Asian auteurs show exciting new work, Céline Sciamma and Mati Diop bringing verve to the festival, seasoned directors from Almodóvar to Elia Suleiman add class, and it could all kick off with Maradona
Alain Delon, left, gets an honorary Palme and there are much-anticipated entries from Xavier Dolan and Céline Sciamma. Composite: AP/Getty Images
This year’s Cannes selection was unveiled under a revered image, almost a tutelary deity. The poster shows the 26-year-old Agnès Varda standing on the shoulders of a male technician, shooting her first feature La Pointe Courte. Some may feel that this is where the gender revolution begins and ends in Cannes: there are still just four women directors in competition and 13 in the selection overall. The festival argues that it is working in good faith on this issue, that it has a gender balance on its selection panel, and that meaningful progress can’t happen immediately.
Elsewhere, Cannes is sticking to its guns on the Netflix issue, despite everyone’s suspicions that it might have to shift its ground. But no. The streaming giant won’t play by the festival’s rules on theatrical distribution in France, so it doesn’t get invited to the party. However, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old To Die Young – providing a sexy neon gleam to the Cannes selection – is an Amazon TV show, of which the festival will be showing episodes four and five as a feature-length programme in an out-of-competition slot.
The big no-show is Tarantino with his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but this is apparently not ready. Other omissions are James Gray with his sci-fi drama Ad Astra, and last year’s Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda with his English-language debut The Truth. Again: not ready, and perhaps that also explains the absence of Roy Andersson’s film About Endlessness.
But Cannes can point to new film-makers and exciting new cinema from Asia (which is increasingly part of Cannes’s brand identity). As ever, though, the festival has lined up its masters, its silverback gorillas of the auteur league – along with its senior trouble-makers, its disrupters, its veteran bad boys (again, the gender issue is present), with people such as Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara in the special screenings sidebar. Alain Delon is getting this year’s honorary Palme. But perhaps the most extravagant act of ancestor worship is the appearance (out of competition) of The Best Years of a Life by 81-year-old Claude Lelouch, an update of his 1966 classic A Man and A Woman, bringing back Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée to their former roles.
Jim Jarmusch provides a big dose of Hollywood confectionery – and amiable comedy – with the opening movie: The Dead Don’t Die. Britain’s Ken Loach is back with his Sorry I Missed You, a story of a delivery driver under pressure in the zero-hours gig economy. The other British selectees are Dexter Fletcher, who will be presenting his Elton John biopic Rocketman out of competition (Sir Elton is expected to play on stage before the premiere), and Asif Kapadia, who is presenting his documentary about football legend Diego Maradona out of competition – with the Argentine expected to appear on the red carpet.
Pedro Almodóvar reasserts his freehold on Cannes with a competition entry for his new film, Pain & Glory, about the troubled life of a film director. Marco Bellocchio is back in Cannes with The Traitor, about the Sicilian mobster Tomasso Buscetta, the first big-time mafioso to break the code of silence.
Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life stars Matthias Schoenarts as the Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for Nazi Germany in the second world war. Arnaud Desplechin’s Oh Mercy!, starring Léa Seydoux, is about a police chief in northern France who tries to solve the brutal murder of an old woman. The Dardenne brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc return with Young Ahmed, the story of a Belgian Muslim teenager who is radicalised by extremists. The Dardennes, like Loach, are part of the elite double-Palme-winner club, and any new film by them has to be of interest, though I thought their previous film, The Unknown Girl, was very uncertain.
Jessica Hausner is one of the most exciting talents of European cinema. Her 2009 film Lourdes has a claim to be some sort of masterpiece – and it is great to see her in competition with Little Joe, reportedly a futurist nightmare about genetic engineering. (Like Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, it is a BFI-supported production.)
Perhaps the most intensely anticipated work is Bacurau, or Nighthawk, from the Brazilian auteur Kleber Mendonça Filho, and his co-director Juliano Dornelles: a mysterious journey into the Brazilian interior. There is similar excitement for Parasite, by the Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho: a psychological thriller about a family who conceive an interest in their next-door neighbours – which gets them into a world of trouble. The Wild Goose Lake, from Chinese film-maker Diao Yinan, is about the leader of a biker gang on the run, who meets a desperate woman. This film-maker was a Golden Bear winner in Berlin with his Black Coal, Thin Ice, and this looks like a fascinating competition pick.
The enigmatic Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu returns to Cannes with his film La Gomera, or The Whistlers — and the festival has done so much to support the New Romanian Wave of very exciting directors. La Gomera is reportedly a crime noir drama with a black comic twist, exactly the deadpan tonal mix that festival audiences adore in this film-maker.
