With its flashy red carpet premieres and hectic market, the Cannes Film Festival presents the grandest film industry spectacle in the world. With all the lively images of celebrities walking around outside the theaters, and news of dealmaking taking place in the Marché du Film, it’s almost too easy to forget that Cannes is actually a showcase for new movies, and one that faces more pressure to deliver quality than any other program out there. For 71 years, Cannes has asserted its dominance as the preeminent showcase for international cinema. Even as the way movies are seen and discussed continues to evolve, Cannes remains one constant on the world stage.
Of course, the 2018 edition has already demonstrated the contrast between the festival’s priorities and industry shifts after a public feud with Netflix led the platform to pull its movies from the lineup, while the distributors for some high-profile titles have decided to hold them for the fall, avoiding the risks that the charged Cannes environment can bring. Nevertheless, this year’s program is rich with a blend of new work from filmmakers we’ve celebrated before and rising stars with plenty of potential. Here are the films we’re most excited to see. The 2018 Cannes Film Festival runs May 8 – May 19.
Our land of the free and the home of the brave gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan more than 150 years ago. August’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — where IndieWire last interviewed “Black KkKlansman” director Spike Lee — provided a terrifying reminder that the KKK endures, with some members now so proud of their racism that they’ll march the streets unmasked. Lee hasn’t been a Palme d’Or contender since launching future Oscar-nominee “Do the Right Thing” at Cannes 29 years ago. While his character then lacked ambition, John David Washington has the opposite problem in based-on-a-true-story “Black KkKlansman.” In the late ’70s, Ron Stallworth became not only the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, but also a secret, sabotaging member of the KKK. It all started with a phone call; in Focus Features’ debut clip at CinemaCon, David Duke (Topher Grace) tells Afroed Stallworth, “I’m happy to be talking to a true white American.” To carry off his con, Stallworth enlisted a white officer (Adam Driver) as a stand-in. The film boasts three producers from “Get Out” (Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, and Sean McKittrick), another satire on American race relations where all was not as it seemed. —JM
If you don’t have a burning desire to see Lee Chang-dong’s first film in eight years, might we humbly suggest you revisit “Oasis” and “Secret Sunshine” to remind yourself of what we’ve been missing? The Korean auteur has never been prolific, but he’s always bee a standout on the festival circuit: Lee won a Special Director’s Award at Venice in 2002 and Best Screenplay at Cannes eight years later for “Poetry”; in 2007, Jeon Do-yeon rightfully won Best Actress at Cannes for “Secret Sunshine.” His third consecutive film to premiere on the Croisette is a mystery based on Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” which revolves around three young characters and a strange incident. Little is known about the plot beyond that vague synopsis, which is just as well: “Burning” is a must-see simply by virtue of its pedigree. —MN
The word “provocateur” was practically invented for Gaspar Noé, who has been shocking and dividing Cannes audiences ever since his first feature “I Stand Alone” premiered in Critics’ Week. He jarred the festival’s competition section with “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void,” pressing the boundaries of the medium with daring formalism and brutal subject matter to match. His explicit 3-D sex drama “Love” continued that tradition in the Cannes midnight section in 2015, and now he completes his slow conquering of the Croisette by taking “Climax” to Directors’ Fortnight in its 50th year. Noé works fast, with the mad, messy energy of a Jackson Pollock canvas, and his latest effort — shot earlier this year — seems likely to unsettle and intrigue viewers right on schedule. The ‘90s-set movie reportedly focuses on a group of street dancers who gather in a remote boarding school in the forest for a workshop, then celebrate their time there by imbibing mind-altering drugs. Before you can say “Enter the Void,” it seems that Noé has delivered another trippy salute to an altered state, as the movie follows various characters on drug trips both good and bad. Expect an alternately beautiful and unsettling experience sure to leave viewers woozy and sifting through the experience long after the credits roll. In other words, typical Noé. Cannes would not be the same without him. —EK
One of the higher-profile titles in the competition line-up is British-French-Polish production “Cold War,” director Paweł Pawlikowski’s follow-up to Oscar-winner “Ida.” The passionate romance between two mismatched people (Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig) is set during the turbulent ’50s across Europe. Pawlikowski filmed in Paris, Berlin, Poland and Yugoslavia. As the lyrical “Ida” — which dealt with the impact of the Holocaust on an unsuspecting woman — proved, Pawlikowski excels at taking an intimate approach to period dramas, probing the interplay of personal and historic events. “Cold War” looks like no exception. The film reportedly takes place against the backdrop of the touring music and dance group Mazowsze, which was founded by the Ministry of Culture to exhibit post-war communist authority, which means that the movie is bound to include a tantalizing musical dimension as it explores its romantic subject. At 85 minutes, it’s also one of the few concise competition entries; Pawlikowski doesn’t waste time. —EK
Agnieszka Smoczynska, the Polish director of the dazzling mermaid musical “The Lure,” will hit the Croisette with another dark and mysterious tale about unexpected consequences. The film follows Alicja, a woman who has remade her life after suffering a memory loss so severe that her entire previous existence has been lost to her. But when she’s found by chance, she’s forced to return to a life (and a family) she doesn’t recognize and expected to slip back into rigid roles she doesn’t remember ever embracing. It’s a soapy-sounding storyline, but Smoczynska’s previous works suggest that she’ll be playing with some big questions about the human condition, and especially what it means to be a modern woman. —KE
“Girls of the Sun”
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Eva Husson’s breakout second feature, “Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story),” was a hit on the 2015 festival circuit, though it never played at Cannes, instead hopscotching through other heavy-hitters like TIFF, London, and New York’s own Rendezvous with French Cinema. She’s ready for a big, splashy bow on the Croisette, and her ambitious next feature sounds like just the ticket. Golshifteh Farahani stars in the film as the commander-in-chief of a Kurdish female battalion known as the titular “The Girls of the Sun.” As she and her fellow soldiers prepare to storm the same town where she was first captured by extremists, she also bonds with an embedded journalist, played by Cannes best actress winner Emmanuelle Bercot. —KE
“The House that Jack Built”
An 155-minute epic that affectionately follows a serial killer across the 12-year period in which he honed the psychotic artistry behind his craft? Either Richard Linklater went into a really dark place after “Last Flag Flying” underperformed, or legendary provocateur (and noted sexual harasser) Lars von Trier is coming back to Cannes for the first time since being declared persona non grata for some ill-advised Hitler remarks back in 2011. Starring Matt Dillon in a potentially revelatory performance as the eponymous murderer, “The House that Jack Built” will encourage viewers to empathize with its pitiable and child-like hero, finding some measure of understanding in his savagery. Say what you will about von Trier, but the guy isn’t afraid to shine a light into the darkest pockets of the human soul, and that light has never been dimmer than it is here. —DE
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