The 2018 Cannes Film Festival has ended, but the movies are very much still with us. This year’s festival started with a Netflix controversy and hosted major activism around women in the film industry. But despite the many conversations swirling around the festival environment, Cannes was still a film festival. So how were those movies, anyway?
Early on, this year’s program was assailed for lacking star power and many A-list auteurs, but in retrospect, not of that skepticism really gelled with a selection that ranged from newcomers to veterans, and from stars to fresh faces — and it all cast an exciting spotlight on movies from around the world. Here are the best of the bunch.
This may be a low bar to clear, but Joe Penna’s directorial feature debut is one of the best movies ever made about a man stranded in the wilderness. Mads Mikkelsen, throwing himself into an Iceland shoot that could probably have made for a compelling survival story unto itself, gives a career-best performance as a downed pilot named Overgård. We join his nearly wordless ordeal at some point after his plane has crashed into a deep white valley in the middle of nowhere. At first, it seems like a familiar setup, but the cast soon doubles in size when Overgård is forced to care for the helicopter pilot who crashes while trying to rescue him. Maybe there are some places where people just aren’t supposed to fly.
“Arctic” is such an involving experience because Penna finds ways to infuse real drama into potentially mundane details; we always know where the characters are and what’s at stake with each step, so that watching Mikkelsen turn a sled into a makeshift shelter achieves the excitement of a major setpiece. It’s broad stuff, and well-trod terrain for a movie that takes place in uncharted territory, but it cuts straight to the difference between endurance and survival. Movies like this are typically only exciting because the hero might die. “Arctic” is so compelling because Overgård might not. —DE
Eight years had passed since Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong brought another movie to Cannes. Lee, a precise filmmaker whose patient character studies are among some of the richest in world cinema today, doesn’t need to rush. Of course it was worth the wait: Combining forces with Haruki Murakami by adapting his short story “Barn Burning,” Lee develops a haunting, beautiful tone poem about working class frustrations, based around the experiences of frustrated wannabe writer Lee (a superb, understated Ah-in Yoo) who thinks he’s found an escape from his loneliness when he encounters Haimi (energetic newcomer Jean Jong Seo), a lively woman from his past with whom he sees romantic possibilities. That situation gets complicated by the arrival of Ben (Steven Yeung), a wealthy and assertive stranger with an American name who represents everything Lee wants in life. The filmmaker develops a fascinating, allegorical mystery around these circumstances as the drama builds to a shocking confrontation that asks as many questions as it answers. “Burning” is at once a social parable for lower class struggles and an intimate portrait of struggling for companionship and assertiveness in an indifferent world. That’s typical Lee Chang-dong territory, and it’s a thrill to have him back. —EK
Gaspar Noé returned to Cannes by conquering the one area of the festival he had yet to screen, winning the top prize at Directors’ Fortnight for his trippy LSD-gone-wrong dance saga “Climax.” This visually striking achievement, picked up by A24 during the festival, funnels the director’s penchant for acrobatic camerawork into an alternately snazzy and disturbing look at the dissolution of community in a single, claustrophobic setting. The camera twirls around, peering up and down at its doomed characters as they careen into the depths of a drug-induced frenzy, as hypnotic beats dominate the soundtrack. But no matter its nauseating effects, Noé’s remarkable psychedelic ride is his most focused achievement, a concise package of sizzling dance numbers and jolting (often quite violent) twists that play like a slick mashup of the “Step Up” franchise and “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” not to mention the disorienting cinematic trickery of Noé’s own provocative credits. After so many movies designed to divide people, it’s exciting to watch the provocateur entice his audience with catchy rhythms before dragging them to hell. This wild, unpredictable achievement will get people talking, which is nothing new for Noé, but it could also win him some fresh admirers. If so, they’re long overdue, and welcome to the party. It’s wild place. —EK
“Happy as Lazzaro”
Alice Rohrwacher’s surreal follow-up to her previous Cannes winner “The Wonders” expands on her ongoing study of the way rural life is constantly threatened by urban progress. But this time, she expands on her naturalistic style with a welcome dose of magical realism, following the tale of Lazzaro (extraordinary discovery (Adriano Tardiolo), a peasant who serves an affluent family in the countryside. The life of Lazzaro and his peers seemingly exists out of time, until sudden events sent him traveling into a future state where he doesn’t quite belong. A fascinating, poetic statement on the endless march of time, “Lazzaro” fulfills the promise of Rohrwacher’s earlier achievements while cementing her status as one of Italy’s greatest working directors. —EK
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