Credit: Cannes Film Festival
Critics and cinephiles always greet the Cannes competition lineup with a familiar mix of excitement and scepticism. We’ll comment on the predictable choices and perplexing omissions. The surprise newcomers and the number of old favourites. The dearth of films directed by women, or the shortage or total lack of titles from a particular country or region, and so on.
The most foolhardy commentators even venture to predict which will be the most rewarding films, and which will walk away with the prizes, as if they’d already seen the films and knew intimately the tastes of the jury members.
The truth is that things are never so predictable – at least not until every film has screened. And even then there’s often no telling what a jury will do.
Until then, we can only assess the current ‘form’ of the directors included, which is made trickier this year by the welcome inclusion of a number of younger filmmakers who are new to the festival (few of them women, sadly).
Let’s look at the 21 hopefuls who will be competing for the favour of Cate Blanchett’s jury and the prestigious Palme d’Or.
Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows)
Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi first attracted attention at the Locarno and Berlin Film Festivals (his A Separation won the Golden Bear at the latter) before moving on to Cannes with the Paris-set The Past (2013) and The Salesman (2016). The fact that this latest, a Spanish-language film with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, will open Cannes 2018 suggests that he’s now regarded as a Cannes regular.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan (The Wild Pear Tree)
Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan first appeared in Cannes in 1995 with his very first short, Cocoon, and returned a few years later with his third feature, Uzak, which won a couple of major prizes in the main competition. Since then, he’s competed for the Palme d’Or with every single film he’s made, winning an array of awards until he finally hit gold with Winter Sleep. (Many, this writer included, felt he also deserved the top prize with the earlier Once upon a Time in Anatolia.) This is his first film since his triumph in 2014.
Stéphane Brizé (At War)
Writer-director Stéphane Brizé had already made a name for himself in France as a purveyor of superior low-key realism with films such as Not Here to Be Loved (2007) and Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) before he made it into the Cannes competition with The Measure of a Man (2015). That was about the ethics of contemporary work practice and boasted Vincent Lindon as the lead alongside a cast of non-professionals; this new film, also with Lindon, looks as if it does something similar.
Sergey Dvortsevoy (Ayka (My Little One))
Remarkably, this is the first film by Kazakhstan’s Sergey Dvortsevoy since Tulpan, which screened and carried off the prize in the Un Certain Regard strand in the 2008 edition of Cannes. Before that he had made some very fine documentaries, so we should probably expect further poetic realism from this, his debut in the main competition.
Matteo Garrone (Dogman)
Italy’s Matteo Garrone first competed in Cannes in 2008 with his sixth feature, Gomorrah, which won the Grand Jury prize – as, indeed, did his Fellini-esque follow-up, Reality, in 2012. The English-language fantasy Tale of Tales screened in competition but won no prizes. This latest sees him returning to his native language.
Jean-Luc Godard (Le Livre d’image)
Though eternal enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard, now 87, has probably been associated with Cannes longer than any living director, his early films tended to premiere (and win prizes) in Berlin and Venice. It was only upon his return to (comparatively) commercial filmmaking in the early 1980s, with Slow Motion and Passion, that he began competing in Cannes. Since then, his work has consistently been selected, though in recent years he has frequently stayed away from the melée, letting inscrutable works like Film Socialisme (2010) and Goodbye to Language (2014) speak for themselves.
Yann Gonzalez (Knife + Heart)
With his second feature Yann Gonzalez makes his debut in Cannes’ main competition (though he has had shorts play in the Directors’ Fortnight). His first feature, You and the Night (2013), was about an orgy; this new one seems to be something to do with the porn film world of the late 70s and a serial killer. Apparently something of a romantic, he has spoken of his dislike of realism, and he works regularly with actors Kate Moran and Nicolas Maury. To them, this time around, he’s added Vanessa Paradis.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Asako I & II)
Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi is also a first-timer in Cannes. The sometime documentarist had a hit at the Locarno Film Festival with 2015’s Happy Hour, which ran more than five hours and was developed out of workshops with non-professional actors. His intimate character studies frequently return to the themes of theatricality, performance and relationships.
Christophe Honoré (Sorry Angel (Plaire, aimer et courir vite))
Christophe Honoré first came to the attention of international filmgoers with 2004’s Ma mère, starring Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel. His 17 Times Cécile Cassard had played in the Un Certain Regard strand two years earlier, but he didn’t make it into the Cannes competition until 2007, with the musical Les Chansons d’Amour. Since then only Beloved has screened at the Festival, out of competition in 2011.
Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun)
Having attracted attention – and received mixed reviews – with her second feature, the 2015 sex-party saga Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), France’s Eva Husson makes her Cannes competition debut with her third feature. About women caught up in the military conflict in Kurdistan, it sounds a rather different affair.
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash Is Purest White)
Jia Zhang-ke, the foremost Chinese director of his generation, has become a Cannes regular ever since his third feature, Unknown Pleasures, played in competition in 2002. Consistently working with actress Tao Zhao (they married in 2012), Jia has used both fiction (A Touch of Sin; Mountains May Depart) and forms of documentary (24 City; I Wish I Knew) to chart the many changes in his homeland.
- Watch Mountains May Depart online on BFI Player
- Watch A Touch of Sin online on BFI Player
- Watch 24 City online on BFI Player
Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters)
Already known for Maborosi (1996) and After Life (1998), Hirokazu Koreeda first attended Cannes in 2001 when his Distance was selected for the main competition. Since then his mostly gentle, perceptive domestic dramas have frequently been selected both for the main competition (Nobody Knows; Like Father, like Son; Our Little Sister) and for the Un Certain Regard strand (Air Doll; After the Storm). Like Ozu, to whom he’s often compared, Koreeda is particularly good on family life.
Nadine Labaki (Capernaum)
Caramel, the first feature written and directed by Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki, was such a success when it screened in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2007 that few were surprised when her 2011 follow-up, Where Do We Go Now?, made it into the Un Certain Regard strand. Her films to date have mixed politics – particularly the plight of women – and popular cinema to winning effect. Her third feature, now bringing her to the main competition, looks likely to adopt a similar approach.
Lee Chang-dong (Burning)
It’s eight years since Lee Chang-dong – a playwright and novelist turned filmmaker, not to mention South Korea’s somewhat reluctant Minister of Culture and Tourism for a couple of years – was last in Cannes’ main competition with Poetry, which won him the best screenplay award. Prior to that, Secret Sunshine (2007) had gained Lee a place in the competition, his second feature Peppermint Candy having screened in the Directors’ Fortnight in 2000.
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Spike Lee is a Cannes veteran, even if he’s no longer the frequent visitor to the festival that he was in the 1980s and 90s, when he regularly alternated between the official selection and the Directors’ Fortnight. A Fortnight screening of his feature debut She’s Gotta Have It brought him renown in 1986, Do the Right Thing made it into the main competition in 1989, and Jungle Fever did likewise two years later. Girl 6 and Summer of Sam followed, out of competition, soon afterwards.
David Robert Mitchell (Under the Silver Lake)
David Robert Mitchell first had a film screen in Cannes in 2010 when his debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover was selected for the Critics’ Week. Four years later he was invited back to the same section with the acclaimed horror movie It Follows. His third feature marks the first time he’s been in the main competition for the Palme d’Or.
Jafar Panahi (Three Faces)
Though Jafar Panahi’s first film in Cannes was his feature debut The White Balloon, which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight back in 1995, he has only had two further films play in the festival until this year’s contestant in the main competition. That’s partly because his films have also premiered in Venice and Berlin; partly, perhaps, because the Iranian authorities have limited his output. In 2003, Crimson Gold screened in the Un Certain Regard strand (your humble writer was on the jury that awarded it), while This Is Not a Film, secretly smuggled out of Iran in 2011, was given a special out-of-competition slot.
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Pawel Pawlikowski first made his name making fine documentaries for the BBC, before moving on to writing and directing features. His second and third features, Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004) were well received, but it was 2013’s Ida, made in his native Poland, which really put him on the map, winning an array of awards (including the Oscar for best foreign language film) around the world. His latest, which is backed by the BFI Film Fund, is his first film in competition at Cannes.
Alice Rohrwacher (Lazzaro Felice)
Besides making a couple of documentaries, Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher has made a couple of features prior to this year’s Cannes contestant. The first, Corpo celeste (2011), played in Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight, but it was The Wonders, which made it into the main competition and won the Grand Jury Prize in 2014, which brought her to the attention of a wider public. That film, like her latest, starred her sister Alba Rohrwacher.
Abu Bakr Shawky (Yomeddine)
The Egyptian writer-director Abu Bakr Shawky is a first-timer in Cannes, and his Palme d’Or contestant is his first feature. He has directed only a handful of documentary shorts before, so very few people will know what to expect.
Kirill Serebrennikov (Summer)
Having had features premiere at the Locarno and Venice festivals, Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov made his Cannes debut in 2016 with The Student, which met with a sharply divided critical reception when it played in the Un Certain Regard strand. His latest marks his first appearance in the main competition.