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

Posted on June 22, 2023 by Jake Abatan, Kate Ottway, Mikaela Smith, Patrick Stewart

Categories: Festival Reports

In this second part of our Cannes 2023 round-up, we continue to share some of the films that we’re most excited to see reach cinemas and festivals across the UK over the coming year, including new titles from Aki Kaurismäki, Katell Quillévéré, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and more. Read Part One here.

Jake Abatan, Marketing and Administration Coordinator

May December (dir. Todd Haynes)

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore play two women staring at each other through a dressing room mirror.
May December © May December Productions 2022 LLC

My favourite film of the festival. May December is loosely based on the legal case of Mary Kay Letourneau who, in 1997, caused a tabloid frenzy after she was convicted of the statutory rape of one of her students. Letourneau served time for her conviction and, when released, married the very student she had an affair with.

May December picks up the story many years after this case, with famous (fictional) actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) preparing to play Gracie (the fictional stand-in for Letourneau, here played by Julianne Moore) in a film adaptation of the events. By the time the film begins, Elizabeth has already arranged to live with Gracie and Joe (Gracie’s student-cum-husband, played by Charles Melton) as research for the part, and from the off we start to glimpse the motives both sides have for Elizabeth’s presence here.

The most striking element of May December is the delicate blend of genres – melodrama, thriller, neo-noir. That last one surprised me, but as Elizabeth begins to find herself alone with those actively involved in the case—student, teacher, husband, family—as well as those on the sidelines of it all, her questions become more and more probing and we begin to fill out the case from multiple angles. You may even be tempted to pull out a notebook, as Elizabeth often does, to keep track of the clues offered up within these long exchanges. There’s a real thrill to realising that we may have been given false information by certain characters, or that we’ve been making the wrong assumptions from these facts all along. Elizabeth’s motives for wanting to tell this story are eventually brought under scrutiny, and with a bombshell ending that subtly shakes our understanding of the truth, and casts doubt on whether or not there is even a truth to be found at all—yep, we’re firmly in noir territory here, and I love it!

Netflix has the North American distribution rights to May December, it is currently unclear who will be distributing this title in the UK.

Fallen Leaves (dir. Aki Kaurismäki)

A man and a woman sit at a dining room table for a dinner date.
Fallen Leaves © Sputnik

Nothing primes you for a film quite like watching Finnish master director Aki Kaurismäki, shrug his way down the red carpet to his own premiere. The audience receiving him wasn’t so apathetic, in fact, shrugs turned to bows as Kaurismäki was showered with applause upon entering the Grand Théâtre Lumière, and his latest film Fallen Leaves was met with equal elation.

For those familiar with Kaurismäki’s unique strain of socially-minded, deadpan comedies, this treads incredibly familiar ground. Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) are two lonely souls, both working in the gig economy for exceptionally (or, as the film’s world hints towards, rather unexceptionally) bad bosses. Holappa works at a construction site, made dangerous by the worn-out tools his boss refuses to replace as well as his not-so-well-concealed alcoholism. Ansa works at a supermarket, and harmlessly takes home food that is past its “sell-by” date. Both are fired. Both find each other.

Amongst this bleak backdrop, the reality of an even more dismal state of affairs regularly threatens to penetrate their lives: the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We only hear mention of the war through radio broadcasts, which are swiftly turned off almost as soon as they begin. These moments, whilst brief, are incredibly poignant. Capturing the reality that there seems to be too much to be dour about in the world to really keep it all in focus. And yet, despite this, Fallen Leaves is filled with charm. As much about the things in life that give us hope as it is about all there is to be down about.

Fallen Leaves won the festival’s Jury Prize.

The film will be distributed for the UK by MUBI.

Mikaela Smith, Film Programmer

How to Have Sex (dir. Molly Manning Walker)

A young girl in a night club looking pensively into the distance.
How to Have Sex © Nikolopoulos Nikos

Back in 2020, two of the films longlisted for Best British Short at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) were directed by Molly Manning Walker. Only one (The Forgotten C) made the nomination list, but my favourite—Good Thanks, You?—also felt richly distinct and special. I’ve always enjoyed voting in that category because it is very exciting to see new talent at the start of the pipeline, and then see how they grow. It was very clear to me at that stage that she was going to be one to watch, and so I was pleased to see Manning Walker’s directorial debut, How to Have Sex, announced to play in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard strand. I managed to snag a ticket to the premiere where Manning Walker introduced the film, and spoke earnestly of hoping the film would be part of the start of a new conversation—I think it will.

