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Cannes 2019: 15 Most Anticipated Films At This Year’s Festival

Yes, we're excited for the latest epics from Quentin Tarantino and Terrence Malick. But there is a whole lot more to anticipate at the year's most glamorous auteur celebration.

cannes 2019 anticipated

From top: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Atlantique,” “Diego Maradona,” “Frankie,” “The Lighthouse”

“Atlantics” (Mati Diop)

Mati Diop has been gaining traction for her short films over the last several years (and as an actress, in films like “Simon Killer”), but she makes her feature directorial debut with “Atlantics” in the festival’s highest profile section. The film will screen in the Competition section, earning Diop a spot in the history books as the first female filmmaker of African descent to compete for the Palme d’Or. Previously titled “Fire Next Time” (although not based on James Baldwin’s famous essay collection of the same name), “Atlantics” tells the story of a young woman from Dakar, whose fast-paced lifestyle is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of her lover, soon believed to be dead. It’s a timely scenario focused on the ongoing plight of families from marginalized countries forced to make often treacherous journeys across land and sea in search of better opportunities in an increasingly intolerant, xenophobic world. Diop’s poetic storytelling and profound subject matter is likely to establish her as one of this year’s major breakout talents. —TO

“Bull” (Annie Silverstein)

One of three American directors in Un Certain Regard this year, Annie Silverstein returns to Cannes five years after her short “Skunk” won the festival’s Cinéfondation section. The filmmaker’s feature debut is a naturalistic story about a rebellious teen who escapes the pain of her mother’s incarceration by bonding with her next-door neighbor, a curmudgeonly bullfighter whose best days are behind him. Shot on the outskirts of Houston with a largely non-professional cast, “Bull” is said to echo Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider” (another Cannes breakout) in its ability to convey the nuances of American bullfighting culture, as well as intimate emotional struggles of impoverished people trapped on the margins of society. At Cannes, this magnification of Southern life could take on a broader anthropological scope, putting the experiences of lower-class American life on a pedestal it almost never receives back home. In the process, it could also turn Silverstein into a major director to watch. —EK

“The Climb” (Michael Covino)

Michael Covino’s 2018 Sundance short “The Climb” (above) crammed an awkward-funny scenario into seven economical minutes, as two longtime pals (played by Covino and co-writer Kyle Marvin) bike up a particularly challenging hill while one of them reveals to the other that he slept with his buddy’s fiancé. Covino’s feature-length adaptation of that short takes that amusing premise as a starting point for a sprawling portrait of adult male friendship that covers major turning points in both of their lives. The movie is said to bring an exciting cinematic flourish to the familiar dude movie formula, which explains its high-profile Cannes slot, and poised to launch a promising writer-director pair to wider audiences. As U.S. studio comedies grow increasingly tired and dopey microbudget stories about arrested development blur together, “The Climb” could be just the thing to shake up that formula. In a year in which several American filmmakers are likely to leave an impact at the festival, “The Climb” may not generate the same hype as Quentin Tarantino’s latest opus, but it offers something even more intriguing — the opportunity for a genuine discovery, and an accomplishment that American journalists will be eager to write home about. —EK

“Deerskin” (Quentin Dupieux)

French director (and DJ) Quentin Dupieux has always excelled at delivering on the promise of his wacky, surreal high-concepts, although nothing to date can top 2010’s killer tire movie “Rubber.” Yes, “Rubber”: The discursive tale of a deranged car part careening across the desert that also doubled as a meta commentary on the absurdity of all modern storytelling. It was a hit at Cannes, which was hip to Dupieux’s weird wavelength early on, and now he’s getting a prime slot as the opening selection of Directors’ Fortnight. Once again, Dupieux has centered on the unusual powers of a stationary object — in this case, a jacket, whose owner blows all his savings on the item and careens into a life of crime. “The Artist” Oscar winner Jean Dujardin stars as the ill-fated man in question, whose bizarre odyssey is said to unfold as comedic thriller. But when it comes to Dupieux, all bets are off: Expect nothing, and just enjoy the outré ride. —EK

“Diego Maradona” (Asif Kapadia)

Asif Kapadia has mastered a latter-day documentary portraiture that brings the audience closer to his subjects than it feels like any other documentarian working today possibly could. His two best known efforts, “Senna” and “Amy,” looked at two doomed legends: racecar driver Ayrton Senna, who died at 34 in a crash, and Amy Winehouse, who lost her life at 27. Kapadia’s new film looks at a living legend: Diego Maradona, long considered by soccer aficionados to be the greatest player in the history of the sport, rivaled only be Pelé. Maradona, now 58, won only one World Cup, with home country Argentina in 1986, but that contest involves two of the most talked about soccer moments ever. In Argentina’s quarterfinals against England, Maradona powered the team to a two-to-one victory himself, first with a goal known as the “Hand of God” in which, by any standard, he broke the rules of the sport and knocked in a goal with a volleyball-like fist. (This was in the era before instant replay.) Four minutes later, Maradona followed it up with “The Goal of the Century,” in which in one continuous motion he dribbled the ball past countless defenders most of the length of the field and finally got it past the goalie.

