Despite a heavy police presence amid fears of terrorism, the 2016 Cannes Film Festival got underway on May 11, with an auteur-stocked lineup emblematic of the world’s most prestigious film festival. And, with the glorious cinephile wonderland returning for its 69th edition, it can only mean one thing: It’s time for us to round up the films shown around the Promenade de la Croisette.
With the latest films by heavyweights Shane Black and Steven Spielberg, plus new work from some of the globe’s most celebrated filmmakers, including Britain’s Ken Loach and Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar, the 2016 gathering of cinema’s best and brightest contains multitudes: the Oscars stuff, the commercial stuff and the artsy stuff.
So, without further ado, here are Hignsnobiety’s very own top 20 films coming out of Cannes this year.
Director: Pablo Larraín
Four years ago, Larraín scored a critical hit in the Directors’ Fortnight program with No, his political dramedy set during the final days of Pinochet’s reign of terror. The Chilean director is back in the Fortnight this year with a flick starring Luis Gnecco as the famous poet and politician during his years in exile and hiding, and subsequent pursuit by an investigator (played by Gael Garcia Bernal in a wonderfully comic performance).
Larraín, whose tonally varied work is always predicated on a precise marriage of style and subject matter, is the perfect director for this love letter to the poems of Pablo Neruda and to breathe fresh life into the great-artist biopic template.
Director: Steven Spielberg
There’s one reason Spielberg and Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book are such a neat fit: the director and his lead character are basically kindred spirits. The Big Friendly Giant (played by Mark Rylance), bottles dreams and puffs them into children’s heads at night: Spielberg, meanwhile, was inspired to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind by memories of watching a meteor shower with his father, and based E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on an imaginary friend he created to cope with his parents’ divorce.
With his BFG, he immerses us in a beautifully realized fantasy world, while providing us with all the feels with the film’s central relationship.
The Last Face
Director: Sean Penn
It’s been almost 10 years since Penn’s last directorial feature, Into the Wild. Now he’s back with his distinctive Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem and Adèle Exarchopoulos-starring drama.
Theron plays the director of an international aid agency in Africa, who meets a relief aid doctor (Bardem) during a political/social revolution. In the situation, they are presented with difficult choices when it comes to humanitarianism amidst civil unrest.
Director: Mohamed Diab
To explain the chaos that erupted after the Egyptian revolution, Diab has crafted an ingenious construct. Set in 2013, two years after the Tahrir Square protests (already covered excellently in Jehane Noujaim’s documentary The Square), his naturalistic drama is spent entirely in a police riot van in the midst of violent protests.
There’s a lesson or two about humanity to take away from Clash… You’ll end up being deeply disturbed but also perfectly illuminated by Diab’s work.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
The king of indie movie cool is back with Paterson, offering what might be the most attractive pairing of the festival: Adam Driver and the Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani. Driver is the bus driver who writes poetry and comes home to his loving wife (Farahani) who has dreams of her own.
Of his generation of US independent filmmakers, Jarmusch has stayed the course and stayed weird, while others fell by the wayside (Hal Hartley) or learned to work with the mainstream (Spike Lee, the Coens). Jarmusch is a Cannes mainstay and without a doubt the most rock’n’roll of filmmakers – our money’s on the fact that his latest entry will mystify quite a few diehard admirers.
Director: Kleber Mendonca Filhi
Brazilian director Filho’s Neighbouring Sounds was a hugely admired arthouse-circuit movie and his fascinatingly weird follow-up Aquarius gets a competition slot.
The movie follows 65-year-old Clara (Sonia Braga), a retired music writer and critic, widowed and alone in the apartment building Aquarius after her three grown children have moved away. Clara is pressured into selling her apartment by developers – a theme that seems to speak of the bigger picture of Brazil’s municipal corruption and malfeasance – oh, and she’s mastered the gift of time travel…
Director: Laura Poitras
Although he is still confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange will make an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival – via Laura Poitras’s documentary, which has been selected for the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar.
Poitras, who profiled another celebrated data warrior, Edward Snowden, in Citizenfour, filmed with Assange in 2010. Her film – originally entitled Asylum – is said to cover the period when the WikiLeaks data dumps were triggering international outrage.
Sweet Dreams (Fai bei sogni)
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Sweet Dreams is based on journalist Massimo Gramellini’s best-selling autobiographical novel about a boy’s grief over his mother’s death.
Bellocchio is an interesting visual director and begins the film with the memories of young Massimo, until his mother’s early and suspicious death sends him through the decades as an emotionally impaired man, fully embracing the melodrama of the source material.
Slack Bay (Ma Loute)
Director: Bruno Dumont
Slack Bay features a gallery of outrageous performances from French cinema A-listers including Juliette Binoche. Of course, all of them go wayyy over the top; even when Dumont is doing “funny,” you need to be prepared for a bunch of people to be killed, chopped up into tiny pieces, and fed to kids.
This time around, it’s summer 1910 and several tourists have vanished while relaxing on the beautiful beaches of the Channel Coast. Slack Bay ruminates on class, murder and French history – and does it all in the most bizarre way possible.
