With the announcement of the 2019 Cannes Line-up, the table is set for the ultimate annual high mass for cinema. The announcement tends to be a highlight for cinema of a more international and cinephilic ilk, a welcomed antidote for the hegemony of the mainstream that seems to dictate the majority of today’s discourse on cinema. As usual, this year’s line-up features a list of Cannes-regulars (Ken Loach’s and the Dardenne Brothers are competing with their 14th and 8th competition entry respectively) and competition neophyte’s (the Senegalese actress Mati Diop is the first Black Woman in the Cannes Competition Line-up) and it is usually within that crop of newcomers you will find the most pleasant surprises (remember the breath of fresh air that was Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdman’ or Robin Campillo’s ‘120 battements par minute’?) .
I attended the festival for the last time in 2011, a showstopper of a festival that had myriad of marvels in its ranks (including Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’, ‘Melancholia’, ‘Once Upon a time in Anatolya’, future ‘Best Picture’ Oscar winner ‘The Artist’ and Palm D’or Winner ‘The tree of Life’) and although I haven’t attended since, the announcement of the programme is a film aficionado’s Christmas, with its riches stocking up the arthouse cinema’s for at least another year and providing enough blood to flow through the veins of le cinema international. I’m not here to claim that the Cannes film festival is the be-all and end-all for cinema, but with the Venice film festival slowly turning into more of an Awards Launchpad and the Berlinale delivering a fairly middling output as of recent, the Cannes film festival rightfully deserves its space at the forefront of the majesty of cinema.
Among my favourites from last year’s crop were Lee Chang-Dong’s ‘Burning’, Zhanke’s ‘Ash is Purest White’, ‘Happy as Lazzaro’, ‘Cold war’ and ‘Shoplifters’. What films will dominate the French Riviera this year? So far, it’s anyone’s guess, as fierce anticipation tends to be the root of disappointment but nevertheless and without further ado; here are 10 titles that I expect to make a splash on the Croisette.
1. Parasite (Dir. Bong Jong-Ho)
The last time South-Korean director Bong Jong-Ho showed a film in Competition, it was all caught up in the Netflix kerfuffle that became the main focus point of the festival. ‘Okja’ was nevertheless a great hybrid between monster movies, political activism and social allegory but it wasn’t a patch on Bong’s home-grown South-Korean films such as ‘Madeo’ and ‘Memories of Murder’. With ‘Parasite’ the filmmaker returns to both the thriller genre and the South-Korean language with the story of two families from extremely different environments coming across each other. Most of the plot details are still shrouded in mystery but the trailer has definitely wetted my appetite.
2. Dolor Y Gloria (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
“A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.” If the plot synopsis of the latest film by Pedro Almodóvar is anything to go by, we can expect another deeply personal tale in which the filmmaker lays bare his soul and then some. Almodóvar’s entire back catalogue is composed of personal stories, disguised as cineliterate tales anchored in the work of authors such as Hitchcock (‘Julietta’, ‘Broken Embraces’), Georges Franju (‘The Skin I live in’) and Douglas Sirk. His latest film seems to revel once again in love for cinema and Melodrama, so once might expect the filmmaker really gunning for the much-coveted Palm d’Or.
3. The Whistlers (Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)
It’s maybe not entirely fair, but it’s tempting to say that the Cannes film festival has given the Romanian New wave the international spotlight. With both ‘The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu’ and ;California Dreamin’; winning the Certain Regard section and ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ picking up the Palm d’Or, Cannes has put Romania on the map of international filmmaking. With the Whistlers, Romanian director Corneliu Porumb competes for the first time, after early Cannes sidebar Passages ‘12:08 East to Bucharest’ and ‘Police, Adjective’. His latest film tells the story of a policeman intent on freeing a crooked businessman from a prison on Gomera, an island in the Canaries, after learning the difficult local dialect, a language which includes hissing and spitting. The plot sounds darkly farcical, but having seen some of the director’s earlier works, this is definitely a film I’m looking out for.
4. Zombi Child (Dir. Bertrand Bonello)
In the UK, French director Bertrand Bonello’s previous film, ‘Nocturama’ skipped theatrical release, only to be unceremoniously dumped on Netflix. A shame that the film bypassed cinema’s, because Bonello’s searing portrait of teenage ennui and terrorism is one of the very best films French films in recent memory. For his newest film, Bonello draws inspiration from Haitian lore and legend, for a story supposedly situated on the border between ethnology and fantasy. Zombi Child tells the story of an Haitian who has been turned into a zombie by a voodoo spell in the 1960’s and a 15 year old Haitian girl in modern day Paris. ‘Nocturama’ was famously rejected at the Cannes film festival, only to gain favourable reviews on the fall festival circuit, so it’s nice to see Bonello making a return to the festival (albeit in the side section Director’s Fortnight). Between this and Jim Jarmusch’ zombie-ensemble ‘The Dead don’t Die’, the undead will truly reign over this year’s Croisette.
