The French Riviera rolled out the red carpet again this year for 2017’s Cannes Film Festival, bringing with it a healthy dose of sophisticated cinema and the usual critics foreshadowing what pop culture is going to look like for the next 12 months, as well as a good smattering of morally depraved paparazzi, the kind of mad celebrity parties that we usually only expect from the Kardashians and – of course – some classic Cannes controversy.
Every iteration of the Cannes Film Festival needs some fussing and bickering to anchor it – it’s practically written into the festival’s programme. The festival controversy dividing audiences this year was between Netflix (which produced both Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories this year) and the professional association for movie theater owners, arguing over Netflix’s refusal to open the two films in theaters as part of their “exclusive content” strategy.
2017’s festival also reinforced its status as the home of politically charged cinema with a line-up that addressed the refugee crisis (and a bold new step into the world of virtual reality cinema), dystopian social experiments, mental health, and AIDS activists: there were more than enough fine caliber films to chew on for this year’s audiences. So, without further ado, here are the top 20 movies to look out for coming out of Cannes Film Festival 2017.
Director: Ruben Östlund
Östlund came to the fore when he won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2014 for his incredible Force Majeure. This time around, his comedy – the Palme d’Or winner that explores the dictatorship of political correctness – introduces us to an experimental artist who curates a social experiment involving an enclosed space in which people are told to behave responsibly.
This is a film that sets out to make your jaw drop – and it succeeds. Östlund’s surreal satire really brings some gobsmackingly weird spectacle, with moments of unsettling freakiness. The icing on the cake is that it stars Elisabeth Moss, who is quietly blowing our mind right now in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, alongside Dominic West and Terry Notary.
120 Beats Per Minutes / 120 Battements par minute
Director: Robin Campillo
This entry – from the scriptwriter of 2008’s Palme d’Or-winning The Class – is a great contribution to queer cinema, humanizing a historical tragedy as it tells a story about ACT UP in France in the late ’80s. While we’ve seen AIDS history on screen before, this new iteration about the direct action group is both tragic and heartening…
Let’s hope Campillo’s new movie will be given the distribution it deserves while AIDS rates are on the rise again.
Director: Michael Haneke
Having won the Palme d’Or with his last two films, The White Ribbon and Amour, it’s no surprise that Haneke’s latest has made this list. Happy End is a drama about a bourgeois family in Calais who are emotionally detached from the European refugee crisis. It stars Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant (both from Amour) alongside La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz.
Of course, given that it’s a Haneke movie, you’ll be waiting on the final flourish of violence or shock. Don’t worry, it’s coming: This is a black comedy of unadulterated sociopathy.
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Director Sean Baker made a big splash a couple of years ago with his iPhone-shot Tangerine. But so much more than just a shooting stunt, the movie about two transgender sex workers was one of the best of its year. Now Baker’s taken on Cannes with The Florida Project – this time shot on 35mm film – about a precocious six year-old and her ragtag group of friends whose summer break is filled with adventure,
Willem Dafoe, as the reluctant father-figure manager at the Orlando motel where this movie is set, gives probably one of the best film performances of his entire career.
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Napalm – a film whose title takes on true meaning by the end – is a documentary filmed around Pyongyang, where legendary filmmaker Lanzmann appears to have been given permission to film on the grounds that he is making a movie about Taekwondo. It’s actually an autobiographical account about his own incredible experience in North Korea in the late ’50s – a love story between himself and a North Korean Red Cross nurse.
Anyone who’s seen his Holocaust documentary Shoah knows that Lanzmann has a gift for telling really gripping stories – Napalm is definitely one of them.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
The Lobster might not have gotten the recognition it deserved, but Colin Farrell got nominated for Best Actor in the Golden Globes for his turn in the flick, and that has certainly upped Lanthimos’ profile in the States. Farrell stars again in this one, accompanied by Nicole Kidman and – brilliantly – Alicia Silverstone.
Inspired by a Euripides tragedy, the disturbing drama centers on a surgeon and a teenage boy who tries to integrate himself into the surgeon’s messed-up family. When the boy’s actions become increasingly sinister, the surgeon is forced to make a grim sacrifice.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Netflix invested $50m in Bong’s new film as soon as they caught a whiff of it. No big surprises there for anyone who’s seen Snowpiercer. His latest film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and Bill Nighy; the plot follows a young girl named Mija who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a giant mammal named Okja.
How can Netflix ever be content with just letting it go on the small screen? Apart from everything else, the incredible visuals would be shrunk down to the underwhelming size of an iPad… Still, Okja perseveres with its class-A storytelling.
The Meyerowitz Stories
Director: Noah Baumbach
The Meyerowitz Stories – from Frances Ha and Greenberg director Baumbach – is a funny tale of sibling rivalry and daddy issues and the huge letdown that is life, following an estranged family who gathers in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.
The comparison with Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums can’t really be avoided (Ben Stiller has a starring role, for a start), but it’s unique in its own way. There’s also some real warmth between the characters, and Stiller steals the show with his big speech about his dad.
Faces, Places / Visages, Villages
Director: Agnès Varda
In this documentary, Varda and her co-director travel to small French towns in his van, which is decorated like an enormous camera. Inside is a photo booth and, as the pair take pictures, they paste them as giant portraits on the sides of old houses and city walls.
The film’s varied subjects reflect upon seeing themselves, but also just speak their mind about other topics. Sometimes the film will make you laugh, sometimes you’ll want to cry: Varda’s an artistic great who’s also an exemplary human being. She inspires not just fandom but love.
