After canceling its 2020 edition and moving to July in the midst of COVID in 2021, the Cannes Film Festival reaffirmed its stature last year as the world’s biggest platform for international cinema. The red carpet welcomed Hollywood blockbusters and celebrated auteurs alike, launching them into commercial and awards season success in the months that followed.
Of course, one successful year can establish huge expectations for the next one. With that in mind, the 52 movies announced by the festival today have a lot of promise, but it’s also tough to get a read on both the quality and potential impact of the so-called Official Selection. Moviegoers may have returned to theaters, but Cannes-caliber arthouse releases continue to struggle worldwide. The venerated Competition section emphasizes old-school auteurs, from Ken Loach to Aki Kaurismaki, whose movies may be worthy of anticipation and will have knowledgable critics eager to dive in.
At the same time, the future of such movies beyond the bubble of Cannes remains a bigger question mark than ever. “This selection will give an idea of what the cinema is in its aesthetic and its industry,” the festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux said at the opening press conference. In other words, Cannes is not just a festival — it’s a litmus test for the movies as a global art and business. Its selection has to make the case for both ends of that equation to survive. It’s too early to tell how successful it will be in that regard, but here are some early takeaways from the lineup as it stands.
Last year, Cannes lured Tom Cruise out to the red carpet to accept an honorary Palme d’Or from the festival and “Top Gun: Maverick” received a heroic welcome from the French Air Force. The fanfare helped set the stage for the movie’s $2 billion box office haul and the broader narrative around Cruise as a savior of movie theaters who fought for his sequel to get a long theatrical window. Cannes’ own celebration of the theatrical experience helped start that journey. Can it do that again?
It’s hard to say, but clearly Disney is hoping to achieve a similar effect with “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” The 80-year-old Harrison Ford will receive his own Cannes celebration this year as the massive tentpole (reportedly budgeted at $300 million) attempts to do better at the festival than Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” did 15 years ago. As with “Top Gun,” the new “Indiana Jones” resurrects a beloved ‘80s franchise, but it’s tough to tell if Cannes will make the case for this global blockbuster on the same scale.
On a comparatively smaller scale, Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” brings Tom Hanks back to Cannes after his appearance in “Elvis” last year. The movie also brings Anderson back to Focus Features after doing “The French Dispatch” with Searchlight; Anderson’s Focus-produced “Moonrise Kingdom” was a Cannes competition hit, and the company is clearly betting on the Anderson-friendly Cannes crowd to elevate this zany aliens-in-the-desert comedy into a summer hit (it opens June 16). Whether it actually lures wider audiences beyond the Anderson base remains to be seen, and even this stacked cast (Scarlett Johansson! Bryan Cranston! Steve Carell!) isn’t sure a surefire commercial bet. But Cannes enthusiasm could go far.
Meanwhile, the other commercial hit out of Cannes last year, “Elvis,” pleased new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav so much that he singled out the premiere on an earnings call. Now, Zaslav’s company (with its newly rebranded streamer Max) returns to Cannes with a TV series, “The Idol,” starring The Weeknd and produced by “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson. While the show has had a lot of behind the scenes drama, a strong Cannes launch could propel it to international attention, leading to the possibility that the festival could in fact have as strong an impact on a major TV launch as it does for theatrical movies.
“Cannes has been the torchbearer of this cinema with moviemakers and artists who are supporting this demand,” said new Cannes president Irish Knobloch. “We will go on defending them.” She didn’t have to go into specifics to hint at the festival’s longstanding history with Netflix, which hasn’t had a competition film in the selection since 2017, when the festival instituted a policy requiring competition films to receive theatrical distribution in France. Notably, Fremaux singled out the distribution plan for Martin Scorsese’s out-of-competition “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an Apple production that will receive a theatrical release through Paramount.
While Netflix continues to invest in French productions, it won’t settle for an out-of-competition slot as a punitive measure. There are movies that may or may not have been ready in time from the streamer, like Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro” or its Sundance pickup “Fair Play,” but they’ll surface somewhere else on the festival circuit.
The red carpet glamour is a well-established aspect of the Cannes vibe, but with such a fixation on international cinema and revered auteurs, star power is not always a guarantee. But in addition to The Weeknd and Harrison Ford, there will be plenty of celebrity appeal at this year’s Cannes. Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore will be there with Todd Haynes’ romance “May December,” while Alicia Vikander (in a role initially intended for Michelle Williams) and Jude Law star in Brazilian director Kim Ainouz’s Henry VIII drama “Firebrand.” Then there’s that stacked “Asteroid City” cast, and — for better or worse! — Johnny Depp will make some noise on opening night as the star of director Maiwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry.”
From Disney to Universal, studios will have a solid presence across the Cannes lineup, but the challenging state of American cinema as a whole is clear from the selection. Haynes’ “May December” has yet to find distribution. Sony Pictures Classics only has Pedro Almodovar’s short Western “Strange Way of Life,” while other arthouse distributors like IFC and Magnolia will be parsing the lineup for acquisition opportunities.
Neon and A24 each have competition entries, with Neon presenting Alice Rohrwacher’s “La Chimera” and A24 premiering Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest.” A24 launched its Cannes-friendly Ari Aster drama “Beau Is Afraid” ahead of the festival, and instead will use the festival as a launchpad for its international talent: The company has Glazer’s “Under the Skin” follow-up, about an Auschwitz romance, and Steve McQueen’s four-hour documentary “Occupied City,” which looks at his adopted home of Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. These aren’t safe commercial bets but the kind of movies A24 knows stand their best shot at gaining visibility at the festival.
