This year’s Cannes Film Festival may have ended, but its impact on world cinema is just starting. And while the venerated festival gave out a wide variety of awards at its conclusion, including big wins for familiar names like Ruben Östlund, Lukas Dhont, Claire Denis, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and Park Chan-wook, that’s only the tip of the metaphorical cinema iceberg when it comes to considering the best of the fest’s stacked lineup.
The best films of this year’s festival run the gamut: again, including familiar names (like the Cannes competition jury, IndieWire and its dedicate staff and freelancers flipped for new offerings from returning stars like Östlund and Park), plus other perennial favorites like James Gray, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Cristian Mungiu, and David Cronenberg. But we also went wild for entirely new visions from rising stars like Charlotte Wells, Léa Mysius, and Lola Quivoron.
These films include everything from a wise donkey to a visceral underground biker culture, found families and fractured clans, organs grown at a premium and hearts broken way beyond repair, plus fire, vomit, and plenty of tears to wash away both. Ah, cinema!
Leila Latif, Adam Solomons, and Ella Kemp also contributed to this article.
One of the great discoveries of this year’s Cannes comes from Critics’ Week, an ever-reliable place to find first- and second-time features from filmmakers readymade for breakout status. Charlotte Wells easily falls into that category with “Aftersun.” The U.S.-based Scottish director offers a dazzling look at the memories of an 11-year-old girl on holiday with her father (a somber Paul Mescal) in the late ‘90s. The movie occasionally shifts into the present day as the grown woman continues to be haunted by the past, but “Aftersun” lingers in her subject state and fragile connections to small moments as they take on larger significance.
As Sophie thinks and rethinks her relationship with her father, his own sad state of mind becomes a curious object of study. Wells positions us within this quest, using the quest assemblage of moments to assess the bigger picture — namely, how memories accurate new meaning with time. Down to its masterful final shot, “Aftersun” displays the mark of a shrewd visual stylist capable of injecting profound meaning into tiny details. It dares us to look deeper. —EK
Only a true Francis Ford Coppola fetishist like “Ad Astra” director James Gray would saddle a modest self-portrait about his memories of sixth grade with a title that makes it sound more like “Apocalypse Now” than any other film ever has (a reference to candidate Reagan’s nuclear hawkishness, “Armageddon Time” borrows its name from a 1979 Willie Williams reggae jam famously covered by The Clash).
Pivoting away from the biggest production of his career with a melancholy return to the kind of small-scale New York stories that first put him on the map, Gray revisits his childhood years in Queens and all of their related ghosts with this unsparingly well-remembered coming-of-age story about a pre-pubescent Jewish boy named Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), his loving relationship with his maternal grandfather (a heartbreaking Anthony Hopkins), and his friendship with the slightly older Black kid (Jaylin Webb) he meets on the first day of school in September 1980. Bolstered by difficult, unflinching performances from Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong as Paul’s hyper-assimilative parents — in addition to one very pointed cameo from Jessica Chastain — “Armageddon Time” weaves a painfully honest memoir about conditional whiteness and the moral compromises demanded by the American Dream. It’s all the more impressive in the context of a movie that could easily have become the Jewish-American “Belfast” if not for its Talmudic moral streak and fierce aversion to sentimentality. —DE
This story of found family is hardly uncharted waters for “Shoplifters” director Hirokazu Kore-eda, but where his 2018 Palme d’Or-winner found tenderness in a rag-tag gang of thieves learning how to take care of each other as they rob everyone else, “Broker” flips the script by introducing us to a couple of child traffickers in Korea — including Cannes Best Actor winner Song Kang-ho — who take a runaway young mother under their wing, and set out on the road to sell her baby for the best price.
The execution of this premise is, somehow, miraculous in its sensitivity, asking questions about issues of ethics, of choice, of money, and murder, and family, and how to find love in all this sorry mess. No answers are given — Kore-eda may be an empath, but he’s never been a utopian inclined towards especially happy endings. The rest of the film’s charms are typical of him as well: An astonishing sympathy for the unforgivable decisions we make, a patience for all the strange journeys you have to take in order to shake off the resentment passed down by generations, and a willingness to redefine the meaning of family once more. The plot may read a bit “‘Little Miss Sunshine’ meets ‘Juno,’” but then there’s so much more that escapes comparison, as no other filmmaker could balance the sticky moral questions that color this material quite like Hirokazu Kore-eda. —Ella Kemp
Luxembourg-born “Phantom Thread” breakout Vicky Krieps, now based in Berlin, shared the Un Certain Regard Actress prize for Austrian auteur Marie Kreutzer’s irreverently feminist royal drama, which many at Cannes believed should have been programmed in the official competition. Playing rebellious Empress Elisabeth (“Sissi”) of Austria-Hungary in the year 1877 was a feat requiring Krieps to learn Hungarian, fence, and ride sidesaddle. Rejoining Kreutzer seven years after she cast her in “We Used to Be Cool,” Krieps inhabits the infamously restless Sissi, who at 40 is bucking the customs of the time as she tries to escape her gilded royal cage. Her husband Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) insists that she responsibly perform her royal duties.
