For such a highly anticipated event, the Cannes Film Festival tends to contain a fairly predictable lineup: The Official Selection focuses on established auteurs whose work lands a coveted slot at the flashy gathering on autopilot. That was certainly the case last year, when the 2016 edition opened with a Woody Allen movie and featured new work from the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Nicolas Winding Refn, the Dardennes brothers and Olivier Assayas.
But we live in unpredictable times, and judging by today’s announcement of the Official Selection for Cannes 2017, even the world’s most powerful festival isn’t impervious to change. This year’s Cannes is filled with surprises: television and virtual reality, some intriguing non-fiction selections, and a whole lot of unknown quantities that push the festival in fresh directions.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few familiar names that stand out. Todd Haynes is back at Cannes just a few years after making waves with “Carol,” and he’s joined by the likes of Sofia Coppola, Michael Haneke, Hong Sangsoo, and Yorgos Lanthimos — only a few of the major auteurs who have cracked the competition before. Cannes wouldn’t be Cannes without them. But it’s refreshing to see a few twists to this familiar narrative.
There are only 18 films in the venerated competition section so far, which is a rather small number (the festival usually shows around 20), so expect some last-minute additions. Cannes loves to keep us on the edge of our seats.
In the meantime, here are some of the biggest surprises from this year’s program.
Cannes Caves to TV and VR
Even as television has taken on greater prominence in the cultural landscape, Cannes has resisted providing any formal showcase for it, stubbornly asserting that it only screened cinema as it has been traditionally understood. But with so many top-tier filmmakers turning to TV, it was only a matter of time before this policy started to change.
It’s doing that in typically high-profile fashion in 2017, with David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” slated to preview two episodes timed to its Showtime premiere (Lynch previously screened “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” at the festival) and Jane Campion’s second season of “Top of the Lake” landing a spot as well (the first installments of “Top of the Lake” was relegated to the Directors Fortnight sidebar). Naturally, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux downplayed the move. “Even series, unless proven otherwise, are using the classic art of cinema,” he said, calling Lynch and Campion “filmmakers and friends of the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a way to give news to people we like.” Meanwhile, festival president Pierre Lescure addressed the “Cannes Series,” a TV festival taking place in the city next April. “We’ll be very watchful of how it happens,” he said. “It should be complimentary.”
But that’s not the only way forward-looking programming decision in this year’s lineup. Acknowledging another shift in contemporary media, the festival will also contain a virtual reality work, once again from a renowned auteur: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s “Flesh and Sand,” which the filmmaker produced alongside cinematography superstar Emmanuel Lubezki. “It’s already an aesthetic practice being used by directors,” Fremaux said. “The way the Lumiere brothers impressed us back then, it’s the same way with VR now.”
Netflix Makes the Cut
Netflix has had a notoriously complicated relationship with Cannes over the years, going back to when the company’s “Beasts of No Nation” didn’t premiere at the festival, which lead to assumptions that Netflix’s minimal interest in theatrical distribution put it at odds with a festival that celebrated the big screen. This year, the rumor mill suggested that nothing would change: David Michod’s “War Machine” isn’t a part of this year’s lineup, and word on the street suggested that Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” — recently acquired by Netflix — would wind up in Directors’ Fortnight.
Instead, Netflix is making a big play at Cannes this year: The Adam Sandler-starring “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” will be one of two movies released by the company in this year’s Cannes competition, screening alongside Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja.” (Fremaux hinted at the possibility that another distributor might put “Meyerowitz” into theaters, but didn’t elaborate.)
The Korean genre director hasn’t played at Cannes since 2009’s “Mother,” which went to the Un Certain Regard sidebar, so the decision to put “Okja” — the story of a supernatural being that protects a young woman from being kidnapped — in competition marks a long-overdue top-billing for the renowned director.
“The Cannes Film Festival is a lab,” Fremaux said at today’s press conference, calling Amazon and Netflix “new operators” in the film industry and noting that Netflix was joined by Amazon Studios this year, as the company produced Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck.” Fremaux’s acknowledgement of these companies was a reminder of another key factor in this year’s lineup…
No Hollywood Studios
Nothing from Sony. Nothing from Universal. Nothing from Warner Bros. Nothing from Fox. All of these companies have used Cannes in various ways over the years, from opening night slots to competition entries. This time, they’ve stayed away — either because Cannes wasn’t interested, or much of Hollywood doesn’t see a justification for the cost — but their absence speaks volumes about the ever-changing identity of the film industry.
A Trio of Women
Cannes is often slammed for not giving enough exposure to women directors in its Official Competition. This looks like another year bound to generate similar controversy, as only three women directors are featured in this year’s competition. Plenty of people expected Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” an erotic thriller based on Thomas Cullinan novel, to make it into competition. It did, alongside Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran trying to save a young woman from sex trafficking (Ekaterina Samsonov, also in “Wonderstruck”). Then there’s Cannes regular Naomi Kawase from Japan, whose movies are often screened at the festival even as they remain unreleased in much of the world. Her latest, “Radiance,” is also a part of the lineup. Needless to say, there will be plenty of discussions in the weeks to come about new films from women directors that could have made it in this year.
