At its start, the 2018 Cannes Film Festival wasn’t perceived as a big market for buyers, but many U.S. distributors came home happy: A24 acquired Gaspar Noé’s psychedelic dance thriller “Climax,” and NEON scored fantastical Un Certain Regard winner “Border.” Sony Pictures Classics picked up Lebanese crowdpleaser “Capernaum,” while Magnolia Pictures landed Palme d’Or winner “Shoplifters.” Even Jean-Luc Godard’s unclassifiable experimental essay film “The Image Book” found a home, with Kino Lorber, and the festival closed out with Netflix picking up prize winners “Happy as Lazzaro” and “Girl.”
Still, there were plenty of Cannes highlights that ended the festival with their futures uncertain. Here are some of our favorites that deserve to get out there. So long as buyers are still keen on acquiring foreign language films, they might want to consider these options.
“Asako I + II”
Smart indie distributors should be celebrating the fact that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has returned with a feature that’s actually releasable. “Happy Hour,” the young Japanese auteur’s previous movie, made it abundantly clear that he was one of the more commanding talents of his generation. But at more than five hours long, Hamaguchi’s gentle domestic opus about the daily struggles of four middle-aged women was something of a tough sell.
By that ridiculous standard, “Asako I + II” is practically “Infinity War.” Clocking in at a tight two hours, and ditching the stubborn naturalism of “Happy Hour” in favor of a slightly fantastical vibe that almost errs closer to “Amélie” than it does to Naruse, Hamaguchi’s latest tells the engaging story of a young woman whose identity is stunted when her handsome (but very enigmatic) boyfriend wanders out of her life at a moment’s notice. Moving on with her life, and from Osaka to Tokyo, Asako is shocked to meet a new man who bears a striking resemblance to her lost love (both characters are played by the actor Masahiro Higashide). And yet, despite the appearance of contentedness, the specter of what should have been continues to haunt our willful heroine.
By turns playful and profound, “Asako I + II” is one of the rare films that defies expectations at every turn. More than that, its emotional clarity and resonance allow it to leapfrog many of the hurdles that typically stand between foreign titles and domestic audiences. —DE
Sales Contact: mk2 Films
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: Combing 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.
“Burning” didn’t win any awards from the Cannes jury, but it was the biggest critical hit of the festival, topping Screen’s grid and IndieWire’s critics survey as well as winning the Fipresci prize. It has a more cogent hook than any of Lee’s previous movies, and in the right hands, could stand to widen the filmmaker’s profile among arthouse moviegoers in the West. If so, he’s long overdue. —EK
Sales Contact: Finecut
“Buy Me a Gun”
Located somewhere between “The Florida Project” and “Fury Road,” Julio Hernández Cordón’s precocious and arresting “Buy Me a Gun” is a neo-realist fable that’s seen through the eyes of a child and set in a world ruled by fear. It’s a major work in a minor key, a movie that gracefully straddles the line between the tenuousness of the present day and the violence of the post-apocalyptic thunderdome we’re all racing towards, real and unreal all at once.
