If Only I Could Cannes:
9 Cannes premieres to look out for (that I won’t get to see till they come to New York)
by Josh Ralske

CannesFestival de Cannes is upon us. Like me, you wish you were there. Or unlike me, you are there, which raises the question of why you are sitting around reading this. Go watch some movies. (Our man on the ground is Aaron Hillis, and he’ll be reporting over the next two weeks.)

The year’s first Cannes controversy (there is usually something, whether Lars von Trier attends or not) involved the dearth of women directors in the Competition lineup. There’s only one, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi‘s A Castle in Italy, with other contenders, including Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring and the redoubtable Claire DenisThe Bastards relegated to Un Certain Regard.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty stellar lineup this year at Cannes. Most of the titles listed below—the ones I’m most excited about—are from the Competition lineup, but I also threw in a few from Un Certain Regard and the Directors’ Fortnight. Just to clear up any confusion, the latter is a separate, parallel festival started in 1969. I know that much. I can’t help you with pronunciation.

  • The Past d. Asghar Farhadi

Farhadi is one of my favorite filmmakers working today. I’m not a “Name That Tune” type of critic, but I will say that a few seconds into the trailer for The Past, before that title card comes up, and even though it’s in French (his first non-Iranian production), I knew this was Farhadi. A Separation is wonderful, and his previous film, About Elly, might be even better. This one is about a divorcing couple, with Tahar Rahim of A Prophet as the new man in the wife’s life. It looks like more of the same from Farhadi, which is welcome. No one else is making this kind of emotionally complex, morally ambiguous family drama.

  • Blue is the Warmest Color d. Abdellatif Kechiche

Another of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, Kechiche also deals in complex, sometimes difficult dramas. I love Games of Love and Chance and Secret of the Grain. I saw Black Venus at the New York Film Festival in 2010, and remain very disappointed that no U.S. distributor was brave enough to pick it up. As with Farhadi, Kechiche’s work also deals with class and gender in a provocative and pointed ways. While Farhadi’s films also address religion, the Tunisian born Frenchman Kechiche’s work address Cannesethnic differences. Blue is about a 15-year-old girl (Adele Exarchopoulos of I Used to Be Darker) whose budding romance with her dream man is disrupted by her powerful erotic longing for a mysterious blue-haired girl (Lea Seydoux of Sister and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Kechiche can do sensual, but this should go beyond that. This is a serious, ambitious filmmaker.

  • The Congress d. Ari Folman

Robin Wright plays herself in Folman’s follow-up to the excellent Waltz with Bashir. Despite the title and filmmaker, it’s not a political film. The beguiling trailer indicates Folman taking his talents in a new direction, mixing live action with animation in a vivid futuristic story about an actress who sells her digital image so that she can star in films in perpetuity. Harvey Keitel co-stars. This one is playing in the Directors’ Fortnight, and it looks very unique and fun.

  • Blue Ruin d. Jeremy Saulnier

See, a Kickstarter-funded, micro-budgeted indie revenge drama from a relative novice feature filmmaker is probably not going to selected for the Competition at Cannes. Even Beasts of the Southern Wild ended up in Un Certain Regard. This one’s in the Directors’ Fortnight. While, according to Saulnier, Blue Ruin is unabashedly a genre film, it looks to be a bit more serious and contemplative than his debut, Murder Party (which I haven’t seen). Saulnier’s has worked as a cinematographer with notable indie directors like Matthew Porterfield and Michael Tully, and as with his debut, he shot this himself. All I’ve seen is the Kickstarter page, but it looks promising.


  • Inside Llewyn Davis d. Joel & Ethan Coen

I was thinking of avoiding the more obvious choices, but really, how can I? There might be a lot to discover at Cannes this year but not so much in the Competition, which is mostly old pros. Of all of them, the Coens’ is the one I’m most looking forward to. I don’t love all of their work, but it’s never less than interesting, and when they’re on, nobody is better at entertaining an audience. This one is about a Dylan-like folk singer in the 1960s, and the trailer looks very promising. Of course.

  • A Touch of Sin d. Jia Zhangke

Another one of my favorite filmmakers, Jia returns to the Competition with his first narrative feature since 2008′s 24 City. The trailer popped up on IndieWire this week, and it looks like a classic Jia film (the backward tracking shots, the underside of life as an entertainer, a sardonic look at political corruption and ennui) showing four disparate characters as they attempt to navigate the hardships and dangers of contemporary China. More guns than usual, though. Looks pretty can’t-miss.


  • Only Lovers Left Alive d. Jim Jarmusch

Jarmusch has also been out of action for a while, and I really liked his last feature, The Limits of Control (2009). This one is apparently a vampire film of sorts, tracking a group of immortals, including a rock musician, as they try to reconcile themselves to humanity and find the love that has eluded them for centuries. I know I’m in a minority among his fans, but Jarmusch’s genre “experiments,” Ghost Dog and Dead Man, are actually among my least favorites of his films. That said, this one stars Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, and the incredible Jeffrey Wright—so how could it not be wonderful?

  • The Selfish Giant d. Clio Barnard

Barnard’s debut, the beguilingly odd documentary about playwright Andrea Dunbar, The Arbor, was startlingly original, so I’m eager to see what she does with her follow-up—a narrative feature based on Oscar Wilde‘s children’s story. It’s about two socially outcast teens who befriend a wily scrap dealer and start working for him. When one of the boys starts emulating the ruthless man, their friendship is threatened, leading to tragedy. This film is playing in the Directors’ Fortnight.


  • The Last Days on Mars d. Ruairi Robinson

I am a sucker for low-budget, thoughtful science fiction, where the ideas are more important than the special effects (e.g. Moon, Primer) and that’s what this appears to be. It’s Robinson’s debut feature, adapted from a short story by Sydney J. Bounds, and it will be in the Directors’ Fortnight. It’s about the first manned mission to Mars. As the mission is drawing to a close, a scientist (Liev Schreiber) discovers evidence of a bacterial life form. Driven by ego, he’s determined to uncover more before another team arrives to replace his. As members of the scientific team begin to disappear one by one, it becomes clear that there’s something malevolent out there. Olivia Williams, Romola Garai, and Elias Koteas fill out the strong cast.

I know there are a lot of obvious choices I left out, including highly anticipated new films from directors I don’t especially care for, like Nicolas Winding Refn, Francois Ozon, and James Gray, and Coppola, whom I generally like, but whose last feature, Somewhere, was a complete misfire for me. I know I’ll have a chance to see those, and I hope they’re as good as people are expecting. Feel free to share your thoughts about what you are most looking forward to.

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