Cannes 2024: Ones to watch

Posted on May 31, 2024 by David Williams, Isabel Moir, James Calver, Mikaela Smith

Categories: Festival Reports

The ICO team shares some of their highlights from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including new work by Payal Kapadia, Sean Baker and Rungano Nyoni.

James Calver, Projects and Events Officer

Black Dog (dir. Guan Hu)

A man sits on a motorbike in the desert, with a small dog in a side car

Selecting Cannes titles based on potential Palm Dog winners wasn’t guaranteed to garner the best results, but in the case of Black Dog I couldn’t have been more surprised. The film was sold in the programme as a dramatic tale of an ex-convict readjusting to society with the help of a canine companion, the titular black dog, but what it develops into is a neo-western of grand scale that doesn’t lose its dramatic or comedic edge throughout.

The tale is set in the northwest of China in 2008, the upcoming Olympics looming over a city on the edge of the Gobi desert. It’s a city that is clearly feeling the ramifications of being so distanced from the fanfare in Beijing. As we follow the protagonist Lang (Eddie Peng) on his return to the city, he walks by desolate building after desolate building, and it’s amongst this barrenness that he meets his four-legged friend Xin for the first time.

Director Guan Hu uses this tale of the bond between Lang and Xin to detail the effect that the ever-looming state has had on the city. In order to renovate the city, the majority of structures are being razed, forcing most of the population out of their homes. With a lack of funding for police and security, wild dogs have taken over most of the city and the surrounding area. It’s a city that’s falling apart, but whose population seems mostly unphased, as if this is second nature to them.

Lang is almost silent for the entirety of the film – not because he can’t speak, but because he chooses not to. It’s a role that requires subtlety and Peng delivers. He’s also well suited to the faster-paced action sequences that are dotted throughout, all of which are shot with a frantic rhythm that helps disrupt the pace and keep audiences engaged. A wry smile on occasion says much more than any dialogue ever could, and whilst this may put some people off it’s a restrained creative decision that echoes back to classic westerns.

To top it all off, there are some magnificent pooch performances running alongside all of this, especially from Xin, who has his own outstanding action sequences, pushing a canine performance as far as I’ve seen. Somehow, it didn’t end up winning the Palm Dog (an injustice I feel very passionately about), but its merits were recognised when it was voted as the best film in this year’s Un Certain Regard selection – an award which will hopefully encourage a distributor to bring this to UK screens.

Isabel Moir, Film Programmer

All We Imagine As Light (dir. Payal Kapadia)

A woman looks intently at a younger woman who peers at an orange object in her hands

I was a huge fan of Payal Kapadia’s first feature, A Night of Knowing Nothing, which the ICA distributed in 2022. Therefore I was very excited to see All We Imagine As Light included in this year’s competition. The inclusion of Kapadia’s second film marks India’s first Cannes competition title in 30 years. The film is a beautifully poetic portrait of two female nurses navigating work, friendship, and their love lives in present-day Mumbai. It also captures the uncertainty of being young and what the future holds for both of these characters as they challenge cultural traditions from previous generations. Although Kapadia’s debut creatively combines nonfiction with narrative, her new work is her first scripted feature.

The delivery of the film is incredibly intimate as the central performances capture the closeness and feeling of sisterhood between the two women, wonderfully played by actors Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti. UK audiences will also get to see Kani Kusruti in Girls Will Be Girls, which Modern Films will release later this year.

Beautifully shot with dreamlike imagery, it feels like a loving tribute to the characters’ surroundings, from the train journeys through Mumbai or the local eateries at all hours of the day to the quietness and the wild rural beach landscape that the characters visit towards the end of the film. Playing towards the end of the festival, it was met with glowing reviews, especially after lots of this year’s competition titles received middling or polarising reactions. I was very happy to see that the film ended up receiving the Grand Prix from the Cannes Jury and will also be released by the BFI to UK cinemas and audiences.

Acquired by the BFI for the UK, the release date has not yet been confirmed.

Anora (dir. Sean Baker)

A person dances in a night club lit by purple light

I am always excited to see a new Sean Baker film, so I had high hopes for Anora, which played in this year’s Competition and went on to win the top prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or. As in Baker’s previous work, The Florida Project and Tangerine, he skillfully and thoughtfully showcases new talent. Mikey Madison shines as Ani (short for Anora), a strip club dancer who meets Vanya, son of a Russian oligarch, who presents the possibility of a new life of luxury.

Anora is both heartbreaking and wildly entertaining, the tone frequently shifting throughout, playing with audience expectations. It made for a very fun early morning screening met with lots of laughter and enthusiasm. It’s been described in reviews as a modern-day fairytale with comparisons to Pretty Woman as well as Uncut Gems due to the film’s freewheeling nature as it escalates to dizzying levels. Although we see Ani put through a lot, both emotionally and physically, what is clear throughout is the love, affection and lack of judgement that Baker has for his characters which is apparent throughout all his work.

Neon is handling international sales. So far, details of UK distribution have not been announced.

David Williams, Film Hub South East Officer

Armand (dir. Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel)

Five people stand close together looking solemnly downwards

A highlight of this year’s festival and recipient of the Camera d’Or, Armand (from director Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel) stars Renate Reinsve, who broke out in 2021 playing a free-spirited twenty-something navigating romantic entanglements in The Worst Person in the World.