We know where the story takes place, but the when of it is pointedly unclear. “Mexico,” the opening text declares. “No precise date. Everything, absolutely everything, is run by the cartels. The population has declined due to the lack of women.” From there, Cordón launches us into a vaguely fantastical reality that stretches the drug-related violence of contemporary Mexico to its logical conclusion, the horror so perfect that it casts a pall of dark enchantment over everything it touches. Following the grim adventures of a little girl named Huck (Matilde Hernández Guinea) and her meth addict father (Rogelio Sosa) who’s just trying to keep his head down, “Buy Me a Revolver” is a radically urgent film that’s guided by the logic of a bad dream and filtered through the imagination of a brave child, distorting the hellish reality of cartel violence in order to clarify its grim absurdity. —DE
Sales Contact: Films Boutique
Co-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt won Critics Week at Cannes for this bizarre queer odyssey, which revolves around a very dumb soccer player (Carloto Cotta, equal parts Harry from “Dumb and Dumber” and Austin Powers) who misses his goal at the World Cup and decides to abandon the sport. Issuing a public mea culpa, he decides to do something about the immigration crisis and winds up adopting Aisha (Cleo Tavares), who’s actually a gay spy tasked with investigating Diamantino’s finances. Those ludicrous plot details are only the starting point for this instant cult classic, which also involves giant imaginary puppies and a lot of EDM music as it seems to exist within the confines of its eccentric character’s head. It’s the kind of kinky ride that turned John Waters movies into hits back in the day, and with a snazzy trailer to play up its weird comedic energy, “Diamantino” could find plenty of audiences eager to embrace its crazy vision. —EK
Sales Contact: Charades
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”
First things first: Bi Gan’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” has nothing to do with the Eugene O’Neil play of the same title, but that’s not the only misdirection. The Chinese director’s sophomore effort is a fascinating application of filmmaking innovation toward expressionistic ends. It follows up on the promise of his 40-minute long take in “Kaili Blues” with an even longer one, in 3D, set within the confines of a dream sequence that plays like a total revelation. Bi’s lyrical neo-noir begins with the poetic tale of a man returning to his hometown and searching for a long-lost love, then finds him putting his 3D glasses on at a movie theater — a cue for the audience to follow suit, as the movie launches into a staggering 55-minute long take shot entirely in 3D. It was the technological revelation of the festival, and the aesthetic one as well.
The 3D component isn’t just a bonus; it’s essential, which makes “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” into a tricky distribution challenge. However, Bi’s “Kaili Blues” was a success in limited release driven by critical approval and word of mouth, and his latest effort stands to benefit from those same forces on an even higher plane. With a careful release strategy built around the unique theatrical experience of the movie, the movie’s appeal could extend well beyond Cannes. It’s the kind of challenge that independent theater owners were born to tackle. —EK
Sales Contact: Wild Bunch
“Murder Me, Monster”
Argentine director Alejandro Fadel’s slow-burn horror saga is at once an atmospheric film noir and an allegorical monster movie. The Mendoza-set tale finds moody police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) struggling to solve a series of grisly murders in the countryside that typically find victims getting their heads lopped off. Brief flashes of the attacks suggest some kind of tentacled creature, and reports by one suspect that he hears the whispery claim of the title point to a spooky telekinetic bond with the creature. Or something. “Murder Me, Monster” combines a specific kind of WTF-inspired storytelling with complex, obsessed characters in search of truths that may be unsolvable. Imagine “Seven” by way of David Lynch.
With time, Cruz starts to experience his own descent into madness as he gets closer to solving the mystery, a quest that culminates in a shocking showdown and creature effects that don’t disappoint. Fadel combines a visceral form of fantasy-horror with the unsettling elements of an old school potboiler, resulting in an alternately eerie and unsettling experience sure to please genre fans who think they’ve seen it all before. They haven’t: The phallic creature in “Murder Me, Monster” is only onscreen for a few minutes, but it doesn’t disappoint. It might be a tough sell in theaters, but the movie could be a terrific late night phenomenon on VOD. —EK
Sales Contact: The Match Factory
“The World is Yours”
Romain Gavras’ “The World Is Yours” might take its title from a certain gangster classic — or its blood-soaked Brian De Palma remake, which only made a life of crime seem that much cooler — but this wildly infectious French heist comedy is pretty much the anti-“Scarface.” The story of a criminal who’s trying to break out of the thug life, Gavras’ film evolves into a hyper-stylish and unexpectedly sweet rebuke to the idea that screwing people is a good way to get ahead.
Held together by a killer score by Jamie XX and Sebastian, and topped off with hilarious performances from the likes of Vincent Cassel and Isabelle Adjani, “The World Is Yours” was a buoyant surprise in a festival known for more dolorous offerings. “The World Is Yours” is “Sexy Beast,” “Spring Breakers,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” all blended together and served with a lad-rock swagger; it’s the best movie that Guy Ritchie never made. —DE
Sales Contact: Studiocanal