The Cannes Film Festival generates more attention and excitement than any other film festival in the world, but each year is an unpredictable journey. The Official Selection, alongside the sidebars of Directors Fortnight and Critics Week, offer up a tightly-curated into a range of international cinema from both familiar sources and surprising newcomers. This year’s edition is a reliable combination of top-tier directors whose work will be shown at Cannes until the end of time, notable filmmakers who usually deliver something worthwhile, and unproven quantities with a lot of potential.
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In order to work through all of these different possibilities, we’ve broken down our list of anticipated Cannes titles into three categories: A-list auteurs, Discoveries and Safe Bets. Every day of Cannes will bring new updates on the latest films, some of which will live up to the hype while others will come up short. For now, we can only hope that these titles are worthy of our expectations, but chances are pretty good that most of them will be worth writing home about. Expect to hear a lot more soon.
Michael Haneke went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 with “The White Ribbon” and won the Palme d’Or. He returned three years later in 2012 with “Amour” and won the Palme d’Or again. He’s one of only nine directors to take Cannes’ highest honor twice, and now he returns after a five-year hiatus to try and become the first director to win three. “Happy End,” starring Isabelle Huppert, centers on a bourgeois family living an isolated life as the European migrant crisis happens around them. The chance to witness Haneke go for the Cannes history books is too important to miss. -Zack Sharf
Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been one of Japan’s premier genre auteurs for more than 20 years now, and he’s back at it less than a year after debuting “Daguerreotype” in Toronto. His latest, a sci-fi drama about an alien invasion, is sure to be more off-kilter and elliptical than that high-concept premise makes it sound: Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda and Hiroki Hasegawa play a trio of extraterrestrials on a scouting mission for their home planet, which is planning to make landfall on our humble abode. Might they learn some valuable lessons about humanity along the way? -Michael Nordine
A hugely expensive “E.T.” riff about a young Korean girl who tries to protect a giant CG animal from evil corporate goons, “Okja” couldn’t be further removed from the relative austerity of the typical Cannes selection, but Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has been revered since 2003’s “Memories of Murder,” a true-crime serial killer saga that is every bit the equal of David Fincher’s “Zodiac.” The rare director who has consistently managed to parlay genre fare into the sort of probing, provocative social commentary that appeals to high and low sensibilities alike, Bong has already delivered the defining monster movie of the 21st century, and he’s about to try his luck by seeing if he can do that up the ante even higher.
With “Okja,” Bong tells the story of a young girl named Mija, whose best friend happens to be a giant monster — but a friendly one, this time. When Okja is kidnapped and shipped off to America, it’s up to Mija to work with a good doctor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and foil the forces of corporate evil (as represented here by Tilda Swinton). Bong has never let us down before, and the bigger his films get, the more they seem to drill down into the director’s essence. Here’s hoping that this uncharacteristically kid-focused epic will find him earning all kinds of new fans. -David Ehrlich
Arnaud Desplechin, the French writer-director behind loquaciously hyper-neurotic dramas like “A Christmas Tale” and “Kings & Queen,” has come back to Cannes with a movie that sounds like a perfect selection for the opening night slot. Mathieu Amalric (Desplechin’s usual leading man) stars as a director whose personal and professional lives are turned upside down when — in the middle of shooting his latest film — he suddenly finds himself haunted by his old flame, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard)). Carlotta has been dead for 20 years, but Ismael still hasn’t moved on completely, and that realization comes to him at just the right time to derail both his new picture and his new relationship (with Charlotte Gainsbourg). If “Ismael’s Ghosts” is half as anxious and perceptive as Desplechin’s previous work, we could be looking at the rare Cannes opener that opens the festival on just the right note. -DE
Nicole Kidman goes grey in a role that her close friend Jane Campion wrote for her in SundanceTV’s returning mystery series “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” playing the adopted mother of Campion’s real-life daughter Alice Englert. Kidman joins returning Golden Globe-winner Elisabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin. Created by Campion and Gerald Lee for See Saw, the limited series first aired in 2013 as Griffin investigated a missing pregnant 12-year-old girl. Season Two picks up four years later; this time Griffin is looking into the case of an unidentified Asian girl who washes up on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Griffin realizes that “China Girl” didn’t die alone and searches the city’s darkest corners to find answers as she is haunted by memories of her own daughter, given up for adoption at birth. “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie also plays a major role. Campion is co-directing with Ariel Kleiman (“Partisan”); the series will air on BBC Two in the UK and on the SundanceTV and Hulu stateside in September. -Anne Thompson