In Armand, Reinsve plays Elizabeth, a parent called to her son’s school over an undisclosed incident that warrants discussion with other parents and select staff, which becomes the basis for an unlikely psychological thriller. The film opens with a car engine revving thunderously as Elizabeth speeds towards the school, and the sound design remains incredible throughout. The opening sequence perfectly sets the stage for that, whether the aforementioned engine, the amplified squeaking of a rain mac, or footsteps hammering a hallway, everything is heightened by the soundscape, which not only amplifies the drama of an otherwise intimate and small-scale affair, but also knowingly contrasts Elizabeth’s presence with that of her environment.

The central performance is fantastic, with one scene in particular that features Reinsve hysterically and incessantly laughing. It’s the kind of moment that you’re keenly aware of leaving an impression on you as it’s happening. Reinsve’s character is herself an actress, so we’re left wondering how much of what we see from her is performative and how much is sincere. In the absence of the children at the heart of the story, we’re left to focus on the warring second-hand accounts of the parents, picking up on bits of the story and piecing details together based on wider context alone, which is complicated by the imbalanced levels of trust granted by the teachers.

Armand veers into interpretative territory with a couple of dreamlike sequences that really elevate the whole thing, and the pacing is also incredible, lingering on scenes exactly long enough for you really appreciate and absorb them without insisting on themselves. The relationships between all the parties involved in the incident are gradually revealed to you in a way that’s very satisfying. A really exciting debut feature.

Ghost Cat Anzu (dirs. Yoko Kuno, Nobuhiro Yamashita)

A cat rides a bicycle by the sea with a girl sitting behind him as a pillion passenger.

Even in the year that Cannes chose to honour Studio Ghibli and had Goro Miyazaki at La Plage, Ghost Cat Anzu may not be the type of title that you typically associate with the festival. It’s a relatively light-hearted anime about a girl, Karin, who finds herself abandoned by her dad — a scoundrel indebted to loan sharks — who encounters the titular Ghost Cat Anzu, who can only be described as what he is: Ghost Cat Anzu. 

A big, anthropomorphised cat, Anzu shows up on a moped talking on a phone and, when it’s queried why he’s like this, the answer received is “because he’s a Ghost Cat”. You learn that Anzu did start off as a regular cat, discovered as a kitten — he just never died and he kept growing and essentially evolved into a regular human man, aside from he’s a cat and he’s not alive. The film will remind you of his catlike qualities on occasion, he’ll urinate against a tree and cover it with his feet, he will say meow at the end of a sentence humorously and randomly, but you also have to accept that he’s just a dude. 

However, Anzu is also part of the spirit world, which ends up being a significant part of how the story unfolds, as Anzu interacts with other similar ghost creatures and the god of poverty, who threatens to have a negative impact on Karin’s life, which develops into a madcap adventure in the underworld. Ghost Cat Anzu is a pleasurable watch that’s fun for all ages, with fantastic character design.

Mikaela Smith, Film Programmer

Julie Keeps Quiet (dir. Leonardo Van Dijl)

A young person in the act of swinging a tennis racket

The first film that really struck me at this year’s festival was Julie Keeps Quiet, the debut feature from Belgian director Leonardo Van Dijl. The film follows a teenage girl named Julie (in an incredibly focused performance from newcomer and young tennis player Tessa Van den Broeck), a talented tennis protégé who faces an unforeseen challenge when her coach is suspended from their tennis academy pending investigation. The authoritative figures that surround her encourage her to come forward, but Julie – as the title would suggest – decides to keep quiet. It’s an incredibly sensitive film about power and influence, and about agency at a young age. It felt to me, incredibly true to what it means to be a teenager grappling to control your own fate – both headstrong and anxious, decisive but naïve. It also handled a very difficult subject matter with almost impossible care and restraint, not sensationalising or exploiting character or circumstance nor relying on graphic detail to shock. Instead, Julie Keeps Quiet is a detailed, nuanced character study that manages to remain engrossing and gripping through all of the things left unsaid.

Curzon have acquired Julie Keeps Quiet for UK distribution under their Artificial Eye label.

On Becoming a Guinea Fowl (dir. Rungano Nyoni)

A person in a silvery headdress and sunglasses sits in a car at night

The second film that really struck me this Cannes was Rungano Nyoni’s follow up to her wonderful debut feature I Am Not A Witch. On Becoming A Guinea Fowl is thematically similar to Julie Keeps Quiet (in fact predatory men were a very common thread in most of what I saw this year, which was not an intentional choice).

The film opens as Shula, driving home from a costume party, finds the body of her uncle, dead in the middle of the road. As funeral proceedings begin, the young women in the family find time to sit together and reflect on his life and legacy. As buried secrets begin to surface, the family must reckon with an uncomfortable reality. Nyoni’s film is composed with the same lively vibrancy that her debut had; it’s engaging, textured with snippets of surrealism and layered with an incredible, thrumming score. It’s not easy to blend these elements of drama and tragedy with absurdist dark comedy, but Nyoni does it with laser focus.

For more insights into films from the festival visit and search @ICOtweets #Cannes2024.

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