Regular ORWAV readers will know how much we love the Cannes Film Festival. We’re even returning this year, to cover even more exciting ground than 2015 – and 2015 was pretty exciting. Dheepan won the Palme d’Or, Son of Saul the Grand Prix and The Assassin Best Director; Rooney Mara shared the Best Actress award; The Lobster scooped the Jury Prize, while away from the main competition Rams deservedly received the Un Certain Regard award. Now that’s a lineup. Jesus, how can 2016 possibly compete?
10. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
An historical crime story about an heiress who falls in love with a petty thief, this should see Park on his usual well-honed form. The film updates the Victorian setting of Sarah Waters’ source novel The Fingersmith to the 1930s, while transplanting the action to Korea and Japan – already there’s that personal touch that makes Park’s work so interesting. The director, whose name was made with the somewhat infamous Vengeance trilogy, is a Cannes favourite whose most recent two releases, Thirst – which won the Jury Prize – and Stoker, are both wonderful melodramas that reach across styles and eras, erasing borders and collapsing historical notions of “Eastern” and “Western” cinema. Through Park’s distinctive elegance and healthily unsettling surrealism, The Handmaiden is likely to be a uniquely-formed treat.
9. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, France/Netherlands)
Elle sounds very much like a possible magnum opus with which Verhoeven could finally erase memories of Showgirls. Oh, and the misguided Crusade. In Elle, a videogames CEO is sexually assaulted in her own home, then seeks revenge on her attacker. Based on a novel, this material could well prove endlessly interesting in the hands of Total Recall and RoboCop director Verhoeven, who after premiering the acclaimed Black Book at Cannes 10 years ago has gone quiet and seems stolidly to have put his notorious Hollywood years behind him. Despite its initial headline-baiting marketing as an “extremely erotic and perverted” thriller, evoking Basic Instinct, Verhoeven later called out this approach as both inaccurate and ridiculous: “I don’t think the story is erotic; it’s about rape.” With the ever-fantastic Cannes vet Isabelle Huppert in the title role (there is a touch of her collaborator Michael Haneke about this project), Elle sounds serious, stylish and potentially very satisfying.
8. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Germany)
Writer-director Maren Ade has spent the seven years since her Berlinale-scorching Everyone Else procrastinating – producing other people’s films, lecturing, being frequently written about as a luminary of contemporary German cinema… and slowly struggling to complete her third feature. She’s basically a character in a New York Times Notable Book. Thank god then that Toni Erdmann – announced in 2012, expected in 2014 – is finally here, to break the silence and give the world another slice of Ade’s considered and wry voice (this’ll be for fans of Alice Rohrwacher and Joachim Trier). The synopsis is wonderful: a tragicomedy-of-sorts wherein a father discovers his daughter has literally lost her sense of humour. Looking at Ade’s previous successes, this should be sure to soar.
7. The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)
After the Best Actress-winning The Past (2013), acclaimed director Asghar Farhadi returns to the Croisette with his highest concept yet. Set against a performance of Miller’s Death of a Salesman, this oddly conceptual-sounding piece sees an actor couple’s relationship dissolve. But then, at his core Farhadi has always been a conceptual filmmaker – The Past, About Elly and most famously A Separation all tick along through multiple twists and turns as they wrench their characters apart (and bring them back together, and wrench them back apart… ). Reuniting two of his best players, Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini, Farhadi’s latest drive to expand on a familiar theme should provide plenty of opportunities for brilliance.
6. Loving (Jeff Nichols, US)
Don’t forget: Jeff Nichols is the next great American auteur. His CV thus far shows an offbeat and probing attitude towards America and Americana, with the tyrannical madness of Take Shelter and Midnight Special nicely complementing the grungy Huck Finn update Mud. Such is the breadth of the writer-director’s ideas and vision (and if they won’t give him a Star Wars movie, Cannes recognition is good enough) that his next steps – including Loving – will be greatly worth watching as he stretches into new characters and approaches. For a start, Loving is historical and very political – no hiding behind genre exercises here. In 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) were arrested for the absurd crime of interracial marriage: an intriguing and important story and one which, under Nichols, should fly. And yes, this one does feature Nichols’ muse Michael Shannon.
5. Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie, France)
Stranger by the Lake was the best film of 2014 by a country mile. And helpfully, its dual success at Cannes 2013 – where it won the Queer Palm and the Un Certain Regard Best Director Award – cemented Guiraudie’s place in Competition this year. The writer-director’s works are marked by heightened sexual imagery and a specific focus on LGBT ideas and motifs (let’s not use the word “issues”, as that would be inaccurate here). Perhaps Guiraudie, after breaking into the César nominations with Stranger, is veering towards wider celebration as voices like his break out of the “queer cinema” ghetto and into the genuine forefront of cinema? Whatever happens, this latest release – the only current synopsis rather tritely describes a filmmaker raising a child while finding inspiration – is, almost by default, one of the most exciting of the year.
4. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
Romanian new waver Cristi Puiu is a couple of films off from ascending among Europe’s greatest filmmakers. His The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is already a masterwork in its own right, but by the time Puiu’s planned hexalogy Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest is complete we’ll really be onto something special. Sieranevada is likely (not technically confirmed) to be entry number three, after 2010’s excellent Aurora. This latest follows a neurologist attending a family gathering to commemorate his father’s death, which certainly gels with the auteur’s loose concept for Outskirts #3: “love for one’s children”. As with Puiu’s previous features, Sieranevada is likely to be a carefully structured and somewhat quirky drama, with lashings of black comedy: the work of a unique and recognisable voice. Commit his name to memory right now.
3. It’s Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan, Canada)
Last seen gifting the world with Mommy (and sharing his Jury Prize with Jean-luc Godard!), this is Dolan’s second time in Competition after previously winning the Queer Palm with Laurence Anyways. This is Dolan’s sixth film, and his fifth to play at Cannes. At least three of his films are probably masterpieces – both the aforementioned, plus Tom at the Farm – while I Killed My Mother remains a striking debut. We’re contractually obliged, as always, to remind you that he is 27 years old. Anyway, It’s Only the End of the World sees Dolan re-approaching his usual intimate drama style as a terminally ill writer (Saint Laurent’s Gaspard Ulliel) reunites with his family after 12 years away. In addition to the on-the-rise Ulliel, Dolan has scored his starriest cast yet, with Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux (herself a Palme d’Or winner) supporting plus legendary Truffaut/Godard/Chabrol muse Nathalie Baye as the Mother. It’s a biggie alright.
2. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, US)
Fresh off another season of Girls in which he’s far and away the most remarkable aspect, Adam Driver seems to be warming up for next year’s Oscars circuit: between stealing the show in The Force Awakens and his upcoming role in Scorsese’s Silence, this extraordinary actor is playing a surly bus driver for another of the greatest living American filmmakers. Jim Jarmusch has already competed for the Palme d’Or five times, most recently with Only Lovers Left Alive. Other high-profile Cannes moments include a Grand Prix for Bill Murray vehicle Broken Flowers, a Short Film Palme d’Or for a brilliant skit with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, and a Camera d’Or for his iconic debut Stranger Than Paradise. This is, on paper, a perfect marriage of sensibilities and listless styles – with Driver in the driving seat, the great auteur’s latest bummed-out no-wave tale already sounds like an indie great.
1. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
We bandy the word “auteur” around a bit, but Almodóvar is practically his own genre. The trashy, tender, probing mind behind classics including Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother and Talk to Her hasn’t perhaps had an unequivocal classic since 2006’s Volver – which netted Penélope Cruz the Cannes Best Actress Award – but Broken Embraces and The Skin I Live In were, for many, quite brilliant. Julieta follows a woman searching for her runaway daughter, and could be poised to net this living legend his first Palme d’Or. For a man preoccupied with female-centric stories, this Alice Munro adaptation sees Almodóvar on comfortably familiar form – if, that is, there were anything comfortable or familiar about his work. And there’s the rub: make no mistake, whatever the outcome and whatever the garlands, this is just about the most exciting international film event of the year.
Keep checking ORWAV over the next fortnight for all the latest reviews from the ground. Other Competition films we’ve left out here include the very, very exciting returns of the brilliant Dardenne brothers (with The Unknown Girl), Nicolas Winding Refn (The Neon Demon), Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), Andrea Arnold (American Honey) and Bruno Dumont (Slack Bay). Watch out too for Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Least importantly, Sean Penn will be premiering The Last Face, which follows Charlize Theron’s international aid worker “facing tough choices” with Javier Bardem’s aid doctor. Because there’s nothing that can go wrong there.