Cannes 2023 Round-Up:
Ones to Watch (Part One)

Posted on June 8, 2023 by David Williams, Duncan Carson, Isabel Moir, James Calver, Nicole Davis

Categories: Festival Reports

In the first blog of two, we share some of the films from the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival that we are most excited to see reach independent cinemas and festivals across the UK over the coming year. We reflect on some dazzling debuts that forefront young experiences, as well as new titles from Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Glazer, Steve McQueenAlice Rohrwacher and Anthony Chen. Read Part Two here.

Isabel Moir, Film Programmer

La Chimera (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)

A group of dishevelled adults look alarmingly towards something out of view.
La Chimera, Image source: Festival de Cannes

La Chimera was one of my most anticipated films in this year’s festival, so I was very happy to be able to attend its world premiere with director Alice Rohrwacher and cast in attendance. With past releases, including The Wonders (Thunderbird Releasing) and Happy as Lazzaro (Modern Films), Rohrwacher has asserted herself as one of the most exciting and singular voices in contemporary cinema. Set in the 1980s, it centres around Arthur (Josh O’Connor), an Englishman who finds himself part of an eccentric group of grave robbers in rural Tuscany. Infusing moments of magical realism, Arthur has a special gift that enables them to find valuables in the deeply buried Etruscan tombs that can be sold to private collectors for a fortune.

Josh O’Connor gives a tremendous performance as Arthur, having learned Italian for the role, and the film also includes wonderful supporting performances from Isabella Rossellini, Carol Duarte (The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão) and Alba Rohrwacher (the director’s sister and regular collaborator). I was pleased to see Alice Rohrwacher reunite with my favourite cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Rocks, Murina, Beach Rats), who beautifully showcases the rural landscapes as well as capturing the spontaneity of the film’s characters and the unpredictable situations they often find themselves in. The visual style is uniquely playful, being shot on multiple formats (35mm, 16mm and Super 16), and at times nodding to silent film with scenes sped up to emulate the style of the silent era. An incredibly rich and moving exploration of grief, history, past and painful memories, La Chimera has much to take in and certainly merits multiple viewings.

Curzon Film will be distributing this film in the UK.

Nicole Davis, BFI NETWORK Talent Executive

The Zone of Interest (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

A family sits in the sunshine by a river.
The Zone of Interest © Courtesy of A24 / MICA LEVI

Loosely based on the recently deceased author Martin Amis’ book, Jonathan Glazer’s first feature film since 2013’s Under the Skin is a deeply unsettling portrait of SS Officer Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their family. We watch them eat, work, play, bicker and busy themselves with all the rituals and routines of a normal life. Only that life takes place on the outskirts of Auschwitz during World War II.

To watch a Glazer film is to know you are in the hands of someone with an exquisite, exacting grasp of their craft, who seems to understand explicitly how cinema can pull you in and pluck, not just your heart-strings, but your brain-strings too. The Zone of Interest is a film that shows Glazer at the height of this puppeteering. Forensically-designed and austerely-framed, we are kept at a distance, except for certain moments that puncture the momentum. A black screen, night-vision sequences, and a thrust into the future all serve to confirm the worst: just because you can’t see it happening doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The thing that struck me most while watching these scenes of seeming domestic idyll (picnics, pool parties, bedtime stories, garden strolls) is how cleverly it replicates what it might have been like for the German population during the Holocaust, particularly for those complicit in mass murder, such as Höss. Even if we don’t see the violence on-screen, there is an almost constant thrum of torment in the soundscape: distant gunshots, screaming, wailing, burning. It imbues each frame with the spectre of death, but you could, perhaps, tune it out. If you tried hard enough. You could pretend it’s not there. You could, as the Höss family do, go about your business obliviously.

The Zone of Interest won the Grand Prix at this year’s festival.

The Zone of Interest is an A24 production though it has not yet been announced whether they will handle UK distribution.

James Calver, Projects and Events Officer

Killers of the Flower Moon (dir. Martin Scorsese)

A woman wearing a patterned cloth sits next to a man wearing a suit at a dinner table in an early 20th-century American dining room.
Killers of the Flower Moon, Courtesy of © Apple

With Killers of the Flower Moon, it feels as if Scorsese has finally made the 21st-century American epic he’s been trying to tell. Similar to some of his other gangster classics, there’s no glossing over atrocities here: it is a truly harrowing portrayal of a pre-meditated massacre in the Osage Nation. In the book upon which the film is based, these murders are played out as a whodunnit, but Scorsese adapts this set-up and takes you into the room with the murderers, hiding nothing about their actions or their intentions and highlighting the brutalism of the White man on Indigenous Americans.

