Among the anticipated 2018 movies that didn’t surface in the Cannes lineup earlier this year, one stood out: The bloody Western “The Sisters Brothers,” the first English-language movie from French auteur Jacques Audiard. Arguably the most acclaimed French director working today, the 66-year-old director of tough, masculine dramas won the Palme d’Or for this last movie, “Dheepan,” and has been a part of the festival’s exclusive directors club for years. He won a best screenplay award for “A Self Made Hero” in 1996, the festival’s Grand Prix in 2009 for “A Prophet,” and returned to the competition four years later with “Rust and Bone.” But “The Sisters Brothers” skipped the festival, reportedly because the September 21 release plan from Annapurna Pictures made a fall launchpad more attractive.
However, in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival — where “The Sisters Brothers” screened following its world premiere in Venice — Audiard said his relationship to Cannes had evolved since winning its top prize three years ago.
“I don’t feel a need to be there,” he said, and added that he no longer wanted his films programmed in the festival’s venerated Official Competition section. If Cannes director Thierry Fremaux offered Audiard a slot, the director said, “I will refuse it. I don’t really care if I go to Cannes or not.” He clarified that he had little interest in competition sections at other festivals: “I don’t want to be in competition anywhere,” he said.
At a press conference before Cannes in May, Fremaux told a roomful of journalists that he anticipated American films would be more likely to avoid Cannes due awards season plans. “The French are more and more obsessed with Cannes, and Americans are more and more obsessed with the Oscars,” he said.
While taking a break from Cannes this year, Audiard said he was bored by all the drama surrounding the festival, particularly the rule banning Netflix films from competition that led the streaming platform to pull all its titles from the lineup. “I don’t give a shit,” he said, when asked about the fracas. Nevertheless, he sided with the festival. “It’s always difficult to make films,” he said. “The world is changing and I don’t know if people still want films. That’s the problem with Netflix. Are we talking about theaters or cinema when it’s on the tablet? That’s not cinema.”
Despite his many years of experience, Audiard acknowledged that “The Sisters Brothers” would provide most American audiences with their first introduction to his work. “I think people like me here,” he said. “They just don’t know me. That may change, but I won’t.” The movie, which stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as siblings who work as hired guns in the Old West, veers from gritty shootouts to more sensitive family moments. “It presents me well,” Audiard said, “because it’s a little witty.”