Safdies Crack Competition
New York-based sibling directors Joshua and Benny Safdie have quietly snuck into the Cannes ranks over the years. Their debut “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” was the only American film in Directors’ Fortnight in 2007, and it was followed up there by “Daddy Longlegs.” Their more recent work has screened at other festivals, although the gritty junkie drama “Heaven Knows What” had the kind of scope and sophistication of directors on the brink of wider acclaim. Now they’re about to get it with “Good Time,” a competition selection starring Robert Pattinson alongside Benny Safdie as thieving siblings escaping a threat to their lives over the course of one tense night; Pattinson is said to portray a mentally disabled character, a risky move for any actor but one that will be an especially intriguing gamble for these audacious filmmakers to pull off.
“Good Time” is one of our films from A24, riding high after its Oscar success with “Moonlight.” The company also has Yorgos Lanthimos’ reportedly unsettling “The Killing of the Sacred Deer” in competition, while “Prayer Before Dawn” and John Cameron Mitchell’s sci-fi love story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” are heading to midnight. A24’s substantial presence this year, alongside the Netflix news, is further proof of Cannes reflecting major shifts in the film business.
Hong Sangsoo Gets Two
Korean director Hong Sang-soo cranks out one playful movie about neurotic characters who drink a lot of soju on autopilot, so it’s no surprise he’s got a movie ready for competition with “Clair’s Camera,” his second collaboration with Isabelle Huppert (their first project together, “The Day He Arrives,” was also a Cannes competitor). “Clair’s Camera” will screen out of competition, but it turns out this is a particularly productive time for Hong, and he’s got a second film that will screen in competition called “The Day After.” This pair join Hong’s “On the Beach at Night Alone” (which premiered at Berlinale in February) to make for a trio of new films from the director hitting festivals this year — unless he has something ready for the fall. Not much is known about “The Day After,” but if there isn’t any soju in it, we just don’t what to believe anymore.
Four for Nicole
Every year, there are major actors who show up in multiple Cannes titles, and the festival becomes a de facto platform for their talents. That certainly seems to be the case for Nicole Kidman this year. Fresh off acclaim for “Big Little Lies” and an Oscar nomination for “Lion,” Kidman will show up in four Official Selection titles: Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Sofia Coppola’s ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” and Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake.” Expect to see her name a lot in the weeks to come.
Surprise Documentary Contenders
Cannes has rarely been a hospitable arena for non-fiction storytelling, with “Waltz With Bashir” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” standing out as major counterexamples. But there are usually a few documentaries in the lineup, and the ones that made the cut this time around are particularly diverse and unpredictable. These include Eugene Jarecki’s “Promised Lands,” which focuses on the late career of Elvis Presley. (Jarecki previously won the Sundance grand jury prize for his war-on-drugs chronicle “The House I Live In.”) On a totally different wavelength, Claude Lanzmann — the iconic director of Holocaust chronicle “Shoa” — will return to Cannes at the age of 90 to screen “Napalm,” which chronicles a recent trip he took to North Korea at a particularly timely moment.
Of course, it helps to be a part of the Cannes family. Vanessa Redgrave has the kind of global stardom that automatically puts her on the festival’s radar, and that couldn’t have hurt her ability to get personal documentary “Sea Sorrow” into the lineup. The movie is a first-person chronicle of the refugee crisis through the lens of the actress’ own experiences as a child during WWII.
If there’s one thing Cannes loves more than stars, it’s name directors. So it’s only natural for the festival to provide some room for “Faces, Villages,” the latest non-fiction essay from Agnes Varda, which is co-directed by JR (Cohen Media will release it in the U.S.). The legendary New Wave filmmaker walks on water at the festival, but it’s been ages since she screened a feature there, so this will be a welcome occasion to remind audiences that the 88-year-old director is very much still in the game.
An Opening Shock
The Cannes opening night film is often a crapshoot. It has provided a platform for everything from subpar studio films (“The Da Vinci Code”) to beloved work from major directors (“Moonrise Kingdom”). This year’s opening night slot allows the festival to celebrate one of its own country’s most beloved directors — Arnaud Desplechin, whose “Ismael’s Ghosts” features a sprawling cast of French stars including Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel and Matheiu Amalric. (Magnolia has already acquired the U.S. rights.)
It’s a big change for Desplechin, whose last film “My Golden Years” was denied a competition slot at Cannes and wound up in Directors’ Fortnight instead. “Ismael’s Ghosts” won’t make it into competition, either, but the opening night will give it additional exposure. Meanwhile, the French film many people expected to land the opening night slot, Michel Hazanavicius’ Godard biopic “Redoubtable,” will instead screen in competition.
“Loveless” at the Last Minute
At the press conference, Fremaux noted that he had been working until 3 a.m. to finalize this year’s lineup, which as usual came down to last-minute screenings. One of these was Andrey Zyvagintesv’s long-awaited followup to “Leviathan.” The Russian director previously won the screenplay prize at the festival for his grim, sprawling look at corruption and religious guilt; now he’s back with “Loveless,” the story of a couple that goes searching for their missing son after he runs away following a dispute. Few have seen this one, but Zyvagintesv’s such a commanding presence in international cinema that has instantly become a must-see.