Mati Diop (who as an actor has worked with Claire Denis) here presents her Atlantique, a drama about Senegalese people making a terrifying boat crossing – evidently developed from her 16-minute documentary short Atlantiques from 2009. The enfant terrible and young master Xavier Dolan comes back to competition with his Quebec-set drama Matthias and Maxime, in which he promises to address gay issues more directly than in the past. Actor-director Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, a Paris-set crime drama, is developed from an earlier short – and it promises to deliver the realist impact and shock that Cannes always wishes to include. Justine Triet’s Sybil stars Virginie Efira as the eponymous therapist who is bored with her life and longs to return to real vocation of writing. Her new patient Margot, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, is a troubled actor whose life may be too tempting for a writer to ignore.
A figure whose presence is always expected in Cannes is Isabelle Huppert, and she arrives on the red-carpet courtesy of the American film-maker Ira Sachs, whose Frankie is about a family on holiday in Portugal: the cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei and Greg Kinnear. That other Cannes maestro, long absent from the radar, is Elia Suleiman, the Palestinian director who habitually brings his emollient, Keatonesque comic touch to the subject of Israel and the Palestinian people. His new film in competition, It Must Be Heaven, sees the director travel to different places and finds points of comparison with his homeland. In Paris, in New York, in every city, there are cops and bureaucracy and checkpoints and bigotry.
Céline Sciamma is one of the most evolved and intelligent film-making presences in Europe – she made the outstanding Girlhood in 2014 – and her new film is a welcome addition. Portrait of a Woman on Fire stars Noémie Merlant as a young painter who has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman (Adèle Haenel) without her knowledge – a project of artistic surveillance and reportage. It promises to be as complex and intelligent as all her other movies.
So, another intriguing and excitingly opaque selection: like seeing the presents piled up under the Christmas tree, but not being allowed to open them. The Cannes announcement is always like a brilliant pre-credit sequence, before the main feature attraction begins.
Cannes festival 2019: full list of films
All the films screening at the 72nd edition of France’s celebrated film festival
Cannes official selection
The Dead Don’t Die (dir: Jim Jarmusch) – opening film
Atlantique (dir: Mati Diop)
Bacarau (dir: Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles)
Frankie (dir: Ira Sachs)
A Hidden Life (dir: Terrence Malick)
It Must Be Heaven (dir: Elia Suleiman)
Les Misérables (dir: Ladj Ly)
Little Joe (dir: Jessica Hausner)
Matthias and Maxime (dir: Xavier Dolan)
Oh Mercy! (dir: Arnaud Desplechin)
Parasite (dir: Bong Joon-ho)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir: Céline Sciamma)
Sibyl (dir: Justine Triet)
Sorry We Missed You (dir: Ken Loach)
Pain and Glory (dir: Pedro Almodóvar)
The Traitor (dir: Marco Bellocchio)
La Gomera (dir: Corneliu Porumboiu)
The Wild Goose Lake (dir: Diao Yinan)
The Young Ahmed (dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Adam (dir: Maryam Touzani)
Dylda (dir: Kantemir Balagov)
A Brother’s Love (dir: Monia Chokri)
Bull (dir: Annie Silverstein)
The Climb (dir: Michael Covino)
Evge (dir: Nariman Aliev)
Liberté (dir: Albert Serra)
Invisible Life (dir: Karim Aïnouz)
Jeanne (dir: Bruno Dumont)
Room 212 (dir: Christophe Honoré)
Papicha (dir: Mounia Meddour)
Port Authority (dir: Danielle Lessovitz)
Summer of Changsha (dir: Zu Feng)
The Swallows of Kabul (dir: Zabou Breitman & Eléa Gobé Mévellec)
A Sun That Never Sets (dir: Olivier Laxe)
Zhuo Ren Mi Mi (dir: Midi Z)
Out of competition
The Best Years of a Life (dir: Claude Lelouch)
Diego Maradona (dir: Asif Kapadia)
La Belle Époque (dir: Nicolas Bedos)
Rocketman (dir: Dexter Fletcher)
Too Old to Die Young – North of Hollywood, West of Hell (TV series – dir: Nicolas Winding Refn)
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (dir: Lee Won-Tae)
Family Romance, LLC (dir: Werner Herzog)
For Sama (dir: Waad Al Kateab, Edward Watts)
Que Sea Ley (dir: Juan Solanas)
Share (dir: Pippa Bianco)
To Be Alive and Know It (dir: Alain Cavalier)
Tommaso (dir: Abel Ferrara)
•The Cannes film festival runs 14-25 May.