Last year’s Cannes Film Festival was a real crowdpleaser in terms of headline names: Jim Jarmusch and Nicolas Winding Refn each blew us away, Jeff Nichols made a slow-burning stonker, and Asghar Farhadi returned after three years away to see The Salesman win two awards, for Best Screenplay and Actor. Park Chan-wook also received high acclaim for The Handmaiden, which hits UK cinemas today, while fellow Cannes vets Cristian Mungiu and Olivier Assayas shared the Best Director award for making Graduation and Personal Shopper respectively. It seems the hugest name, Pedro Almodóvar – who we’d also tapped as the Festival’s most exciting entrant – was the only headliner to disappoint, with the varying reception to Julieta. Even Xavier Dolan, after completely dividing the Cannes crowd with It’s Only the End of the World, waltzed to a second-place Grand Prix behind Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which won the inveterate realist’s second career Palme d’Or.
This year’s Competition crop is a tad lower-key overall, with fewer really big-hitters but the usual selection of mouth-watering prospects from the best in arthouse film. And after the sheer rate of vintage masterpieces premiered last year (you’ll hear more on Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle come our December roundup, no doubt), and the year before that, and the year before that, we can’t wait to get on the ground and see what’s what, in the film world’s most prestigious carnival. Here’s our top 10 most anticipated releases from the 2017 Competition:
10. Okja (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/USA)
Bong Joon-ho has become the stuff of modern cinephile legend for one word and one word only: Snowpiercer. Oh, sure; we all loved The Host, and Mother is a classic modern drama – but when Bong’s fifth feature fell foul of Harvey Weinstein and got relegated to Netflix, then turned out to be one of the finest films (full stop) of 2014, his status was cemented. For Okja, Bong seems to be sticking with the high-genre approach that characterised his train-uprising thriller (there’s a phrase): Okja itself is a huge animal, who must be protected from a multi-national corporation by a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). Delightfully, Snowpiercer‘s Tilda Swinton is returning to play two different characters (obviously her thing now), while Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano have tagged along for the madness. Should be relentless, thoughtful, and thoroughly excellent.
9. Good Time (Joshua and Ben Safdie, USA)
After two well-received features, which themselves followed a stint in the 2008 Cannes’s Directors’ Fortnight, Ben (left) and Joshua (right, who usually takes on scripting duties) Safdie have landed themselves one of the biggest premiere slots in the world. Is it because Daddy Longlegs and Heaven Knows What were that good? (There’s a touch of James Gray, another perennial Cannes favourite, to their existing work.) Is it because they’ve snagged Robert Pattinson for a starring role, and Robert Pattinson has become genuine Cannes-nip? Is it because Ben looks a little like Damien Chazelle, and Festival director Thierry Frémaux wants to find a new wunderkind?
Either way, this bank robber drama sounds smashing. It features Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and after their first two features we’re very much ready to get behind the Safdies. Hey, we threw our weight behind Maren Ade last year, and look what happened. (It was definitely down to us, alright?)
8. 120 Beats Per Minute (Robin Campillo, France)
Robin Campillo is secretly a legend. He edited Human Resources, and wrote Time Out – both directed by Laurent Cantet, and both true classics. But while one-time Palme d’Or-winner Cantet (The Class) is relegated this year to Un Certain Regard, Campillo (who, again, actually co-wrote and edited The Class) is hitting the big leagues with his third feature. 120 Beats Per Minute (already facing the Festival’s usual translation crisis, being sometimes referred to as simply BPM) deals with the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s, following a group of activists stepping up their efforts. As we say, Campillo already has a storied and near-perfect filmography, and between those mentioned and his 2013 sophomore work Eastern Boys, we’re all over this one.
7. The Day After (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
Hong Sang-soo is ridiculously prolific. We’re not even familiar with half his body of work. In fact, at the same time as Hong premieres The Day After at Cannes this year, he has Claire’s Camera getting a Special Screening. And just two months ago we were singing his praises at Berlin, where he premiered On the Beach at Night Alone (trailer above). Four months before that, he brought Yourself and Yours to Toronto. The year before that, he won acclaim for Right Now, Wrong Then. This will be this 21st film in 21 years, and 12 of those films will have come out since 2010 – and most of those are excellent (check out Nobody’s Daughter Haewon as a starting-point). If you’re this prolific, but stay this good, then every release is worth sticking around for.
6. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, UK)
Jane Got a Gun was supposed to be the legendary Lynne Ramsay’s fourth feature, but after some epic behind-the-scenes battles it got left to a far less prestigious fate at the hands of Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, The Accountant). Instead, Ramsay is following up her bruisingly brilliant We Need to Talk About Kevin with this adaptation of a Jonathan Ames novella, about one man’s efforts to break up a sex trafficking ring. Ramsay’s the kind of insta-classic director that has us at hello every time, and if her status and the long wait for this new film wasn’t enough, she’s also recruited Joaquin Phoenix for the lead – and he hasn’t given a bad performance all decade.
5. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)
Andrey Zvyagintsev was last seen taking on Russian bureaucracy and the Book of Job with Leviathan, which won Cannes’s Best Screenplay award and nearly snatched the Foreign Language Oscar. Loveless seems to have the same rather harrowing, pleasingly offbeat sensibility: during a couple’s vicious divorce proceedings, their son disappears. It could in fact have been directly inspired by one of the more indelible sequences in Leviathan, as most of the main adult characters take their families out for a jolly with little obvious regard for the whereabouts of their offspring. Either way, divorce dramas have proved highly successful at Cannes in the past, and Loveless should provide the Russian auteur with plenty of material for his usual concern with documenting and deconstructing his country’s mores.
4. Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes, US)
Todd Haynes is, for us, damn near the definition of “Sploosh” – and not just because of Carol. His is surely one of the finest filmographies of all time, comprising Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, in addition to his HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce and, yes, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. For Wonderstruck, adapted from a book by Brian Selznick (of Hugo fame), Haynes has brought back Julianne Moore, who starred in his two best films, Michelle Williams, who is always brilliant, and has made the wonderfully bold (and very Haynesian) decision to shoot half the film as a silent movie with a largely deaf cast. Following children in the ’20s and ’70s running away from home, Wonderstruck sounds wonderful indeed for this Cannes mainstay.
3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou are the absurdists the world needs right now, having gifted us with Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster (Filippou also co-wrote the wonderful Chevalier). Lanthimos may be slightly better known, as he actually directs, but as a pair these lovingly oddball satirists comprise the closest thing to Buñuel in the 2010s. As always, a synopsis for Sacred Deer remains vague but tantalising; something about a surgeon forming a friendship with a sinister boy. The surgeon is played by Colin Farrell, re-energised after The Lobster, while room is found for Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone and the wonderful character actor Bill Camp, having a bit of a moment after key roles in HBO’s The Leftovers and The Night Of, and in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special. Looks like The Lobster‘s excursion into English-language filmmaking wasn’t a one-off. We’re not complaining.
2. Redoubtable (Michel Hazanavicius, France)
This shouldn’t be so high up. If anything has great capacity to go wrong, it’s Michel Hazanavicius’s comic biopic of Jean-Luc Godard. Hazanavicius’s last film, The Search, nosedived at Cannes while previous effort The Artist, though winning Best Actor and the hearts of everyone present, soon blew up in the writer-director’s face as it tap-danced to five Oscars and a diminished credibility. Hazanavicius, it seems, could be in the doghouse. But then Redoubtable marks a blatant, and exciting, return to the Frenchman’s characteristic parody style; the trailer makes it quite clear that this won’t just be a film about Godard and La Chinoise – it’ll be a Godard film about Godard. This’ll either be the best thing at any Cannes ever, or it’ll bomb into the sea and take its artistically embattled director with it.
1. Happy End (Michael Haneke, Austria/France/Germany)
Michael Haneke has two Palme d’Ors (Amour and The White Ribbon), a Best Director award (Caché) and a Grand Prix (The Piano Teacher, which also won both Acting awards). All of the listed films are basically canonical texts of modern cinema, along with his earlier Benny’s Video. Haneke himself is that rare thing: a filmmaker not only considered one of the best currently working, but who also possesses a style, approach and even recurring message decidedly all his own – rather than a director who bears comparison to others, Haneke is the comparison.
Having abandoned a long-anticipated concept about a flashmob a few years back – he’d been talking it up since Amour – the man’s moved to something a little atypical: Happy End deals directly with Europe’s refugee crisis, showing a level of immediacy usually cloaked by layers of obtuse symbolism. There is typical Haneke-ism at work, though, as we actually follow a holidaying bourgeois family (including returning performers Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant) who find themselves swept up in the situation. It’ll get more elliptical than that, no doubt. The last time Haneke went anywhere near a beach it was to push Naomi Watts off a boat, so just assume for now the title Happy End to be a grave misnomer.