question: Is the movie good enough to make it worth the effort? 

And Malick?

Another rumor circulated that Terrence Malick’s biggest drama in years, the WWII period piece “Radegund” — about a conscientious objector executed by the Nazis in 1943 — would find the poetic American filmmaker returning to the competition for the first time since “The Tree of Life” won the Palme in 2011. That would have brought Malick back to major international attention after several films that have found more divisive reactions (“Song to Song,” anyone?) and in the wake of the reclusive auteur showing his face publicly here and there. However, Malick is notoriously a finicky type who tweaks his movies long past their deadlines, so it’s hard to imagine he would have rushed to prepare this one for Cannes just so he could have it there. The movie’s release plans remain a mystery.

And De Palma?

Another major American director whose career stretches back to the ‘70s is Brian De Palma, an auteur who has been known to wander the festival even when he has no movies there. The 77-year-old has reportedly been finishing up “Domino,” one of his bigger efforts in recent years, a police thriller starring Guy Pearce. Some rumors suggested that the movie — which has a reported running time of two-and-a-half hours — would play in the closing night slot. Since the festival hasn’t announced anything for that yet, it could still happen, but don’t hold your breath. Fremaux said that he’d likely select a movie that would be opening the following week to help drum up buzz, and the release plan for “Domino” remains unclear. Fremaux also floated the possibility that the closing-night slot might just go to the Palme d’Or winner. So De Palma’s latest doesn’t seem likely. Still…

Expect Some Last Minute Additions

Fremaux announced a mere 17 films in competition slots, leaving out a lot of major filmmakers who seemed like obvious locks just a matter of weeks ago. (The competition usually clocks in at around 20 titles.) The most anticipated? Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” a movie that has endured decades of tortured production issues even as has finally been completed with help from Amazon Studios. Most recently, the film’s May release date was scrapped after former producer Paulo Branco claimed he still had rights to the movie. Fremaux suggested that “Don Quixote” might still find its way to Cannes.

“This film is in dispute in front of the courts so the film has not been announced,” he said. Other anticipated entries that appear to have been snapped for now include “Sunset,” the sophomore effort from Hungarian Cannes discovery Lazslo Nemes (“Son of Saul”). Fremaux noted that last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Swedish entry “The Square,” was a last-minute addition. So there’s more to come.

But the bulk of anticipated films that didn’t surface in today’s announcement point to another unexpected development…

Where’s Amazon?

In addition to “Quixote,” Amazon Studios was expected to bring a range of films to Cannes. The company made a big mark in 2016, when it brought three films to competition. It has plenty on its slate this year, but so far, only “Cold War” has cracked the competition. It’s not clear why Mike Leigh’s period piece “Peterloo” didn’t make it in, since the British master almost always goes to the festival and finds a warm reception there, but it’s no great surprise that Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” won’t go following a new wave of backlash against the filmmaker.

“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”

Amazon Studios

Did Cannes decide that Allen wasn’t worth the trouble — or did Amazon? Meanwhile, the company’s other anticipated films, the addiction drama  “Beautiful Boy” and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” remake, will most likely surface in the fall. As conversations about Amazon’s future direction in film and TV continue to percolate, its lower profile at Cannes will likely contribute to that discourse.

Panahi Sneaks In

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has made international headlines ever since his country prohibited him from leaving and banned him from making movies — a restriction he has happily violated more than once, starting with his brilliant quasi-documentary essay “This Is Not a Film.” That movie was snuck into the festival in 2011 with a special screening slot and was a hit with critics. However, the veteran filmmaker has yet to make his way into Cannes competition — until now! Panahi’s “Three Faces” will compete for the Palme, bringing “a feel-good movie in Iran from a man who’s not in an easy situation,” per Fremaux. The programming decision comes on the heels of Panahi winning Berlin’s Golden Bear for his last feature, “Taxi,” and Fremaux said that the festival would be involved in efforts to appeal to the Iranian government to allow Panahi to attend. This real-life drama is sure to raise the film’s profile no matter how it turned out.

Godard Forever … Again.

When French New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language” premiered at the festival in 2014, the beguiling cinematic essay was met with cries of “Godard, forever!” from an ecstatic audience of cinephiles. They’ll be pleased to learn that the 87-year-old filmmaker is back in competition with another essayistic effort, “The Picture Book,” which will almost certainly confound and enlighten viewers keen on engaging with Godard’s cryptic approach to filmmaking as he continues to experiment into his twilight years.

A Trio of French Filmmakers

There are only three French titles in competition this year, and given the role of Cannes in preserving the country’s relationship to the medium, they’d better be good. Previous Palme winner Jacques Audiard won’t go to the festival this year, as his English-language western “The Sisters Brothers” will wind up at the fall festivals in hopes of generating some awards buzz. That makes room for a newcomer like Husson, and if “Girls of the Sun” stands out it will go a long way toward expanding her profile in France.