On the one hand, she seeks to keep the public’s love, dieting and cinching tight her corsets; on the other, she runs away to Bavaria and England and flirts with younger men. In this revisionist fictional history, Kreutzer and Krieps revel in the vain and petty Empress’ countless flaws, throwing in some contemporary flourishes. In one scene, Krieps hid a sticky false mustache on her sleeve and swept it onto her lip as a surprise for the director. This is the second year in a row that Krieps starred in two Cannes titles. She also nabbed raves for Un Certain Regard’s “More Than Ever.” —AT
“Crimes of the Future”
A crepuscular tale about the next evolution of humankind and the two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux) whose work has made a spectacle of the changes to life as we know it, “Crimes of the Future” is David Cronenberg to the core, complete with its fair share of authorial flourishes (the moaning organic bed that its characters sleep in is a five-alarm nightmare unto itself) and slogans (“surgery is the new sex”). At the same time, however, this hazy yet strangely hopeful meditation on the relationship between human bodies and the world that our brains have created for them feels too bittersweet to register as “body horror.” It only feels connected to the director’s gross-out classics because of how it pushes beyond them.
Stoned and crepuscular in a way that evokes Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” as much as it does any of Cronenberg’s own films, “Crimes of the Future” shifts the director’s lifelong focus on the mutability of flesh into a more philosophical gear, exchanging the semi-cautionary nature of his earlier work for a less aggressive study of transmutation. Its threadbare story might follow an arc similar to the likes of “Crash” and “Videodrome,” but the older Cronenberg now arrives at the end with a wiser sense of acceptance. Where those earlier movies staged hostile takeovers on the human body, his mesmerizing new one finds the invasion coming from within — even in death, it hears the faint sounds of a harmony. —DE
Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
“Decision to Leave”
Chinese star Tang Wei moved to Korea after her run-ins with the Chinese censors over Ang Lee’s controversial and sexually candid “Lust, Caution.” This time she’s the femme fatale at the center of Park Chan-wook’s moody noir procedural who ruffles the dignity of an upstanding married detective (Park Hae-il) who suspects her of murdering her husband. He tracks her obsessively, watching her move around at night in her apartment, and imagines making love to her while he’s with his health-conscious wife.
Park spins an intoxicating web of deceit and fantasy, attraction and self-loathing inside the framework of a policier that is less concerned with the details of the case at hand than a series of impeccably mounted cinematic sequences that make the most of Korea’s gorgeous mountains and coasts. This stylish, engaging movie — Park took home the Best Director prize — could make a splash with arthouse movie lovers as Korea’s likely Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film. —AT
“De Humani Corporis Fabrica”
A metal pincer travels through a dark red tunnel tearing at a foggy white membrane, reminiscent of a futuristic space vehicle burrowing through the bowels of a stylishly realized alien planet. In reality, this is inner space not outer, with minute cameras within the human body bridging the gap between documentary and arthouse sensibility.
The moving image has always existed in parallel in both art and science. “2001: A Space Odyssey” told of humanity’s potential across the solar system and, a year later, cutting-edge technology captured Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. But, as a doctor in “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” reminds us, art has its limits and “the challenge is not to foresee the future but to make it possible.” While filmmakers for over a century have experimented with narrative structure, computer-generated imagery and the boundaries of imagination science to map distant planets and tunnel through organs, giving us a new understanding of our anatomy and facilitating surgical procedures with godlike capabilities. —LL
Told through the eyes of a modest donkey — often literally — Jerzy Skolimowski’s madcap, visually experimental “remake” of Robert Bresson’s 1966 black-and-white drama “Au Hasard Balthazar” has plenty of nods to his compatriot classmates and little to do with Skolimowski’s previous films. The titular donkey, onomatopoeically named (it is “Hi-Han” in France), is freed from a circus in central Poland and briefly becomes a hardcore “ultra” fan at a local soccer team, before being whisked away for more adventures, taking in the vastness of life along the way. Eo even meets Isabelle Huppert, a privilege any living being can look back on their years proudly for. (In Cannes’s answer to a Marvel cameo, the gasp Huppert’s appearance produced at last night’s press screening is one for the ages.)
