With Cannes Film Festival starting today, our Film Programming team revealed the films they are most looking forward to ahead of heading to the French Riviera for twelve days of cinema.
Jonny Courtney, Senior Film Programmer
Parasite (directed by Bong Joon-ho)
Although I wasn’t quite as taken by Okja as a lot of the Cannes critics in 2017, Parasite seems to have more in common with Bong Joon-ho’s earlier films, Mother and Memories of Murder (one of the films that first piqued my interest in Korean cinema).
Bong has reunited with his favourite leading actor, Song Kang-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder), and most excitingly the cinematographer is Hong Kyung-po, who has worked on some of the most striking Korean films of recent years (Burning, The Wailing, Snowpiercer).
The director describes Parasite as ‘a story of two families from extremely different environments coming across each other. It deals with the laughter, the horror and the sorrow of people living together’. Financed by more ‘traditional’ methods than his previous two films, Snowpiercer and Okja (both of which were Netflix films and FX-heavy works), Parasite appears to be smaller in budget and a more naturalistic drama focusing on themes of social class, but things are rarely that straight-forward with Bong Joon-ho, so I’m looking forward to the unexpected!
Bull (directed by Annie Silverstein)
“In a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally wilful and unforgiving neighbour, an aging bullfighter who’s seen his best days in the arena; it’s a collision that will change them both.”
Writer/Director Annie Silverstein won the Cinefondation Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for her superb short film, Skunk, which followed a teenage girl trying to get back her pit bull after he’s stolen by an amateur dog fighter.
Silverstein returns to the festival with her feature debut, Bull, which looks like it could inhabit a similar world to her short, and the director’s background as a youth worker in Texas should once again lend a real authenticity to her work. The synopsis also suggests shades of Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, with themes of identity, aging and the search for a new way of life all present, and I’m hopeful that Bull will connect with audiences in a similar way.
A Hidden Life (directed by Terrence Malick)
Whilst I would struggle to argue in favour of Malick’s last three features –To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, Song to Song flattered to deceive – his latest film, on paper at least, looks like it could be a return to form for Malick. I still refuse to believe that a director who has produced some of the finest works of American cinema –Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line –doesn’t have one more great film in him somewhere.
A Hidden Life is described as a historical drama, following the life of Austrian conscientious objector, Franz Jägerstätter. The heavyweight cast includes August Diehl, Valerie Pachner and Matthias Schoenaerts, plus the final performances from the late Michael Nyqvist and Bruno Ganz.
Malick has said he is working with a script once more, which should lead to a more structured form and a move away from the improvisation present in his semi-autobiographical trilogy, and the story should allow the cerebral director to explore such subjects as pacifism and religion, in his own unique way. A transcendental masterpiece awaits…surely…
Heather McIntosh, Film Programmer
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (directed by Céline Sciamma)
As referenced in my Top 10 Films on the ICO’s website, Sciamma’s Girlhood – the opening film of Director’s Fortnight in 2014 – is one of my favourite films of all time. I also loved her 2011 film Tomboy, so I’m really excited for her upcoming fourth feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which, as with all her other films, she has both written and directed.
It will be her second film to feature Adèle Haenel – the first being Water Lillies, which featured in Un Certain Regard in 2007 – and will compete in the main competition this year. Set in Brittany in 1760, it follows painter Marianne’s (Noémie Merlant) attempts to produce a commissioned wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). Due to Héloïse’s reluctance to get married, Marianne must paint her without her knowing, leading to her observing Héloïse in the day and painting her privately at night. All the while, the intimacy and attraction between the two women grows stronger.
What I like about Sciamma’s films, and what I hope to see more of in her latest, is the sensitive way in which she handles her often struggling central protagonists. Her main characters are usually oppressed in some way, or at least living – by society’s inflexible standards – unconventionally. So far, her films have been focused on youth, with all three being coming-of-age stories of sorts. Before Portrait of a Lady on Fire, she also explored lesbian desire in Water Lillies. Even when romance isn’t involved, Sciamma clearly has an interest in female relationships and bonds, which is especially prevalent in Girlhood. She’s also great at getting very naturalistic performances from young and often inexperienced actors, whose characters she affords great depth. As a result, her films always feel very authentic, featuring complex characters who are often exploring and discovering themselves as the narrative unfolds. I hope her newest film will be just as exciting and well-handled as her previous ones.
Matthias and Maxime (directed by Xavier Dolan)
Writer-director Xavier Dolan is back in In Competition this year with his eighth feature film, Matthias & Maxime. Although I wasn’t a fan of It’s Only The End of the World (2016), and The Life and Death of John F. Donovan (2018) was quite brutally panned after its Toronto premiere, I adore both Mommy (which won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2014) and Lawrence Anyways (which won Suzanne Clement the Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress in 2012), so I’m hoping (please, Xavier) for a return to form with his latest film.