Fremaux noted “a rebirth of Russian filmmaking,” and that includes Zyvagintesv’s company in competition from Sergei Lozntisa, whose “A Gentle Creature” marks his return to the festival as well. (Fremaux called it “a road movie about Russia,” although official reports say that it’s a modern update to a Dostoyevsky short story about a woman searching for her incarcerated husband). These name directors will be joined by a newcomer in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, Kantemir Balagov, who will premiere his first feature “Closeness.”
As usual, there was no shortage of French films throughout the Cannes lineup, but many of them haven’t had Cannes exposure in quite some time. This includes the aforementioned Desplechin, premiering his film on opening night, and Hazanivicius, who last came to competition with the ill-received “The Search” in 2014. “Le Redoubtable,” which stars Louis Garrel as a young Jean-Luc Godard, could be the director’s shot at comeback. The prolific Francois Ozon just premiered his black-and-white period drama “Frantz” last fall, and already has a film ready for this year’s competition with “L’amant Double.”
There’s also Jacques Doillon with his first film in four years (“Love Battles” was a sleeper hit at Cannes). His new feature “Rodin” stars Vincent Lindon as the famous sculptor and the relationship he forms with a young Camille Claudel. Another notable competition director is Robin Campillo, whose “120 Beats Per Minute” follows AIDS activist group ACT UP in the early nineties. Campillo wrote the screenplay for Palme d’Or-winner “The Class,” but his two earlier films didn’t play in competition.
But one major French name was missing from the lineup…
Provocateur Bruno Dumont has played at Cannes on numerous occasions, most recently with last year’s surreal entry “Slack Bay.” He’s putting the finishing touches on a Joan of Arc musical called “Jeanette,” which would seem like a shoo-in for Cannes if it was completed in time — but it looks like Dumont will be sitting this one out. Expect to see “Jeanette” later this year.
Japan on the Side
Fremaux hinted that a Chinese film might be added to the official selection later, but made no mention of Japan. The festival did program Kawase in competition, but other than that, Japan has been pushed to the sidelines. Takashi Miike cranks out movies in his sleep, and Cannes finds room for them whenever possible, so this year’s genre entry “Blade of the Immortal” will show out of competition even though it will already have opened in Asia by the time the festival starts. Meanwhile, another major Japanese director will screen in Un Certain Regard: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Cure”) will premiere his alien invasion drama “Before We Vanish” there.
And Iran, Too
Iran’s Mohammed Rasoulof comes to Cannes with regularity, and his searing portraits of his country’s oppressive government tend to make waves. His last film, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” was a sleeper hit in Un Certain Regard but later yielded a high profile tribute for the director in Telluride. Now he’s back in UCR with “Dregs,” which Fremaux said the filmmaker had previously submitted to the festival last year in an unfinished form. Little information is available on this one, but it’s expected to provide another critical look at Iranian leadership at an especially potent moment in global politics.
No Dice for Lucretia Martel
We’re long overdue for another Lucretia Martel movie. The Argentine director’s hypnotic storytelling approach has been a key factor in catapulting Latin American cinema to the world stage, but due to an illness, she hasn’t made a movie since 2008’s “The Headless Woman.” That movie was a Cannes breakout, so it seemed reasonable to assume that her long-awaited followup “Zama” would come to France this year. However, the movie is produced by Cannes jury president Pedro Almodovar, and that conflict of interest means that it couldn’t play in competition. Instead, “Zama” will play at a festival later this year, likely to avoid a less prestigious out of competition slot at Cannes.
High Profile Shorts
Cannes is not known for its short films, although the Cinefoundation section does tend to be the place to discover new talent. But there will be a few reasons to pay attention to Cannes shorts this year, and one of them will be a somber occasion. The festival will screen “24 Frames,” the final work by Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami, who was gearing up to direct another feature before his death last year. Additionally, Cannes has found a way to bring Kristen Stewart back to the festival one year after she attended as the star of Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” this time as an aspiring auteur herself. Her short “Come Swim,” which was commissioned by Refinery 29, premiered at Sundance in January — but will now provide a platform for Stewart to announce her directing ambitions to a larger cinephile audience.
A Familiar Slot For Harvey
It wouldn’t be Cannes without a little exposure for The Weinstein Company. This doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting time for the distributor, which made no big acquisitions at Sundance and came home from the Oscars empty-handed. But the company has the distinction of providing the only feature from Sundance 2017 at this year’s festival. The icy noir “Wind River” wasn’t a smash hit when it premiered at the festival, but was seen as a solid directorial debut from “Hell or High Water” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Since the acclaimed “Hell or High Water” premiered in UCR, it’s no surprise that Cannes would be especially open to offering more exposure to one of that film’s key contributors. So Sheridan will come to Cannes with “Wind River” in UCR, and the Weinstein will have another reason to throw a party. No matter what changes at Cannes, at least some things stay the same.