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Cannes 2020: Here’s What the Official Selection Tells Us About the Year in Cinema

There's no physical festival this year, but the Cannes 2020 selection provides a lot of room for exploration.

The Palme d’Or


There was no Palme d’Or ceremony, no red carpets, and no yacht parties on the French Riviera this year, but there was still a lineup for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. Forced to cancel its physical event, the world’s highest-profile festival devised a workaround, announcing the “Cannes 2020” selection today in the same way Criterion might unveil an extensive box set: These are films worthy of anticipation, wherever they show up, and the Cannes laurels will show up with them.

The selection highlights a range of films that were already highly anticipated, from Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” to Pixar’s “Soul,” but the announcement is even more notable for the films with much lower profiles.

Films selected for the lineup were required to have release dates planned between this June and May 2021. Others that planned later releases had to apply for the festival’s next edition. That means that this selection provides the first major look at the next 12 months of international cinema; it also demonstrates France’s priorities as it kickstarts the film industry in a country that treasures the artform more than anywhere else in the world. Of the 56 films selected, 21 are French, which tees them up for theatrical releases and qualifies them for the Cesare Awards early next year.

While the lineup provides a fascinating range of films from around the world, it’s harder to parse than previous editions since Fremaux and his programming team opted not to place the films in individual sections. (It did create a handful of new categories to make the lineup easier to browse, from “The Faithful” to “First Films.”) There is no imaginary Palme d’Or competition, or Un Certain Regard sidebar. Instead, the festival unleashed a smorgasbord of titles with no clear sense of which ones might have had more prominent positions at the festival. To that end, the announcement is less of a curatorial statement than an invitation to explore.

The pandemic forced Cannes’ decision to cancel its 2020 edition, but the announcement coincided with dramatic protests against police violence unfolding around America. Some industry insiders told IndieWire they considered it tone deaf to celebrate the Cannes logo at such a tumultuous moment. Nevertheless, the Cannes 2020 selection itself is filled with titles that tackle a range of troubling global issues, and it points to many entry points for wrestling with timely challenges that could have unfolded against the backdrop of this year’s festival — and presumably will find their outlet soon enough.

Here are a few major takeaways from the Cannes 2020 selection.

Who Didn’t Go?

While the Cannes 2020 selection includes a lot of films that prognosticators might have expected, several major titles have chosen to hold off in the hopes of using the 2021 festival platform instead. These include Paul Verhoeven’s 17th-century “lesbian nun” drama “Benedetta,” which certainly seems to poised to draw attention to itself. Other Cannes competition regulars waiting for 2021 include preeminent French auteur Bruno Dumont for “On a Half-Clear Morning” starring Lea Seydoux and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose “Memoria” — a film shot in Colombia, his first outside of his native Thailand, starring Tilda Swinton — isn’t finished yet, and the exacting filmmaker could use the extra time, anyway.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Sean Wang

A few directors who were primed to become Cannes big-timers this year also decided to wait: Israeli auteur Nadav Lapid launched into international acclaim with his Berlinale-winning “Synonyms,” and was expected to crack the Cannes competition with “Ahed’s Knee,” but will angle to do so next year instead. Ditto Mia Hansen-Love, the French auteur long overdue to become a Cannes competition hit with “Bergman Island.”

British director Joanna Hogg’s second installment of her intimate “Souvenir” film series was offered a slot in the selection, but it’s rumored to be under consideration for a premiere at Directors Fortnight in 2021. (The unofficial Cannes sidebar has made a handful of programming choices known to film reps, but chose not to publish them alongside the Official Selection.) The latter two films would have been welcome additions to a festival that has struggled in the past to make room for women filmmakers, though the selection shows some progress on that front even without the physical edition.

Meanwhile, there are no Italian films in the selection for an obvious reason: the Venice Film Festival has dibs. But if one film from the country would have made sense this year, it would have been Croisette regular Nanni Moretti, the country’s preeminent filmmaker and former Cannes jury president. Instead, his “Three Floors” is almost certain to land on the Lido.

And then there’s Leos Carax’s long-awaited followup to Cannes phenom “Holy Motors,” the Amazon Studios-produced musical “Annette,” starring Adam Driver. While some theorized that the movie might hold off for Cannes 2021 given Carax’s history there, some insiders expect that it may target a Venice launch as well.

No Competition, But Imagine the Palme d’Odds

“This time, everyone will give out their own Palme d’Or.” So said Fremaux at the press conference, inviting diehard cinephiles to keep tabs on Cannes 2020 selections throughout the year and imagine which of them might have followed “Parasite” to win the most revered prize on the festival circuit.