She’ll appear at the festival along with Cannes regular Stephane Brizé, a social-realist director whose “At War” reunites him with “Measure of a Man” star Vincent Lindon for the tale of a pay cut that impacts a German-owned factory. However, bigger expectations will surround Christophe Honoré, who brings his first film to Cannes competition since 2007’s “Love Songs.” With “Sorry, Angel,” the director tells a gay love story involving a young writer in Paris. That may not sound like groundbreaking material, but Honoré remains one of France’s most adventurous storytellers, so this will be one to watch.

Asian Domination

Every year, some countries wind up with no representation in competition, and somebody gets mad. There are no Indian or Romanian films this year, but Asia has nothing to worry about. China, Japan, and Korea have plenty of representation throughout the Official Selection. China’s Jia Zhang-ke has made an impression at Cannes with his multipart dramas “Mountains May Depart” and “A Touch of Sin”; now, he’s back with one of his biggest projects, “Ash Is Purest White,” a sprawling historical love story that takes place over 16 years. He’s joined by Korea’s Lee Chang-dong, who works at a leisurely pace and makes beautiful, leisurely moves. His “Poetry” played at Cannes in 2010 and has only now completed his follow-up, “Burning,” a competition entry that sounds like another understated character study — this one inspired by the work of Haruki Murakami. Then there’s Cannes regular Hirokazu Kore-eda, from Japan, whose understated style has played well at Cannes over the years. While “After the Storm” played weakly in Un Certain Regard last year, “Our Little Sister” was beloved in competition in 2015. He’s back there, this time, with “Shoplifters.”

Rounding out the Asian presence in competition, Ryusuke Hamagachi follows up his five-hour “Happy Hour” with “Sleeping or Waking,” the story of a woman in love with a man who resembles her ex-boyfriend.

Jia Zhangke

AGF s.r.l./REX/Shutterstock

Outside of competition, there’s also rising auteur Gan Bi, following up his majestic “Kaili Blues” (which included a 40-minute long take) with “Roadside Picnic” in Un Certain Regard. Out of competition slots include Wang Bing “Dead Souls,” the omnibus project “10 Years in Thailand” (which counts Apichatpong Weerasethakul among its directors), and one Korean film among the two midnight titles — director Young Jong-Bing’s “The Spy Gone North.”

No Luck for Latin America

Among the more jarring absences from competition is total lack of Latin America films. It’s possible that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” his long-awaited return to Mexico, might have taken care of that had it not been a Netflix title. Two Colombian films were in discussions — “Embrace of the Serpent” director Cirro Guerra’s “Birds of Passage” and “Monos” — but failed to make the cut in either competition or the Un Certain Regard sidebar. They now seem likely entries for Directors’ Fortnight. The only Latin American presence at the festival is out of competition, with Carlo Diegues’ “Circus Mystique” and Luis Ortega’s “El Angel.” The most disappointing omission for many Cannes regulars is Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas, whose “Silent Light” was one of the most beloved Cannes entries in recent memory. His long-gestating, secretive follow-up to 2012’s divisive “Post Tenebras Lux” remains enmeshed in post-production.

And No Luck for “Loro”

One of the more dramatic projects in contention for this year’s festival was Paolo Sorrentino’s Berlusconi-focused “Loro.” Sorrentino has been to Cannes several times, most prominently with the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty.” But “Loro” — which comes on the heels of his HBO series “The Young Pope” — has reportedly run so long that it had to be split into two parts. One half has been slated by Universal Pictures’ international arm for an April release, which made Cannes seem like a strong possibility. However, Sorrentino may still be tinkering with the project, and Cannes may have wanted to the show the whole thing or none at all. For now, even as Berlusconi attempts to reenter Italian politics, Sorrentino’s not going to Cannes.

“Solo” Stands Alone

“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

screen shot

Cannes previously announced that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” would play at the festival in an out-of-competition slot. That decision arrives after a year in which no big studios brought films to the festival. Some thought that Cannes would make a terrific platform for “Ocean’s Eight,” especially since previous “Ocean’s” films played at the festival — but the Warner Bros. film seems to be skipping the festival route. That means “Solo” will stand alone as the sole Hollywood blockbuster at Cannes.

Sorry, Television

The biggest twist of last year’s lineup was that it included more than just movies. After years of resisting television, Cannes made room for “Twin Peaks” and “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” with Fremaux arguing that they were only there because they were cinematic works by great auteurs. Some expected the HBO feature “Fahrenheit 451” to make its way to Cannes this year, as the Michael B. Jordan vehicle was directed by festival favorite Ramin Bahrani. No dice. There is no television this year at Cannes (where the inaugural edition of the TV festival Canneseries just wrapped). Fremaux said that he would have shown the Coen brothers’ Netflix-produced western anthology series “The Ballad of Buster Scuggs” if it had been ready — but, of course, it’s a Netflix title, so it was off the table anyway. The festival also has no virtual reality components this time following 2017’s groundbreaking showcasing of Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s “Carne y Arena,” but considering the hassle that was involved in shuttling festival attendees to the site-specific installation, perhaps that’s for the best.

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