Whilst there are several stellar performances across the 200+ minute runtime — DiCaprio and De Niro are consistently strong throughout — the film is held together by the immaculate Lily Gladstone, and with that comes the film’s only negative note: there’s just not enough of her. During the first half of the film, she is ever-present, and it feels like the camera is almost magnetised to her. The performance is restrained but powerful, and even in the quieter moments, she takes up more space in rooms that also happen to be filled with canonical Hollywood stars.

The second half of the film veers somewhat awkwardly from focusing on the atrocities committed against the Osage Nation to discussing both White guilt and White redemption. However, that’s not to say these sections of the film are less noteworthy, with several scenes combining elements of Scorsese’s gangster classics with the best of his spiritually-focused works. Notably, there is very little redemption offered to the protagonists here as it may have been in his previous films, but one of the tragedies of choosing to focus the story on these themes means that, in the later stages of the film, Gladstone is relegated to a supporting role.

Just as the film risks wandering into the banal, Scorsese pivots the film dramatically and delivers the crescendo that the first two hours of the film deserve. Whilst the conversation about whether or not this is Scorsese’s story to tell should be had upon the film’s release, the final moments address this and highlight why he might be one of the very few directors who could try.

The film is being distributed worldwide by Apple Original Films and Paramount from 6 October 2023.

Occupied City (dir. Steve McQueen)

A large group of children sledding down a snowy hill in front of town houses.
Occupied City, Courtesy of ©A24 ©Family Affair Films & Lammas Park

Steve McQueen set this film up perfectly during the introduction speech of its premiere at Cannes. As Festival Director Thierry Frémaux kept asking question after question, he was politely cut off by McQueen: “The film is nearly four and a half hours long; we should just get on with it!”

McQueen is right. You could not discern anything from a Q&A session that he doesn’t leave on the screen for all to see. This is the director at his artistic best. Occupied City plays out as a series of stories and anecdotes from the Nazi occupation of the Dutch capital Amsterdam. These stories are presented as narration over images of the city shot since the start of the pandemic. It’s a combination that works well — as you listen to a variety of different stories, some of which end in joy and others that spiral into the macabre, you’re being presented with the city as it is now, still here and still present. Throughout the sorrow and catastrophic occupation of the 1940s, the character of the city never wavered.

Throughout multiple segments in the film, stories are told over images of political unrest in the country. Some of this footage draws attention to the ever-present anti-vax movement, recognisable in many different cultures. Other sequences show the vastness of the climate protests that continue to raise awareness to this day. Amalgamating all of these different images and soundbites together demonstrates McQueen’s love for a city he has called home for more than 20 years. It’s by no means a utopia, but it has a spirit that will not be crushed. 

New Regency is leading international distribution on this project, with Film4 handling UK broadcasting rights.

David Williams, Film Hub South East Coordinator

Power Alley (dir. Lillah Halla)

Two young woman dance back to back in a living room
Power Alley, Image source: Semaine De La Critique

Levante (titled Power Alley in English) played as part of the Semaine de la Critique strand and is the debut feature from director Lillah Halla. The Brazilian drama follows 17-year-old Sofia (Ayomi Domenica Dias), a promising volleyball player who finds herself dealing with an unwanted pregnancy an especially challenging circumstance in Brazil, where abortion is illegal. Sofia deals with the situation as best she can, seeking a termination however possible, informing friends and family who can help, and standing up to resistance from interfering parties who oppose her choice. While the film never loses focus on Sofia and her plight, it does a fantastic job of building out the life around her that she’s fighting to remain a part of. Sofia is surrounded by a loyal group of friends, her volleyball teammates who demonstrate love and support for her throughout the crisis, willing her on to pursue her dreams of competing in their beloved sport at a high level. It’s their ebullient presence that defines the film’s tone and helps set it apart.

AX1 Entertainment has secured UK and Ireland distribution rights to the film.