The fact that Eo has no control over his destiny — our narrator, remember, is a literal donkey — makes for a somewhat anarchic viewing experience. There aren’t a series of human conversations to grab on to. There is seemingly no plot. In Bresson’s version, it’s the humans around the donkey who are the true center of the story. Not so in “EO.”This is Donkeyvision, and we’re better off for it. —AS
“The Five Devils”
French director Léa Mysius proves her debut “Ava” was no fluke with this mesmerizing and innovative followup, which revolves around a biracial girl (stunning breakout Sally Dramé) who learns how to capture her parents’ scent that allows her witness their past. Her mother (Adele Exarchopoulos) and father (Moustapha Mbengue) both went through complex experiences that brought them together in spite of other factors that could have led them down different paths.
In exploring this revelation, “The Five Devils” brings a remarkable supernatural twist to the coming-of-age drama rich with thematic intrigue and sensuality. A bonafide Cannes auteur (she wrote last year’s script to Jacques Audiard’s “Paris, 12th District” and Claire Denis’ new “The Stars at Noon”), Mysius has made a beguiling cinematic work that deserved a competition slot, but will certainly find welcoming audiences in the aftermath of this year’s festival. —EK
Owen Kline may be best known as the younger of the two sibling characters in “The Squid and the Whale,” but he can leave that legacy behind for a new one thanks to “Funny Pages,” his grimy and hilarious directorial debut. The story of a teenager who aspires to become an indie cartoonist (Daniel Zolghardri) has the uncompromising cringe comedy and underground sensibility reminiscent of “Frownland” and the early works of the Safdie brothers, who produced. Kline’s determined anti-hero careens through a series of misadventures as he curries favor from a washed-up illustrator (Matthew Maher) who may or may not be out of his mind, as the story builds to an anarchic finale that’s both utterly shocking and preordained.
Kline nails the awkward creative energy of the underground comics world with an eye for slacker malaise that even makes Kevin Smith downright conservative, and the movie is unafraid to go to some dark places that might alienate some squeamish audiences. It will most certainly do that, and in the process, introduce a terrific new cinematic voice to the landscape of American cinema that needs all it can get. —EK
Chekhov’s gun has seldom fallen into hands as steady and menacing hands as in Cristian Mungiu’s poorly titled, expertly staged “R.M.N.,” which finds the elite Romanian auteur extrapolating the personal tensions that gripped his previous work (e.g., “Beyond the Hills” and the Palme d’Or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”) across an entire Transylvanian village as the arrival of three Sri Lankan workers triggers violent waves of xenophobia.
The result is a socioeconomic crucible that carefully shifts its weight to the same foot that Mungiu always loves to rest on your throat. Pulling harder and harder at the tension between complex socioeconomic forces and the simple human emotions they inspire, “R.M.N.” masterfully spins an all too familiar migration narrative into an atavistic crucible about the effects of globalization on the European Union. This might be a good time to repeat a frequent mantra from this year’s Cannes: It’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds. —DE
Julia (an astounding Julie Ledru) has no interest in half-measures. Her dirt bike gets stolen? Time to steal someone else’s. She needs gas for that new bike? Take it off the first dude who looks her way. She wants some quick cash? Smash and grab a truckload of fancy bikes and literally just ride away with her new fortune. Nothing is out of the reach of her sticky fingers, but even lone wolf Julia hungers for companionship, and in Lola Quivoron’s visceral “Rodeo,” she gets it — at a price.
“Rodeo” is a heart-pounding, wholly unique ride, punctuated by incredible stunt work from Ledru and the rest of the cast — shepherded by veteran stunt expert Mathieu Lardot, who has worked on everything from the Jason Bourne franchise to the “Mission: Impossible” films — and possessed by a kinetic, high-energy drive. Some crafty Hollywood executive will likely pitch an Americanized version as one part “Titane,” one part “Fast and Furious,” and one part “Girlhood,” but Quivoron’s feature debut is so singular, so thrilling, that it will hopefully escape without being sucked into the remake machine. —KE
“Triangle of Sadness”
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund followed up his 2017 Palme d’Or win (“The Square”) by winning the Palme again. He rocked the Palais with laughter with his latest shot at the self-satisfied bourgeoisie, throwing influencer models (Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson), a software billionaire (Henrik Dorsin), and a Russian oligarch (Zlatko Buric) onto a luxury yacht. One prolonged vomiting sequence was the talk of the Croisette. It starts at the Captain’s dinner, as waiters serve exquisite seafood to the champagne-sipping black-tie passengers, lifting the gold lids on briny octopus as the cabin starts to heave up and down during a violent storm. Soon a few guests start to feel queasy. One throw-up inspires another. And another.
Meanwhile the oligarch and the Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson) engage in a drunken dialectic quote-throwing contest. The survivors wash up on a desert island and test their mettle as they attempt to survive. Those hurling scenes took Östlund six torturous months to edit; he previewed his first English-language movie five or six times to see how audiences in different countries would respond. He needn’t have worried. North American rights sold to Neon for $8-10 million, bidding against A24, Searchlight, and more. This film will be a fall fest staple and should wind up in the 2023 Oscar conversation. —AT