5. A Hidden Life (Dir. Terrence Malick)
Even the most devoted Terrence Malick devotees (I definitely consider myself amongst them) have to admit that his recent work has been missing an inspiring spark. His latter films, such as Knight of Cups and Song to Songs feel like free-flowing soliloquys that are ultimately feeling just as vapid as the vapidity it is trying to depict. With the long-gestating film ‘A Hidden Life’ (formerly called ‘Radegund’), Malick seems to return to the kind of cinema that is underpinned by a more linear narrative structure, with the story of a conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis, and was therefore –spoiler alert – executed. The cast consists mainly out of European stalwarts such as August Diehl (The Young Karl Marx), Matthias Schoenaerts and the late Michael Niqvist. During Malick’s last jaunt at the festival, he managed to pick up the Palm d’Or for ‘Tree of Life’, so the question is if the secluded director can join the select team of double Palm winners (Bille August, Ken Loack, Coppola and the Dardenne brothers) .
6. The Wild Goose Lake (Dir. Yi’nan Diao)
With ‘Black Coal, thin Ice’ Chinese director Yi’nan Diao showed himself as a chronicler of modern-day China, with a vast and angry portrait of China and its deeply engrained cynicism. Partly state of the nation, partially film Noir, the film managed to win its director the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival in 2014. With his successor ‘The Wild Goose Lake’, Diao seems to go for the second trophy in the film festival trifecta (Berlin, Cannes & Venice). The story centers on the leader of a dangerous biker gang on the run who meets a woman willing to give everything to get her freedom back. The Asian continent is fairly underrepresented this year in the competition, so I hope ‘The Wild Goose Lake’ will make its mark.
7. Bacurau (Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Latin-American entries are thinly strewn in this year’s competition, with one sole Brazilian film making it into the line-up. Rumors were swirling about Pablo Larraín’s ‘Ema’, which seems to be gobbled up by Netflix, so now it seems that Kleber Mendonça Filho’s ‘Bacurau’ (Nighthawk) is the only film to represent the South-American continent. Filho is mostly known for his two mosaical portraits of Brazilian society (Neighboring sounds and ‘Aquarius’ are both terrific) and with Bacurau he delivers another social critique, albeit this time laced with folklore and horror elements. The film centers on a filmmaker visiting the interiors of Brazil to film a documentary. However, when a small village loses their eldest matriarch, the 144-year-old Dona Carmelita, strange things begin to happen amongst the villagers, who appear to be harboring troubling secrets. The logline sounds intriguing and although the film has been in development for quite a few years, I’m glad it finally came to fruition.
8. The Dead don’t Die (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)
The last couple of years zombie films have been flooding both the big and the small screen and in 2019 it seems the walking dead will continue to march on. None one than Jim Jarmusch, will provide his take on the zombie-genre with ‘The Dead don’t die’ and those who remember Jarmusch’s vampire flick ‘Only Lovers left alive, a love-story infused with wistfulness and melancholia, will understand that the director will provide enough bite to the genre. The cast will consist out of a couple of Jarmusch regulars (Tilda Swinton & Bill Murray), Paterson’s Adam Driver, Daniel Craig and Selena Gomez. The Walking dead it ain’t.
9. The Lighthouse (Dir. Robert Eggers)
A fair amount of young American film makers were rumoured to make it into this year’s Cannes line-up (Trey Edward Shultz, Benh Zeitlin, Ari Aster), but ultimately it was director Robert Eggers (‘The Witch’), who managed to snuck into the margins of the festival. ‘The Lighthouse’ stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as lighthouse keepers in the 1890s and is shot on 35 mm black & white filmstock, a format that is rarely used these days. Most of the plot is currently kept under wraps, but with ‘The Lighthouse’ Robert Pattinson continues his streak to work with the most formidable filmmakers around.
10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Dir. Céline Sciamma)
French actress Adèle Haenel is definitely the femme en vogue at this year’s festival with entries in the director’s fortnight-section (‘Deerskin’), the Critics week-section (‘Heroes don’t Die) and the official competition. With ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’, Haenel teams up with director Céline Sciamma (‘Girlhood’) for a period piece set at the end of the 18th century, chronicling the relationship between a female painter and her subject, a young woman who is about to get married. I adored Sciamma’s previous two features, ‘Water Lillies’ and ‘Girlhood’ so ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is definitely one of the more intriguing competition entries.