The Cannes Film Festival starts Wednesday, lifting the veil on hotly anticipated movies from acclaimed international and American directors, be they potential blockbusters or critical darlings (or both). This year, it’ll be the first place most audiences get a look at Mad Max: Fury Road, Woody Allen’s Joaquin Phoenix comedy-drama Irrational Man, and Pixar’s new Inside Out. But since you probably know a lot about those already, let’s focus on films that are flying under the radar instead. From star-studded dramas to idiosyncratic works from heralded iconoclasts, here’s what I’m looking forward to most.
Filmmaker Todd Haynes hasn’t made a feature since 2007’s I’m Not There—in 2011, he directed the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce—but his latest seems to recall the milieu of 2002’s Far From Heaven. In Carol, he again takes aim at the conformity of the 1950s, telling the story of a married woman (Cate Blanchett) having an affair with a young department-store clerk (Rooney Mara). If reviews are strong enough, Blanchett could be a major contender for the festival’s Best Actress prize.
Cemetery of Splendor
His birth name is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but the Thai filmmaker who won the festival’s top prize for his 2010 feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is better known by his nickname, Joe. His movies tend toward the elliptical and experimental—it’s not uncommon for him to split them into two distinct halves—and often deal with fantasy elements. His latest sounds like it will continue in that dreamlike vein: According to the press notes, Cemetery of Splendor is about a “lonesome middle-age housewife who tends a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms, and romance.” Joe’s movies aren’t so much about their stories as they are about how he tells them.
A few years ago, nobody knew the name of Jeremy Saulnier, a filmmaker struggling to put together money for his revenge thriller about a drifter who goes after his parents’ killer. Then, in 2013, Saulnier’s Blue Ruin hit Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel festival held at the same time as Cannes. (It’s not a great comparison, Slamdance is to Sundance.) Blue Ruin was a hit, and now Saulnier is back at Directors’ Fortnight with Green Room, in which a punk band finds itself in a life-or-death showdown with white-power skinheads (including Patrick Stewart). Can Saulnier deliver down-and-dirty genre magic twice in a row?
The most unabashedly provocative filmmaker this side of Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) returns with Love, which, apparently, isn’t so much about love as it is about lust. A romantic triangle is at the heart of Love, and it appears the film is almost three hours long, in 3D and possibly pornographic. If you doubt Noé’s desire to shock, just check out Love’s very very very NSFW poster, and remember that the director has claimed “I hope guys will have erections and girls will get wet.” Let’s hope it’s more intellectually stimulating than von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.
Longtime fans of Michael Fassbender have loved the ferocity he brought to performances in Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, and the soulful work he’s done in films such as Shame and Jane Eyre. (Don’t forget the pure star presence he’s lent to the X-Men prequels: It’s not easy filling Ian McKellen’s shoes.) There aren’t many actors I’d more want to see play Macbeth than him. He’s teaming up with Snowtown director Justin Kurzel for this latest adaptation of the Shakespeare tale of murder and ambition, with Marion Cotillard playing Lady Macbeth. If you’re not interested in the Bard, you might be interested to hear that these three will be reuniting very soon for a completely different project: They’re making a movie out of Assassin’s Creed.
Celebrated Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon, Three Times) is known for his quiet, thoughtful, beautiful dramas. But for his first movie in seven years, he’s shifting gears, delivering a martial-arts flick. The Assassin is Hou’s most epic and most expensive effort and the director has been shooting for 15 months. Honestly, the more you read about The Assassin, the more it sounds like his Apocalypse Now: a big, troubled production that could turn out to be a massive folly or some kind of masterpiece. Those are the sorts of go-for-broke movies I’m always dying to see.
The Brand New Testament
One of the most intriguing oddities at Cannes this year is The Brand New Testament, which is billed as a dark comedy that imagines that God is just an ordinary schlub (Benoît Poelvoorde) living in Brussels with a wife and bratty young daughter. But when the daughter decides to lash out at mean ol’ Dad, she leaks God’s confidential files online about when humanity will end, ultimately freaking out the entire planet. The movie comes from Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, who previously made the strong humanist fantasy films Toto the Hero and Mr. Nobody. (The latter starred Jared Leto a couple years before he won the Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.) Is Van Dormael courting controversy and risking being accused of sacrilege? Or is this more of a cheeky comedy about the end times?
Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth was a festival-circuit sensation and one of the most upsetting films of recent years, as the story followed an unconventional family where the parents had brainwashed their children into believing that the outside world was utterly dangerous. (Amazingly, Dogtooth got an Oscar nomination in the usually staid Best Foreign Language Film category.) The Greek director’s latest could be comparably provocative. The Lobster, his first English-language film, envisions a future in which all single people must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal. (And you thought life in The Maze Runner was grim.) The cast includes Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux and John C. Reilly — who, by the way, will also be at Cannes for the fantasy fairy-tale film The Tale of Tales and the Muslim fundamentalist drama The Cowboys.
The Sea of Trees
Lately, Gus Van Sant makes basically two types of movies: intimate, impressionistic studies (Elephant, Gerry, Paranoid Park) and more mainstream art-house fare (Milk, Promised Land). It sounds like The Sea of Trees is in the former category, telling the story of two depressed men (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) who meet each other while wandering Japan’s so-called “Suicide Forest.” Instead of killing themselves, they go on a journey through the woods. McConaughey said early this year of The Sea of Trees, “Everyone is going to leave the theater and have their own walk and talk through the parking lot to muse about its meanings, what it was about and what it wasn’t, what was real and what was a dream.” If you dig Van Sant’s more poetic, wandering films, The Sea of Trees could be right up your alley.
Just as certain American cities become the new “hot scene” in music—say, Seattle, Austin or Portland—so too can up-and-coming filmmakers who hail from the same home country. Ten years ago, the Romania New Wave was christened thanks to the appearance of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu at Cannes. In subsequent years, more films from Romanian directors—specifically, the Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—helped cement this movement of realistic, bare-bones dramas that often took place over a short period of time and dealt with a deceptively simple storyline. (4 Months, for instance, was about a woman’s quest to get an abortion.) Corneliu Porumboiu, whose Police, Adjective was a dark comedy about a potential drug bust, comes to the festival with The Treasure, which is said to be about two men fighting over a treasure buried in one of the men’s backyards. As always with Romanian films, that plot doesn’t sound very fascinating, but hopefully as per norm it will lead to a rich character piece. (And it’s not the only Romanian film in the lineup: Tuesday, After Christmas director Radu Muntean will present One Floor Below, which concerns an ordinary man who witnesses a murder.)
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