The Breaking Ice (dir. Anthony Chen)

A man and two children walk through thick snow in the woods.
The Breaking Ice, Courtesy of © Canopy Pictures

Set during winter in Yanji, a Chinese city on the Korean border, Anthony Chen’s The Breaking Ice (which played as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes 2023 official selection) tells the story of Haofeng (Liu Haoran), a visitor from Shanghai who befriends tour guide Nana (Zhou Dongyu) and restaurant worker Xiao (Qu Chuxiao). The trio spend more time together than initially planned when Haofeng misses his flight home, and they form a bond while each dealing with their individual personal trauma. Haofeng’s intrusive thoughts haunt him, Nana is sensitive about an ankle injury that has derailed her life, and Xiao feels trapped by obligations to his family’s business. A sublime, poignant hangout movie that draws comparisons with both Bande à Part and Jules et Jim, The Breaking Ice allows its characters to chip away at one another’s facades without introducing laboured, contrived conflicts, relying instead on the easy chemistry between its leads and the gentle mood it creates.

Details of the film’s distribution in the UK are still to be confirmed.

Duncan Carson, Projects and Business Manager

Riddle of Fire (dir. Weston Razooli)

A close up of a young girl standing in front of a car and a young man.
Phoebe Ferro as “Alice” in Weston Razooli’s RIDDLE OF FIRE (US) (Directors’ Fortnight – Cannes 2023). Photo credit: Anaxia.

Anarchic and free-wheeling, Riddle of Fire bubbles up from Wyoming, somewhere far enough off the film festival map to have produced a sui generis piece of unrestrained wildness. 

Its story begins with three balaclava-clad children stealthily moving through a warehouse, on the hunt for a new gaming console. But with purloined goods safely at home, their ill mother refuses to let them log on, unless they bring her a blueberry pie to salve her troubles. What follows is self-consciously similar to the type of busy work the average fantasy video game or your local D&D dungeon master would put you through, a mise-en-abyme of fetch quests that brings them into contact with telepathic poachers, nightclub playboys and witchy pre-teens. It’s charmingly knotty, while also retaining enough scene-by-scene vim to whip along the shaggy dog flow. Debut director Weston Razooli has said, “I wanted you to feel like these kids need a tetanus shot by the end of it!” and he succeeds admirably.

The impressive feat here is sustaining its tone. Samuel Johnson said of Tristram Shandy, “Nothing odd will do long,” and while I’m inclined to agree, Riddle of Fire does a remarkable job of holding it together. There’s a wildness and protean reinvention from moment to moment, as though an impatient child is offscreen demanding to play a new game every five minutes. It embodies that child’s mind experience of the scale of adventure without casting an eye to the ‘real world’ (much like the recent Polite Society). Riddle of Fire definitely has the feeling of a cult film in the making, and the right festival could easily market the 16mm aesthetics and humour to younger audiences (which bear comparison to as wide-ranging titles as Ham on Rye, Mandy, Son of Rambow, Napoleon Dynamite, Stand by Me, The Goonies or the work of Harmony Korine). One to give serious consideration to for genre-skewing or adventurous, youth-leaning festivals.

Details of the film’s distribution in the UK are still to be confirmed.

Creatura (dir. Elena Martin Gimeno)

A young woman lays on a bed in a darkened bedroom with blisters on her ankles.
Creatura, Courtesy of Luxbox. Image from The PR Factory.

While there was much (justifiably, I’m told!) buzz about Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex, across at Directors’ Fortnight, director Elena Martin was offering her own take on sexual awakening and female agency. We usually conceptualise coming-of-age as a single event, but Creatura shows impressive command in wrangling and refracting three separate comings-of-age. In her second feature, Martin’s (who also stars in the role and co-wrote) protagonist Mila moves into her parents’ holiday home with her long-term partner. At a sexual impasse, she vacillates between the need for comfort and sexual thrills. As though moving through nested dolls, we see Mila as her teenage self, then her as a child. Without being diagrammatic or prescriptive, the film deftly shows how we gain subtle intimations of society’s vaporous but weighty messages around sexuality, offering a rounded psychological portrait. At times, Creatura feels on the verge of sailing into more metaphorical terrain, with extended dream sequences and sensual dalliances. As a tale of complex sexual awakening, it sits alongside the likes of Make Up, Prima Facie or the work of Celine Sciamma. Hopefully, this sees distribution, as, if marketed correctly, there could be a strong younger audience for the title. Also, bonus points for taking the film’s climax in its most literal sense! 

Creatura won the Europa Cinemas’ award for best European film in the Directors’ Fortnight strand.

Details of the film’s distribution in the UK are still to be confirmed.

We aim to update this article with details of UK distribution for each film when they become available. Please get in touch if you have any news regarding the UK distribution rights for any titles referenced here.

Read More: Cannes 2023 Round-Up: Ones To Watch (Part Two)

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