One month before the 76th Cannes Film Festival opens in the south of France, we got the announcement of the movies included in the Official Selection and some eventful premieres. These thoughts took our brains by storm as we greedily scanned the list of movies that will set the tone for Art Houses everywhere in 2023.
Succès de scandale: the French do not shy away from controversy. Reports of Roman Polanski’s “The Palace'' bowing out at La Croisette came to nothing, leaving the spot of scandal magnet to Maiwen Lo Besco’s “Madame Du Barry.” The historical epic features Johnny Depp as Louis XV in his first high-profile role after the tabloid-ready trial against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. Depp and his director and co-star clashed on the set. Maiwen had her run-in with the law recently, facing a lawsuit after spitting and pulling the hair of a journalist who covered an accusation of rape against her ex-husband, director Luc Besson. Yes, I am afraid it’s complicated. “Madame Du Barry'' will open the Festival out of competition.
Royal scandal: Maiwen Lo Besco and Johnny Depp in "Madame du Barry" / Photo courtesy of Le Pacte Films.
The big, fat Hollywood blockbuster of the year: for all its snobbish cachet, Cannes, like every other Festival, kowtows at the altar of money. An eagerly-awaited Hollywood film always takes a premier slot to push forward its fortunes. “Top Gun: Maverick" did it last year. It went on to make a killing at the box office and pretty much throw a lifeline at the theatrical exhibition business. Now, it's the turn of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”, with Harrison Ford returning to his iconic role. James Mangold (Wolverine) took over the reins from Steven Spielberg.
Old masters, assemble!: The Cannes Official Selection, that is, the movies competing for the much coveted Palme d’Or is chock-full of illustrious directors staging comebacks: Wim Wenders brings the Japan-set drama “Perfect Days". Marco Bellocchio, last seen here with the marvelous “The Traitor" (2019), premieres “Rapito”, the story of a Jewish child kidnapped and converted to catholicism. Aki Kaurismaki, Finnish master of dour tragicomedy, competes for the first time for the Palme with “Fallen Leaves.” Nanni Moretti surprises with the Mathrieu Almanac starrer “Il Sol dell' Avvenire”. Last but not least, Ken Loach opens “The Old Oak”, centered on a pub in a depressed Northern England town attracting Syrian refugees.
A “Spirit of the Beehive” reunion we were not expecting: in 1973, director Victor Erice unveiled his feature-film debut "The Spirit of the Beehive". It turned out to be a landmark of Spanish cinema, filtering the traumas of the civil war in a poetic vision imbued with tenderness and cinephile devotion - in a pivotal scene, the characters watch "Frankenstein" (James Whale, 1931). Fifty years later, Erice reunites with Ana Torrent, who gave one of the best child performances in cinema history in "Spirit...". They bring “Close Your Eyes”, about a famous actor (Jose Coronado) who reappears with a bad case of amnesia years after disappearing in a freak accident.
Víctor Erice comes back with "Cerrar los Ojos" / Photo courtesy of Film Factory
Latin American cinema keeps getting shortchanged: Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz made it into the Official Selection with Firebrand, a historical drama with Alicia Vikander playing the role of Catherine Pear, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, and Jude Law as the much-married monarch. You will have to go to the Un Certain Regard competition to find good regional representation: from Argentina, Rodrigo Moreno’s “Los Delincuentes”; from Chile, Felipe Galvéz’s “The Settlers”. “Crowbar, The Burti Flower” comes from Brazil, directed by Joгo Salaviza & Renйe Nader Messora. Brazilian cinema is having a moment. "Pictures of Ghosts," a new documentary by Kleber Mendonca Filho (Bacurau), premieres out of competition.
Don’t Count Scorsese Out: the long-awaited epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” based on the non-fiction book by David Grann, will premiere outside of competition. Cannes president Thierry Frémeaux said in an interview that he is still in talks with AppleTV+, trying to convince them to submit the film for the official competition. Were they to agree, 20 films would vie for the Palme.
Yes, one month before opening, there is still a single image available from "Killers of the Flower Moon" / Photo courtesy of Apple TV
Korean cinema comeback: with “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “I Saw the Devil,” Kim Jee-Woon was one of the drivers of the wave of Korean Cinema that took the world by storm during the first decade of the Aughts. His latest film, tentatively titled “Cobweb,” features Song Kang-ho (Parasite) in an experimental drama with meta underpinnings. The plot is tightly under wraps, but we know enough to know it is a studio-bound film within a film. Or something. I don’t know you, but I can't wait to see it.
Sisters are doing it for themselves: women direct six of the 19 films competing for the Palme d’Or. This record-breaking coup of representation comes after last year's five candidates. The new class includes Jessica Hausner’s “Club Zero,” Kaouter Ben Hannia’s “Four Daughters,” Justine Triet’s “Anatomie d'un Chute,” Catherine Breillat’s “L’Été Dernier,” Alice Rohrwacher’s “La Chimera,” and “Banele et Adama” by Ramata Toulaye-Sy. Toulaye-Sy has the particular distinction of getting in with her first feature film. There is a 31% chance that a female filmmaker wins the Palme, repeating the achievement of Julia Ducorneau, who won the top prize with “Titane” (2021). I put my money on Rohrwacher if only to make up for losing the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar for the modern Christmas classic “Le Pupille.” They robbed her!
The most eagerly-awaited movie of the Fest is a queer western short: Pedro Almódovar gave an interview to the Spanish daily El Pais to promote the publication of “El Último Sueño” his new book of short stories. With total disregard for my well-being, he confirmed his exit from “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” an adaptation of Lucia Berlin’s short stories with Cate Blanchett in the lead. The Spanish dynamo has been flirting with going Hollywood for years. He circled projects as diverse as a “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” remake with Jane Fonda in the lead, “Brokeback Mountain” (2009) and “The Paperboy” (2012). Amid the pandemic shutdown, he finally broke the language barrier with “The Human Voice,” where a game Tilda Swinton added Chica Almodovar to her resume. Then came reports of the Berlin projects and a short titled “Strange Way of Life” with Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal attached. In the end, it was creative control that killed the dream. “They proposed to recreate Oakland digitally, and I didn’t see it clearly…it was an overblown production level, which would frustrate me”, said Almodovar. Pesky creative differences and his health issues with back pain - echoes of “Pain and Glory” -condemned the project to the heaven of unrealized masterpieces. All signs point to “A Strange Way of Life” being the final episode of Pedro’s fantastic adventures with Shakespeare’s language.
Will Jury President Ruben Östlund pose for pictures screaming at the camera while holding the Palme?: Yes, he will.A two-time Palme winner for “The Square” (2017) and “Triangle of Sadness” (2022), the Swedish director will lead a jury whose members remain under wraps. Let's hope he does not corral them into doing that silly pose for the paparazzi. We need to keep some dignity here, people.
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