Director: Sofia Coppola
Coppola’s Marie Antoinette grabbed the 2006 headlines for being booed at Cannes. But this is one filmmaker who writes and directs what she knows: the stories of troubled young women lost in their own worlds. The Beguiled is therefore the perfect film for a festival so desperate to correct its male bias.
An adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s American Civil War novel, the movie is set at a girls’ school in Virginia, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.
A Gentle Creature
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Loznitsa has only just given us his searing documentary Austerlitz, about modern-day consumerist and tourist attitudes to the Nazi concentration camps. So, it’s no real surprise that this Cannes entry is another solemn and antagonistic piece.
The Ukrainian film is inspired by the Dostoyevsky short story from 1876: a woman sends a parcel to her husband in jail, but receives it back marked “return to sender,” so she takes a trip in person find out what has happened. As you’d expect from a Dostoyevsky adaptation, it’s both unsettling and cathartically horrific.
Director: Chloé Zhao
Zhao had her debut feature Songs My Brothers Taught Me in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes two years ago, and she returns with this story about a young cowboy who – after suffering a near fatal head injury – undertakes a search for new identity and what it means to be a man in the heartland of America.
The harsh but beautiful scenery of the vast Dakota plains is juxtaposed against the reality of his physical and emotional recovery. It’s a somber study of what happens when your dreams are thwarted just as they were about to come true.
Flesh and Sand / Carne y Arena
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki
The Revenant director and his frequent director of photography treated Cannes audiences to this virtual reality installation this year. The immersive and sensually rather incredible VR experience, lasting around seven minutes, puts viewers in the shoes of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border.
Does it tell us or show us anything meaningful about the refugee issue? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s worth getting excited for, if only for the fact that Carne y Arena marks a new chapter in the way filmgoers consume stories.
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
A new experimental work by the late Abbas Kiarostami, 24 Frames appeared this year as a special screening. The director – who died of cancer last year – won the Palme d’Or for Taste of Cherry in 1997, premiered his last Competition film Like Someone in Love at Cannes five years ago, and finished work on this new project just shortly before his death in July last year.
Considered one of the greatest directors in contemporary world cinema, Kiarostami’s latest is a compilation project of short tableau pieces, each lasting 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Even from beyond the grave, the acclaimed filmmaker continues to find exciting new ways to get our attention.
Bright Sunshine In / Un beau soleil intérieur
Director: Claire Denis
French filmmaker Claire Denis is probably one of the best directors alive. She was previously nominated for the Palme d’Or in 1988 for Chocolat, and played in Un Certain Regard with Bastards in 2013. Her new comedy (unusually upbeat for this auteur) is inspired by Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments.
Juliette Binoche stars as Isabelle, a middle-aged Parisian artist, mother and divorcee who’s searching for romantic fulfillment by tirelessly wading through a series of exasperatingly annoying men in search of a partner with whom she can be herself.
Director: Eugene Jarecki
Do you want to meditate on what has happened to the American Dream using the symbolism of Elvis Presley as a storytelling device? Well, you may not realize it, but you do. Promised Land makes a surprisingly good case for explaining how people frequently vote against their interest.
Jarecki uses Presley’s career and influence to help us make sense of fame, power, corruption, self-destructive behaviour and pretty much all the other ills of the world, like why in hell poor people voted for Donald Trump. We’re all doomed, or at least that’s what the movie appears to be saying. Still, it’s fun finding out why.
Loveless / Nelyubov
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Hands down, Zvyagintsev should have won the top prize for his beautiful Leviathan in 2014. His new film is a mysterious story that puts his country (Russia) as the epitome of a moral collapse that leads to a complete destruction of all emotion. It is, quite literally, Loveless.
Following a couple going through divorce who must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their fights, Zvyagintsev’s imagined world shares – sadly but truly – plenty of similarities with our own: A place with insatiable lust for cash, seedy sexual encounters, luxury lifestyles, and social media affirmation… And yet all of it resting on conservative social norms of religion and nationalism.
12 Days / 12 jours
Director: Raymond Depardon
Depardon’s new documentary is centered around a judge who must decide whether psychiatric hospital patients are to be allowed back into society. The disturbing introduction of broken soul after broken soul is accompanied by eerie, rolling shots through the hospital’s corridors and a heart-wrenchingly great soundtrack by legendary Hollywood composer Alexandre Desplat.
The film protects the identities of the patients by changing their names, but their faces are still shown, begging the question: if someone is not fit to leave a psychiatric ward, can they really agree to be the subject of a doc? Still, whatever controversies surround it, it’s an interesting watch.
You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lynne Ramsay
We Need to Talk About Kevin director Lynne Ramsay has returned with a story about a war veteran’s attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring that goes horribly wrong: It’s a daring portrait of a very messed-up man.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, it’s adapted from a short novel of the same name and has been scored by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who’s worked with Ramsay before and also scored three Paul Thomas Anderson movies: There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice.
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Good Time, by indie filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, was described by its star Robert Pattinson as a “psychopath bank-robbery movie”. It follows a criminal over the course of a single frantic New York night, as he finds himself unable to evade those who are looking for him.
Anyone’s who’s familiar with the Safdie’s gnarly Heaven Knows What or Daddy Longlegs knows what this directing duo is capable of: they like to assemble a world of worryingly shady characters surrounded by threatening situations that seem both lifelike and surreal.
In case you missed the fashion on the Cannes red carpet, be sure to check out the glitz and glamour that went down.
- Lead Image: The Square / ARTE France Cinéma