As big a personality as he was on the field, he’s always been even bigger off of it: that illegal handball goal he later defended by saying he had not hit his hand against the ball to score the goal, God had done so. Maradona already got a riveting “30 for 30: Soccer Stories” installment by director Sam Blair that ran on ESPN, but what Kapadia can do with Maradona should be extraordinary. —CB

“Family Romance, LLC” (Werner Herzog)

Most of the major directors coming to Cannes this year were expected there, but somehow Werner Herzog snuck into a special slot. The Bavarian auteur’s narrative work has struggled to impress audiences and critics in recent years, while his prolific documentary output has provided a window into his globe-trotting journeys. But Herzog’s “Family Romance, LLC” is a curious shift for the filmmaker: As he first explained to IndieWire in an interview last year, Herzog shot the movie in Japan last summer, working only with non-professional actors speaking Japanese (which he doesn’t speak). That’s a remarkable challenge for any filmmaker, but evidence of Herzog’s ongoing cinematic ambition, and the Cannes decision to screen the film (even out of competition) suggests that results are at least distinctive enough to bring Herzog back to the Croisette for the first time in many years. Herzog’s narrative films tend to be bigger, starrier productions than his documentaries, but this scrappy, self-financed experiment is likely to mark a new chapter in the director’s ever-innovative oeuvre. —EK

“Frankie” (Ira Sachs)

“Frankie”

Ira Sachs

Beloved American indie auteur Ira Sachs has honed his storytelling over the years and excels at telling human stories in small-scale trappings, from the heartbreaking dissolution of a middle school best friendship in “Little Men” to the bureaucratic nightmare that sinks a long-term partnership in “Love Is Strange.” For his Cannes debut, Sachs is rolling out a star-studded cast in a dazzling European setting, but it still sounds like a Sachs-ian dramedy through and through. “Frankie” follows three generations of a family on a trip to Portugal, though the film itself is said to take place over the course of a single day that’s marked by a “life-changing experience.” The drama stars Isabelle Huppert in the eponymous lead role, along with Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Jeremie Renier, and Greg Kinnear. Sachs wrote the film alongside his frequent collaborator Mauricio Zacharias, so fans of his earlier work will have plenty to admire. Earlier this year, Huppert told IndieWire that the family saga is “very, very different from anything I’ve done before.” She plays the matriarch of the clan, and while she had only seen a few snippets of the film, she was already elated with the results. “I can tell that it’s very tender,” she said. “Nothing really tragic happens in the film, but the situation itself is tragic, even though we shot in the most beautiful environment.” —KE

“A Hidden Life” (Terrence Malick)

Terrence Malick is back in competition at Cannes this year with World War II drama “A Hidden Life,” the director’s first Palme d’Or contender since “The Tree of Life” took home the prestigious honor at the 2011 festival. Malick’s latest stars August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter, a German conscientious objector to WWII who was guillotined by the Third Reich in 1943. The director has not revealed much about “A Hidden Life” other than it marking a return to a more structured kind of narrative storytelling. Malick’s movies and their shapeless structure have polarized since “The Tree of Life” (see “To the Wonder,” “Knight of Cups,” “Song to Song”), and the director vowing to get back to his “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” roots is not to be missed at Cannes this year. The supporting cast includes Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, and the late actors Michael Nyqvist and Bruno Ganz. —ZS

“The Lighthouse” (Robert Eggers)

Robert Eggers was the sensation of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival thanks to his beloved horror film “The Witch.” The director’s latest foray into the genre is “The Lighthouse,” which has been described as a fantasy horror film story set in the world of old sea-faring myths. Shot on 35mm black-and-white film (in the Academy ratio, of course) and featuring Cannes favorites Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in the lead roles, “The Lighthouse” is a major step up for Eggers after his breakthrough debut. If “The Witch” made Eggers one of the most exciting young filmmakers in the U.S., the film’s debut in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes should bring acclaim to his work to a whole new level. The peculiar thriller (which was reportedly shot under extreme conditions in a remote part of Nova Scotia) is said to incorporate elements of Tarkovsky and Bergman as well as silent film traditions as it delivers a cinematic wonder that ranks as one of the most anticipated followups in years. —EK

“I Lost My Body” (Jérémy Clapin)

“I Lost My Body”

Netflix

Animation doesn’t usually have a big presence at Cannes, but when it does, it tends to leave a mark. From “The Triplets of Belleville” to “Up,” many acclaimed animated achievements have started their lives on the Croisette. This year, “I Lost My Body” joins them, and has been well-positioned to be a genuine discovery. “Amelie” screenwriter Guillaume Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand” has been adapted into a strange, ominous saga based around the journey of a severed hand in search of its missing body. (And no, it’s not a surprise sequel to “The Addams Family.”) An early trailer outlines the plight of the hand as it reflects back on the man it was connected to, as the pair encounter a new challenge when they meet a mysterious woman. Laurant wrote the screenplay for this dark, gothic tale set in the shadowy interiors of Paris, which could position director Jérémy Clapin as one of the most exciting emerging voices in contemporary animation. —EK