The film follows three girls, sixteen, loud-mouthed but naïve, on their first girls’ holiday. Equipped with a wardrobe of mesh dresses, bikinis, and plenty of neon, they embark on what they hope will be one long sex-and-booze-fuelled party on the strip in Malia. For some of them it is, but for Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), it’s only fun and games until it isn’t. How to Have Sex is distinctly unafraid to swim around the murky grey areas of sex, consent, and social pressure, and is sure-footed in the messy complexities of being a teenage girl, and dealing with things you are ill-equipped to handle. I found it touching, relatable and incredibly warm. It’s not a film that exploits its characters or wallows in their misery; it treats them with a distinct care and respect, which is what makes it so special.

How to Have Sex won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard competition.

The film will be distributed for the UK by MUBI.

Patrick Stewart, Marketing & Communications Manager

Inshallah a Boy (dir. Amjad Al Rasheed)

A woman wearing a hijab shields a young child compassionately.
Inshallah A Boy, Source: Semaine de la critique

Nothing but the luck of the draw in the Cannes ticket system brought me to Jordan’s first-ever film presented at Cannes. It was a fortunate ticket to get, as Inshallah a Boy is a terrific naturalistic feature debut from director Amjad Al Rasheed. Young domestic worker and mother-to-one-daughter, Nawal (Mouna Hawal) has few legal protections and even less time to find some as she scrambles to navigate her precarious new situation after her husband’s sudden death. Without the financial protection offered by a male heir, she’s forced to form desperate alliances to stop financially predatory, though legally unstoppable, male relatives taking control of her and her daughter’s destiny. Hawal’s performance as Nawal is excellent. Though not shying away from the tragic potential of her predicament, she nevertheless creates a taut and lively protagonist making bold choices and who is able, despite it all, to deliver flashes of humour. This central performance, alongside a well-paced script, a great directorial eye for domestic detail and a range of strong supporting characters, means Inshallah a Boy is never as tough a watch as the subject matter threatens. Asking important questions of Jordanian society and its treatment of women, the film will certainly resonate with those that are drawn to female-led stories and films from the Arab world, but filmmaking of this calibre will also surely appeal to a wide sweep of arthouse audiences.

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

About Dry Grasses (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

A young girl stands in the snow with frost through her long matted hair.
About Dry Grasses © Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Seen (by me) just after The Zone of Interest, which is a brilliant sharp painful slash to the soul (and spotlighted in our first Cannes round-up), About Dry Grasses delivers its own masterful encounter with the darker side of human nature, though the contrast of filmmaking styles and pace was stark (until one shocking moment when it suddenly feels very similar). The story of a teacher, Samet (Deniz Celiloglu), wasting away in an out-of-the-way part of the human soul’s psychogeography (beautifully realised here by the landscape of Anatolia). The stasis is choking and pervasive, allowing Samet’s manipulative and deeply unpleasant character to slowly unfurl itself but perhaps restraining the expression of the very worst of him too. Long, rich and wonderful, seductive at times, and ultimately repelling, this is complex storytelling that seeks to delineate some of the strange and rough outer edges of what it means to be human. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan at his best.

Merve Dizdaron won the festival’s Best Actress award for her performance in About Dry Grasses.

Picturehouse Entertainment will distribute the film in the UK.

Kate Ottway, Marketing & Communications Manager

Along Came Love (dir. Katell Quillévéré)

A bride and groom signing wedding papers in a formal reception room.
Along Came Love, Source: Festival de Cannes

Post-World War II French melodrama Along Came Love opens with monochrome footage of women being taunted and humiliated in a crowded street. Many are being forced to have their heads shaved, and a Nazi swastika is even drawn on one woman’s pregnant stomach in a powerful juxtaposition of hate symbol and baby. That woman is Madeleine (Anaïs Demoustier), who we learn is being punished for having a relationship with a German soldier. These events are all the more profound when we consider that director Katell Quillévéré is drawing on her own family history here, with her grandmother having lived through a similar experience.

Understanding the trauma Madeleine has gone through in the beginning in part explains the detachment she has towards her son. Anaïs Demoustier’s performance is so accomplished that we still root for her happiness and for a maternal bond to form. In pursuit of a fresh start, Madeleine escapes to a new town and falls for François (Vincent Lacoste) a wealthy and unassuming student. But whilst she’s open about her past (a sentiment he doesn’t mirror), their bond doesn’t provide the welcome escape from the torment she has left behind. Spanning decades, you see Madeleine and François explore their own wants, desires and needs, and their marriage proves to be a convenient pairing for both parties, who each have something to hide. Along Came Love explores how love can cover our wounds, but not always heal them. A generational look at the trouble love can bring, and how it can sometimes serve as an escape—but only a temporary one.

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 One)

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