No one knows their way around feminine desire and angst quite like Sofia Coppola, who looks poised to channel the same kind of high-intensity emotion that marks features like “The Virgin Suicides” and “The Bling Ring” into a Civil War-era drama that’s so hot it’s practically incendiary. Based on Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel of the same name (which has already spawned a Clint Eastwood film), the film follows the residents of a cloistered girls’ school in Virginia, one that has managed to stay mostly out of the melee raging across their country. That is, of course, until a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) appears on their grounds, and the ladies (including a headmistress played by Nicole Kidman) decide to take him in and heal him up. Throwing a man into that already fraught mix only sets off a series of battles between the ladies (namely, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning) that results in some horrifying choices. “You vengeful bitches!,” Farrell screams in the film’s trailer, and damn if we can’t wait to meet them all. -Kate Erbland
Russia’s Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan” was a sensation at Cannes in 2014, when it won a screenplay prize and began an acclaim-filled path to an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. The movie was a powerful, darkly funny look at Russian society through the lens of history, religion and family bonds that confirmed the director’s standing as one of the most exciting, dramatic filmmakers on the world stage. He’s poised to maintain that reputation with competition entry “Loveless,” the story of a couple that goes searching for their missing son after he runs away following a dispute. The title refers to the family itself, a broken, unhappy unit whose aversion to affection leads to tragic results. That’s familiar terrain for the director, who has delved into tense, slow-burn portraits of crumbling relationships ever since his 2003 debut “The Return.” At a time when Russia’s international standing couldn’t be more complicated, Zvyagintsev is ideally positioned to put an uncompromising human face on it. -Eric Kohn
Post-“Mistress America” and “Frances Ha,” Noah Baumbach appears to be returning to familiar territory (though here’s hoping he’s brought along the same kind of freshness that made his last two efforts such joys to behold) with a film that chronicles an estranged family forced back together in celebration of their patriarch’s successes. Baumbach knows his way around neurotic people, and it sounds like the Meyerowitz brood is just as nervous and self-involved as some of his most beloved characters. Packed with some major star power, including Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel, and Candice Bergen, Baumbach has all the pieces to make another Great America Movie About Being Freaked Out All the Time, a genre he’s all but mastered at this point. -KE
Based on the bestselling 2011 young adult novel of the same name by Brian Selznick, Todd Haynes’s “Wonderstruck” follows the interconnected stories of two deaf children across the span of 50 years. Ben (Oakes Fegley) lives with his family in Minnesota in 1977 and escapes to New York, trying to find his father. Rose (13-year-old deaf actor Millicent Simmonds), a young girl locked in a house in 1927 New Jersey, escapes to New York to see her favorite film actress. Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams co-star in the Amazon Studios production. Bob Berney, Amazon’s head of distribution and marketing, recently called “Wonderstruck” Haynes’s “most ambitious film ever.” -GW
Atsuko Hirayanagi was the runner-up for the Cinéfondation prize at Cannes in 2014 for her short film “Oh Lucy!,” and now she returns three years later to premiere her feature directorial debut at the festival’s International Critics’ Week. Adapted from the same short film and starring Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett, “Oh Lucy!” centers around a lonely office worker in Tokyo who falls for her English instructor and ventures to Southern California to find him after he disappears. It’s a plot that is equal parts strange and enticing, and it appears on paper that Hirayanagi should have no problem using Cannes’ oldest sidebar to get her name on the radar of cinephiles around the world. Critics’ Week is known for introducing new filmmaking voices to the global cinema stage, and Hirayanagi is ready for her close-up. -ZS
While filming the Sundance hit “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Chloé Zhao became fascinated by a group of mixed race cowboys (known as Indian Cowboys or Lakota Cowboys) who grew up on the reservation. In particular, she got to know a saddle bronc rider and a horse trainer named Brady Jandreau, who suffered a massive brain injury during a rodeo competition. As Brady dealt with long term health effects, Zhao saw Brady struggle with an inability to live up to the cowboy image that defined him. To tell this uniquely American story of masculine identity, Zhao cast Jandreau and his real life family to play a fictionalized versions of themselves. Working with real life characters and using “authentic” footage can be a risky proposition for a filmmaker, but early word is that Zhao has built upon her success in “Songs” to create an uniquely poetic and metaphysical film. -Chris O’Falt
We love a good political drama and this year it would appear our best chance at a star-driven, big prestige production of a politician in crisis will be coming out of South America. After winning Cannes’ Critics’ Week with “Paulina,” Argentinian director Santiago Mitre is taking a huge step up with “The Summit,” which was financially backed by the team behind “Wild Tales.” “The Summit” is a political thriller starring Ricardo Darín (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) as the President of Argentina facing a difficult decision between protecting his power or standing by his principles and family. The film features a supporting role by Christian Slater as a U.S. government official and an ensemble of some of the most celebrated actors in Latin America. The film was at least partially shot at the actual La Casa Rosada, or “the Pink House,” which serves as the President’s Executive Mansion. Warner Brothers has already picked up the distribution rights for Latin America and Spain believing they could repeat the financial and critical success they had with “Wild Tales.” -CO
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