As mind games go, this one is fairly impractical —Cannes would never squeeze 56 films into competition, and looking at the lineup without the usual designations of Un Certain Regard, Midnight, and so on makes it hard to parse which films would realistically have a chance to win the Palme under more traditional circumstances.

There are a few exceptions, however. Cannes has tried to respond to criticism that it caters to the same competition filmmakers every year by working in a wider of names. Still, it’s easiest to envision a handful of directors in this year’s selection making it into competition simply because they usually wind up there. Fremaux referred to this bunch as “the faithful — those that we’re used to having at Cannes.”

Chief among them is Wes Anderson, whose “Moonrise Kingdom” opened the festival in 2012; “The French Dispatch,” a supposedly vibrant, near-cartoonish salute to journalism, may have scored a similar slot. For now, the Fox Searchlight title is still targeting an October release, and the Cannes laurels will follow it there. The same goes for French heavyweight Francois Ozon, whose “Summer ’85” is a personal work aiming to come out in French cinemas in time for their planned reopening on July 15. Another French regular, Maiwenn was chosen as part of the selection with “DNA,” a film that would have marked her return to the festival after the crowdpleaser “Polisse” in 2011.

"The French Dispatch"

“The French Dispatch”


Other Cannes regulars that would likely have made the Competition cut include Japan’s Naomi Kawase with “True Mothers,” Thomas Vinterberg’s “Druk (Another Round),” which reteams him with “The Hunt” star Mads Mikkelsen for the story of a tortured alcoholic, and Korea’s Im Sang-soo with “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness.”

Timely Standouts

If Cannes did end up as a platform for discussing problems around the world, one of its loudest contributors would have been Steve McQueen. The “12 Years a Slave” and “Widows” director first transitioned from the art world to filmmaking acclaim when “Hunger” premiered in Un Certain Regard in 2009. This year, thanks to the anthology series “Small Axe” produced by BBC (and set for U.S. distribution by Amazon), McQueen has two television films in the Official Selection.

Each entry in the series focuses on the lives of London’s West Indian community: “Mangrove” revolves around the true (and very timely) story of the 1970 trial of the “Mangrove 9,” activists who protested police violence and were charged with inciting a riot, while “Lovers Rock” is a fictional romance about a couple at blues party in the early 1980s. (In a statement following the announcement of the selection, McQueen said he dedicated both projects “to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the US, UK and elsewhere,” adding, “Black Lives Matter.”)

But McQueen is hardly the only filmmaker in the Cannes selection with topical subjects at hand. Among the others in the selection that stand out, the Egyptian drama “Souad,” from Ayten Amin, focuses on the country’s youth against the backdrop of its political turmoil, “Red Soil,” a French-Algerian film about labor unions, and “Broken Keys,” a promising Lebanese film from writer-director Jimmy Keyrouz about a pianist who escapes a religious extremist town after his vocation is banned.

Steve McQueen

Daniel Bergeron

On the zanier side of things, Yeon Sang-Ho’s Korean zombie hit “Train to Busan” now has a sequel, “Peninsula.” Set four years in the future, it will almost certainly take into account the ongoing tensions between South Korea and its northern neighbor. One could envision it making a splash in the Cannes Midnight section.

Animation Takes the Croisette

We knew for months that at least one major animated feature would take flight at Cannes, and it’s Pete Docter’s “Soul.” It follows another Pixar title, the 2009 “Up,” which started its journey to an Oscar win as the festival’s opening selection. Disney now plans to open “Soul” in November, but it’s not the only animated title poised to carry Cannes laurels into its theatrical release. Japan’s revered Studio Ghibli returns to the Official Selection with “Earwig and the Witch,” a 3D title from Goro Miyazaki (the son of famed Studio Ghibli founder Hayao, still at work with his secretive new project).

However, the most intriguing of the four animated titles singled out in the Cannes selection is the one that looks most ambitious: “Flee,” from Danish film director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, applies the animated format to a documentary about European refugees — which suggests it exists on a continuum with “Waltz With Bashir,” a Cannes surprise hit back in 2008.

Discoveries Galore

At least it looks like that way. Among the 56 films in the program, 15 are from first-timers, the highest number of debuts ever to crack the Official Selection. In a normal festival year, they all would qualify for the venerated Camera d’Or prize, which would have kept the jury very busy across 10 days. Now, it’s hard to tell which of them would have been the real breakouts. But their mere existence in this lineup means that the Cannes laurels will take on a different kind of connotation in 2020 as these films continue their journeys: Yes, the auteurs are there, but so is the potential for discovery.

Browse the full Cannes 2020 selection here.

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