Roger Ebert once wrote the there is “no better place on earth to see a movie than in the Palais des Festivals at Cannes, with its screen three times the size of an ordinary theatre screen, and its perfect sound system, and especially its audiences of 4000 people who care passionately about film”. For 69 years now, supporters and specialists of the industry have travelled across the globe to the Côte d’Azur, and converged on the Croisette for a prestigious fortnight of cinematic celebration; the sun shines and the sea sparkles, but the real magic is saved for the cool confines of the auditorium.
When discussing Woody Allen’s Café Society, the film that’ll launch this year’s festival on May 11th, Cannes president Pierre Lescure described it as a picture “spread between culture and cinema”: a perfect allegory for this year’s programme. As ever, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for the paparazzi to take pictures of American A-list actors as they stride along the red carpet – George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Ryan Gosling are all likely attendees, with their latest releases Money Monster and The Nice Guys playing alongside Steven Spielberg’s The BFG outside of the competition. But most excitingly, there are also plenty of established & developing auteurs arriving on the Riviera to unveil their latest opus: from Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta, the tale of a troubled mother confronting her past whilst struggling to accept her present, to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, a sad study of a terminally ill writer who returns home to inform his family that he’s dying.
Everyone’s focus, of course, is on the Official Competition: the films battling it out to be honoured with the Palme d’Or, which will this year be judged by a jury led by the brilliant George Miller. Previous winners returning to the Palais include Ken Loach – whose latest film I, Daniel Blake, centres on a middle-aged carpenter & single mother who are both struggling to get by on state welfare; Cristian Mungiu, the much-lauded Romanian director behind 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, returning with a new project that examines the powerful relationship between a father & his daughter, entitled Graduation; and the Dardenne Brothers, once more tackling a tough subject in The Unknown Girl, which follows a doctor as she attempts to identify a patient who died after she refused her treatment.
There are plenty of other festival regulars also making an appearance in this year’s competition. British director Andrea Arnold returns with American Honey, her first film to be made stateside: the story of a teenage girl who gets lost in a whirlwind of hard partying and law bending after she joins a travelling magazine sales crew. While Jeff Nichols marks his second festival appearance of the year (after attending Berlin back in February for the premiere of Midnight Special), débuting his highly anticipated civil rights drama Loving, which chronicles the experiences of a mixed-race couple sentenced to prison in the Deep South for miscegenation in 1958.
It’s true that this year’s line-up consists largely of European & U.S. cinema, both inside and out of competition, but there’s still plenty of exciting representation from further afield. And in the competition that includes Park Chan-wook – who marks his return to Korean-language cinema following 2013’s Stoker with The Handmaiden, a modernised adaptation of British novelist Sarah Waters’ ‘Fingersmith’, which sees a Japanese heiress fall in love with a con man who’s intent on scamming her out of her fortune – and Brazilian critic-turned-director Kleber Mendonca Filho, whose sophomore picture Aquarius tracks the adventures of a retired music writer who possesses the ability to time travel.
Recognised particularly, however, in the Un Certain Regard section of the programme, is a rich crop of talent from across the world. After bringing one of his biggest critical hits to Cannes last year, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns to the festival again with After the Storm, which tells the story of a washed-up writer attempting to reconnect with his estranged family. Argentinian director Andrea Testa comes to the Croisette with her first dramatic feature The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis, a 70s-set adaptation of the Humberto Costantini novel about a man who must decide whether to help two of his fellow citizens, who are wanted by Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship. And Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen looks set to capture our hearts with The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, a black-and-white biopic charting the rise and fall of the eponymous boxer.
Then there’s the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, which this year opens with Marco Bellocchio’s drama of grief Sweet Dreams. Here, as with all other sections of the festival, we see a selection of fresh-faced filmmakers – including Uda Benyamina, whose debut movie Divines focuses on a young Arab woman dealing drugs in the Parisian ghettos; and Claudio Giovannesi, the illustrious young Italian director no doubt hoping to build on his reputation with Fiore, a romantic drama set within the walls of a juvenile detention facility where sexes aren’t supposed to mix – as well as a number of festival favourites; cult Chilean directors Alejandro Jodorowsky & Pablo Larraín both returning to the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs with new projects set within their native country.
Indeed, if there is one problem with the Cannes Film Festival, it’s that there will not be enough time for us to ensure we see all of the greats that are bound to break free from this year’s programme. 69 years later, the cinematic calendar still doesn’t get any better than this: it is par excellence, as they say in France.
The 69th Cannes Film Festival runs from May 11th – May 22nd. For full details of this year’s programme, click here (http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en.html)
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