“Les Misérables” (Ladj Ly)

One of two African films screening in competition, French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly’s feature debut “Les Misérables” is based on the director’s powerful 2017 short film of the same name. The story centers on what happens when power ends up in the hands of people who don’t know how to control it. The feature version is inspired by the violent 2005 Paris riots, which primarily involved youth of African descent. The three-week-long uprising was rooted in rising unemployment among the youth who were mostly confined to poor housing estates, and the harassment they routinely experienced at the hands of the police. At the center of the film are three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun while trying to make an arrest. The title is a play on that of Victor Hugo’s 1862 classic novel — itself the basis for numerous film, TV, and stage adaptations — but this one is poised to offer a more jarring, immediate tale. —TO

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Quentin Tarantino)

All of Quentin Tarantino’s movies are about movies to some degree, but the best films he’s made in the 21st century are even more explicitly self-reflexive than the rest. It would be insane to suggest that “Death Proof,” “Django Unchained,” and “The Hateful Eight” exist in a vacuum, but there’s something pronounced about how “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds” intertwine film history into the emotional fabric of the stories they’re telling; the harder Tarantino leans into that history, the more inventive and self-possessed his films become. If that continues to hold true, then it stands to reason that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” will be his masterpiece.

The first of Tarantino’s movies to address Tinseltown head-on, this off-kilter $100 million period piece appropriately boasts the most star-studded cast the auteur has ever assemble. The 1969-set story is still under wraps, but we know that Leonardo DiCaprio takes center stage as Rick Dalton, a television actor who’s struggling with the transition to the big screen. That’s bad news for Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick’s longtime stuntman and best friend. Somehow, these two wannabes manage to cross paths with every major figure in the final hours of Hollywood’s golden age, including Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), among many, many others. If “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” doesn’t turn out to be the best Quentin Tarantino movie, it’s at least guaranteed to be the most Quentin Tarantino movie. We’ll find out when it premieres at Cannes 25 years to the day after “Pulp Fiction” won the Palme d’Or. —DE

“Port Authority” (Danielle Lessovitz)

After directing several short films over the last decade, San Francisco-based filmmaker Danielle Lessovitz graduates to feature filmmaking with the drama “Port Authority.” The drama, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, is world premiering in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. “Port Authority” is set in New York City and centers around the romance between a midwestern transplant and a 22-year-old trans woman with ties to the city’s ballroom scene. With an inclusive relationship at its center and a woman director behind the camera, “Port Authority” already stands out in the official Cannes lineup. Expect Lessovitz to be one of the festival’s big breakouts should “Port Authority” land with critics, as one well as one of several American films vying for the Camera d’Or this year. —ZS

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Céline Sciamma)

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

After completing a self-described trilogy of coming-of-age films — “Water Lilies,” “Tomboy,” and “Girlhood” — Cannes regular Sciamma has shifted her interests in the female experience to her first-ever period piece. Set on an isolated island during the latter half of the eighteenth century, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” features “Heaven Will Wait” star Noémie Merlant as a young painter commissioned for a strange endeavor: to craft a portrait of young bride-to-be (Sciamma’s frequent star Adèle Haenel) without her knowing. Intent on capturing the essence of her subject, Merlant’s Marianne grows closer to Haenel’s Héloïse in the lead-up to a wedding that doesn’t sound entirely happy, which culminates in an unexpected bond cast against dire circumstances. The film marks Sciamma’s first foray into the festival’s Competition — “Water Lilies” debuted in Un Certain Regard in 2007 — and sounds like the kind of bold and yes, fiery entry that might have the power to surprise in a stacked slate. —KE

“The Wild Goose Lake” (Diao Yinan)

One of contemporary China’s greatest and most unsparing contemporary auteurs, Diao Yinan launched onto the world stage when his masterful third feature, “Black Coal, Thin Ice” beat out “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to win the Golden Bear at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. His first film since that bleak noir mystery, “The Wild Goose Lake” finds Diao re-teaming with actor Liao Fan for a characteristically dark crime story about the doomed romance that sparks between a desperate prostitute (Kwai Lun-Mei) and the leader of a dangerous biker gang (Hu Ge) when they run into the same dead end in South China. If Diao’s latest is even remotely as gorgeous and enraged as his previous work, it’s sure to be one of the most exciting films in Competition. And it will be in Competition; while a number of recent Chinese festival premieres have run into censorship issues at the last minute, and Diao’s damning sensibilities might run afoul of the government’s sanitized self-image, Cannes honcho Thierry Fremaux insists that “The Wild Goose Lake” has been cleared to play. —DE

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