I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach
Loach‘s new film, that takes an uncompromising look at the UK’s welfare system, reduced critics at Cannes to tears.
The brutally moving drama, set in Newcastle (and shown at the event with subtitles in case people couldn’t understand the Geordie accent), tells the fictional story of carpenter Daniel Blake who suffers a heart attack and is told by doctors he can no longer work. Loach commented that “the most vulnerable people are told their poverty is their own fault… It is shocking.”
The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Shane Black is an old-school kind of guy – he’s littered movie theaters with sordid tales of L.A. for 30 years now, from 1987’s Lethal Weapon to 2013’s Iron Man 3 and his latest, The Nice Guys, doesn’t mess with that formula.
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star (and totally nail it!) as a pair of sound-hearted guys off on the trail of a missing porn star in the crime caper. It feels like a movie you should already be referencing as an example of the type of movie that studios don’t make anymore, but you can’t because it’s new.
It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la Fin Du Monde)
Director: Xavier Dolan
Canadian director Dolan, a positive veteran of Cannes with a clutch of features under his belt, is still – sickeningly – only 27-years-old.
His Mommy was a smash hit at Cannes in 2014 and now he is in competition once more with It’s Only the End of the World, with Lea Seydoux and Marion Cotillard. The flick – which follows a terminally ill writer who returns home after a long absence to tell his family that he’s dying – might be seen as a further, important test of Dolan’s sinew as a director, had he not already produced so much substantial work.
Director: Andrea Arnold
Shia LaBeouf has never looked worse or acted better than in Arnold’s scuzzy road movie following a crew of exploited teenagers who get an itinerant job in the Midwest, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.
The flick is continuously fascinating, expertly showing us youth in revolt and pleasure-seeking as a design for life. LaBeouf, sporting a ratty braided ponytail and covered in tattoos, gives a striking performance. And the film also features what is probably the hippest soundtrack of Cannes.
The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)
Director: Chan-wook Park
The acclaimed Korean filmmaker’s latest is a 1930s-set erotic thriller that prioritizes female sexuality and also stylized to within an inch of its life. It’s dripping in arty excess and still demands that you pay attention to its clever plot.
Premiering at Cannes exactly a year after the handsome yet overrated lesbian romance Carol, Park has provided us with something a bit more debauched; unlike Haynes’s chemistry-free drama, The Handmaiden is full of sex. As usual, Oldboy director Park has taken the material to extremes – what begins as a refined story of intrigue veers into unmistakeable NC-17 territory.
Tour de France
Director: Rachid Djaidani
If the prospect of watching an ageing Gerard Depardieu rap sounds to you like reason enough to see a movie, then this flick definitely delivers.
Tour de France follows a racist man forced to travel across France with a young rapper; Djaidani is using the film to serve as a gentle nudge for France’s more conservative population. It’s fresh cinematography and Gallic rap soundtrack keeps things upbeat throughout.
My Life As a Zucchini (Ma vie de courgette)
Director: Claude Barras
Barras’s quirky stop motion animation follows a nine-year-old boy nicknamed “Zucchini” by his alcoholic mother, who is orphaned following her sudden death and joins a foster home full of other children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
This is not the stuff of which kids’ movies are typically made, and while the flick falls into that zone of animation that’s mature enough for adults to appreciate, it deals frankly with the facts of life in a way that doesn’t scare younger audiences.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Almodóvar fit right in at this year’s Cannes, which was full of films that went over the top in dealing with unconventional topics and lots of sex… After all, the Spanish director has been doing that kind of thing for decades.
Based on three Alice Munro short stories, his Julieta follows our titular mother who has just lost her husband in Madrid. Her 18-year-old daughter also just ran away without any explanation. As Julieta attempts to find her, she realizes that she knows very little about her own child.
Director: Chloë Sevigny
Chloë Sevigny has a self-proclaimed disdain for directors now. To counter that, she’s stepping behind the camera and taking matters into her own hands.
Her directorial debut at Cannes is based on a Paul Bowles short story about a little girl who dreams of becoming a kitten and finds herself transformed into one. “I wanted to do kind of a throwback to those ‘80s films where they had an element of practical effects and makeup and stuff, and I could incorporate all that,” Sevigny commented.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols is fast becoming the American filmmaker to whom Cannes gives its blessing; his previous flicks Take Shelter and Mud both featured there and this year he returned with his new feature, Loving.
Based on a 2012 HBO documentary by Nancy Buirski called The Loving Story, the film is about a notorious 1958 legal case in the US, in which an interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving were imprisoned for getting married.
The Neon Demon
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Drive and Bronson director Refn brought The Neon Demon to Cannes this year, starring Jena Malone as an aspiring model who comes to L.A. and finds herself under attack from sinister forces. It’s a characteristically stylish film containing vampirism and cannibalism.
Speaking about his inspiration for the flick, Refn commented that, “one morning I woke and realized I was both surrounded and dominated by women. Strangely, a sudden urge was planted in me to make a horror film about vicious beauty.” Fine by us!