Last year’s festival included the surprise addition of James Gray’s Focus-produced “Armageddon Time,” a movie that fizzled at the end of the year but launched strong at Cannes.
It’s not clear whether any of the American movies in competition this time could follow that trajectory, but new films from Jeff Nichols and Alexander Payne — directors with similar profiles to Gray these days — did not surface in the announcement this week. As for low-budget American independent films that might generate more buzz in Europe than the U.S., expect to see a few of those surface in the autonomous sidebar Directors’ Fortnight in the coming weeks, as new work from Aaron Schimberg (“Unchained for Life”) and celebrated cinematographer Sean Price Williams (“Good Time”) are expected there.
While Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” won Venice last fall and Nicolas Philibert took the Golden Bear at Berlin for “On the Adamant” in February, Cannes has been reticent to put documentaries in its competition in recent years even as that side of the industry took off. For now, at least, Cannes continues to emphasize an auteuristic vision of current cinema, which means that the only documentaries with real competition potential reflect that.
This year’s lineup does have a documentary for the first time since “Waltz with Bashir” in 2008, and it has promise: Chinese director Wang Bing’s “Jeunesse” follows youth who move from the countryside to Shanghai then journey home for the Chinese New Year.
Bing is a major filmmaker and the decision to put his movie in competition suggests that it impacted programmers enough to think it could actually win a prize. Several other documentaries, from McQueen to a new 3D documentary work from Wim Wenders on the German painter Alselm Kiefer called “Anselm,” were programmed out of competition and may have been considered less likely to justify Palme contention. (Wenders has a narrative feature in competition, the Tokyo-set “Perfect Days.”) Other heavyhitters with new non-fiction projects include Lucrecia Martel, Barbet Schroder, and Mati Diop, but none of these projects seem to have been ready for the festival.
As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland reported, Cannes made history this year with the most women directors in competition to date: Six. It includes competition fixtures like Catherine Breillat, but that figure means they’re still in the minority. Although it’s progress nonetheless, the outcome almost went a different way.
Rohrwacher, who was nominated for an Oscar for her short film “Le Pupille” earlier this year, wasn’t sure if “La Chimera” would get a competition slot until earlier this week; likewise, Senegelese-French director Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s “Banel et Adama” was a last-minute add. Sy’s film holds particular intrigue as the only directorial debut in competition. It revolves around a pair of lovers in a remote community whose bond is tested by traditionalism, and could very well establish her as a major director on the world stage.
With the exception of Spain, the Spanish-language film industry was hit particularly hard by the pandemic and has struggled to push cinema into major festival acclaim in recent years. Last year’s Venice hit “Argentina 1985” did score an Oscar nomination, but the Cannes lineup is a bit hard to read when it comes to Latin America. The only Latin American filmmaker in competition is Brazil’s Karim Ainouz, whose “Firebrand” is an English-language project. (Spanish auteur Victor Erice’s “Close Your Eyes,” his first film in three decades, premieres out of competition.) Expected titles from Mexico’s Amat Escalante, Michel Franco, and Alonzo Ruizpalacios didn’t show up (yet).
The Un Certain Regard section, meanwhile, has “The Buriti Flower” from Portugal and Chilean director Felipe Gálvez’s promising debut “The Settlers.” It remains to be seen if any of these works will make enough noise to elevate Latin American cinema at Cannes this year.
With the exception of a few major directors like Mahamet Saleh-Haroun, Cannes hasn’t been the biggest booster for African cinema over the years. This year may be quite different. In addition to Sy, the competition also includes the work of Tunisian filmmaker Kaother Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters,” while there are two Moroccan films (“The Mother of All Lies” and “Les Meats”) and another from Sudan (“Goodbye Julia”) in Un Certain Regard. These works from lesser-known filmmakers could generate enthusiasm for a new wave of creative activity coming out of the continent.
For a while, it was unclear which major Italian directors would crack competition this year. It turns out the answer is…all of them? Or most, anyway: In addition to Rohrwacher, Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti will premiere his latest comedy “Future Sun” and octogenarian Marco Bellocchio has “Rapito.” Mateo Garrone’s “Io Capitano” is nowhere to be seen, but could wind up in Venice if Cannes has reached its Italian threshold. Regardless, the trio of competition entries prove that the country continues to support its most celebrated filmmakers regardless of its hard-right political shift.
…but who’s on that jury? The “Triangle of Sadness” director should be an entertaining president this year with real potential to go for some outside-the-box picks. But it’s hard to know how the overall dynamic of the jury will sway the final decision until the festival reveals the company he’ll have. A major movie star who doesn’t necessarily have an eye for global cinema, for instance, might lead the conversation in a different direction. It remains to be seen how that will go down until we know the full scope of this year’s jury.
Cannes announced 19 films in competition this week; last year, there were 21, some of which were added later. Expect the festival to go a similar route this time. It’s possible that Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly-anticipated “Poor Things” could be one of those, or perhaps one of the Mexican films mentioned above. And where was the posthumous Jean-Luc Godard short “Funny Wars”? As always, stay tuned for updates.