Matthias & Maxime tells the story of two childhood best friends who are both approaching 30. After they’re asked to kiss onscreen for a student film, their entire relationship is called into question. I’m pleased to see Dolan-regular Anne Dorval cast in this, as she’s always incredible. It also features Harris Dickinson, who gave a brilliant performance in Beach Rats (2017), so I’m interested to see how him and Dolan will collaborate.
I’d like to see more of Dolan’s recurrent themes and motifs in Matthias & Maxime, such as fractious familial relationships – particularly between mother and son – as well as the centring of LGBT+ characters. Often, his protagonists are underdogs, trying to carve out space for themselves in a society that marginalises them. His women characters also have real depth to them – Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement have given brilliant performances in many of his films.
Divisive as his films are – something that’s been heightened by the mixed reception to his two latest titles – I’m so fond of his earlier work that I’m holding out for him to bring some of that spirit to Matthias & Maxime. Dolan has said the film will have the aesthetic of Tom at the Farm (2013) and the energy of Mommy. I really hope he delivers on that.
Frankie (directed by Ira Sachs)
As a fan of writer-director Ira Sachs’ previous films such as Keep the Lights On (2012), Love Is Strange (2014), and Little Men (2016) – I’m looking forward to In Competition title Frankie. I also love watching Isabelle Huppert in everything she features in, so this is dream director-cast pairing for me.
Set in the beautiful historic town of Sintra, Portugal, the film is set during one day of a family holiday, before the matriarch goes on to face the next, and final, chapter of her life. It also features Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson.
Ira Sachs has said that he has a Marxist perspective on life, which I think comes through in his films. I always find the topics he explores interesting – such as drugs, gay marriage, and gentrification – and admire the compassion with which he treats his characters. He always offers them understanding and empathy in the way he portrays them. He’s another director whose films always have a layer of authenticity, which is likely because he’s said he only explores themes he has some personal experience of.
I hope Frankie is another intimate drama that employs the subtlety and humanity of his past work, which always leaves a profound emotional impact without ever feeling overly sentimental.
Isabel Moir, Film Programmer
Atlantics (directed by Mati Diop)
Mati Diop’s short films have garnered much praise on the festival circuit thanks to her intimate style where she films chance encounters with a dreamlike exploration of home and belonging. Audiences may also know her from performances in Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer and her stunning role in Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, for which she received glowing reviews. Diop is the niece of the late great Senegalese Director Djibril Diop Mambéty and her documentary short A Thousand Suns was created as a homage to her uncle’s film, Touki Bouki.
Atlantics is Diop’s first feature length film and will receive its world premiere in competition at Cannes. As the first black female director to have her work included in the festival’s In Competition section, Diop’s inclusion here is long overdue. Set in Dakar, Diop’s feature is based on her documentary short Alantiques and recounts the journey taken by a group of friends who attempt to leave the country by sea in hope of a better future.
Diop effortlessly veers between documentary and fictional narratives while still retaining her unique voice and therefore I’m extremely excited to see what she does next. Diop has been a festival favourite for years, but her inclusion in this year’s competition will undoubtedly raise her profile with new audiences.
Little Joe (directed by Jessica Hausner)
Little Joe is the latest work by Austrian Director Jessica Hausner and will receive its world premiere In Competition, further cementing her as an exciting voice in European cinema. This is Hausner’s fifth feature, and before this, she already impressed with Lourdes – which received numerous awards at Venice Film Festival – as well as her debut Lovely Rita and most recently, Amour Fou, both of which previously featured in the Un Certain Regard section.
Little Joe has been described as a sci-fi which revisits and subverts the typical tropes of genre filmmaking, something which Hausner already did previously with a horror film called Hotel where she put her own stamp on the genre’s conventions. Little Joe centres around a plant which is created via genetic engineering that appears to evoke curious changes in those who come into contact with it. As with Claire Denis’s recent sci-fi film High Life, it is particularly fascinating to see female directors explore this genre with a unique vision as science fiction has been more readily associated with men in the past.
Supported by the BFI, Little Joe will be Hausner’s first English language feature, and roles from the likes of Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham will certainly raise Hausner’s profile further with UK audiences in particular.
The Lighthouse (directed by Robert Eggers)
The Lighthouse is Robert Eggers’ much anticipated follow-up to his chilling debut, The Witch, which announced Eggers as an exciting new voice in the horror genre. Featuring a star performance from newcomer Anya Taylor Joy (The Thoroughbreds), The Witch left me terrified during an early festival screening of the film.
Similar to The Witch, The Lighthouse is a period piece set in 1890 Nova Scotia, and has been described as a ‘fantasy horror story set in the world of old sea-faring myths’. The Lighthouse was shot on 35mm black & white film stock and the crew even used equipment from the 1920s and 1940s to film. From early glimpses, it’s clear that the striking cinematography will play a key role in creating this mystical distant period.
Backed for the second time by A24, this film will also see Eggers work with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, high profile actors whose recent choices are contributing to an intriguing body of work. The Lighthouse will premiere in the Director’s Fortnight section, and it will be interesting to see how audiences will receive Eggers’ second feature compared to his impressive debut.
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