10 cinematic standouts to know from this year’s Cannes Film Festival

Updated on May 23 2018

Every film awards ceremony this year has been more political than the last. In the current socio-political climate, where Trumpism, the conversation surrounding #MeToo, and violence against the marginalised continue to dominate the daily lives of many, it is not hard to see why such prominent platforms have been employed by celebrities to take a firm stand against these injustices.

The recent Cannes Film Festival 2018 was not bereft of such tensions. Cate Blanchett, who was on the festival jury this year, linked arms with 82 other women to march on the red carpet for gender equality in the film industry. Eighty-two denoted the number of female directors who have walked the steps of Cannes since its advent in 1946, as opposed to the 1,688 male directors who have taken the same path.

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Such in-your-face political messages also formed the overtones for many of the films that were screened and acquired acclaim at the festival. All art is inherently political, after all, and it is admirable to see that Cannes became another site for the conjunction between cinema and activism this year.

Where politics form the left arm of film, entertainment remains the firm right. Here, we’ve curated 10 of the most engaging, conversation-worthy cinematic pieces that screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2018. The anticipation for these to screen at our local theatres is off-the-charts.

Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or for Shoplifters, making him the second Asian in all of Cannes’ 71-year history to attain the prestigious trophy. Prize or not, Shoplifters should be at the top of your watch list. It is a story of the poor, blue-collar Shibata family, who attempt to alleviate their poverty through petty scams. No one in the family is exempt from this hand-to-mouth mode of living, be it is their youngest child or the elderly grandmother.

Shoplifters is a film that carefully questions Japan’s economic inequalities via its heart-wrenching attempt to answer what shapes a family — a quintessentially Japanese film that will linger in your mind for a long time to come.

Whitney (dir. Kevin Macdonald)

Whitney Houston remains a whirlwind that many biographers try to reckon with. Her rise-and-fall narrative may not be the most unusual in an industry driven by self-destruction, but Houston’s grip over many hearts, even today, makes her story one that many creatives try to do justice to time again.

Whitney is the second biopic of the soul starlet released in the span of a year, this time by Scottish director Kevin Macdonald. His creative weaving of archival footage, montages, and interviews with her family members make Whitney a charged journey through Houston’s stardom, as it tries to unravel the answer to her tragic demise. You don’t have to be a fan of Houston to appreciate the tale within.

Solo (dir. Ron Howard)

Yes, it’s another Star Wars film. No, it does not answer how Hans Solo managed to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs on the Millennium Falcon, nor is it a particularly noteworthy addition to the franchise (what did we expect, really?). All that being said, Solo does push the right buttons for fans of the Disneyfied Star Wars facelift, with bits of witty humour and fun escapades thrown into the mix.

As for the diehard loyalists to the OG series, there is some nostalgic pleasure to be had in watching the meeting between Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and the titular hero take place for the first time. Solo is a crowd-pleaser all around.

Blackklansman (dir. Spike Lee)

Despite its setting in the early-70s, Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is one of the biggest cinematic up-yours to both Donald Trump’s administration and the lack of Afro-American representation in the media yet. Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black policeman in Colorado who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the guise of his white colleague, Flip Zimmerman; and becomes the head of its chapter, the audacious plot is just one part of why Lee’s drama ought to be at the top of your viewing list.

The arresting cinematography by Chayse Irvin (the artist who shot Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”) is another, but the tightly-controlled political statement broadcasted in Blackkklansman is the tour de force that will keep viewers going back to the film again. It is no surprise that Lee’s opus won the Grand Prix prize at the festival.

Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski)

The director of Oscar-winning Ida returns with another high-contrast black-and-white opus that will break your heart. Cold War is a love story set in the decade of the actual Russo-American conflict, loosely inspired by the tale of director Pawel Pawlikowski’s own parents.

The plot is centred on show business in the USSR in the ’50s, where a singer and a pianist fall into a love ultimately unsustainable because of pressures from the extreme ideological landscape both are bound to. The story that drives Cold War teases, satisfies, then robs you of joy, while its cinematic and musical dexterity forms the salve that keeps you glued to the screen. Pawlikowski won Best Director at Cannes for this film, and deservedly so.

Three Faces (dir. Jafar Panahi)

Anytime the words “banned” comes as a prefix to an artwork, you know the piece will be pounced upon by critics like a bear on a honeycomb. Multi-award-winning director, Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces is a film made during Panahi’s 20-year ban from filmmaking and travel, imposed on him by the Iranian government.

The spare plot centres around a suicide-mystery of a young ingenue. Panahi and an actress, Behnaz Jafari, who both play themselves, attempt to extract information about the budding star’s suicide, and, to some extent, whether she killed herself at all. Equally pared-down camerawork accompanies the characters as they embark on the quest for truth, and this leanness is what makes Three Faces a charming testament to the best of Iranian cinema.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (dir. Bi Gan)

If a Wong Kar Wai film and one of Haruki Murakami’s more surrealistic novels (think Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) had a child, it would be Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Its virtuosic Chinese director, Bi Gan, gained widespread acclaim for his 2015 debut, Kaili Blues, and his latest Cannes Un Certain Regard entrant feels like an extension of the cinematic innovations he employed in the earlier work.

This lyrical project follows a man searching on for his lost love in his hometown, which sounds conventional enough, until it delves into a mesmerising 55-minute long take, shot entirely in 3D. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a neo-expressionistic odyssey that astounds with beauty and ambition — you won’t bear to leave your seats when it is over.

Samouni Road (dir. Stefano Savona)

In 2009, a village along the Gaza Strip was attacked by a troop of Israeli forces who slaughtered 29 Palestinian farmers and their families. Director Stefano Savona does not make Samouni Road an exercise in propaganda and tragedy, however, which compounds the film’s ability to rip your heartstrings to shreds.

Samouni Road fleshes out the lives of the attack’s survivors, endowing them with individuality as they struggle to repress trauma and repair their lives. The use of drone shots, black-and-white animation, and a keen manipulation of sound renders Samouni Road an all-too-human depiction of tragedy under barbarism that is chillingly relevant right now.

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Arctic (dir. Joe Penna)

Arctic is a Robinson Crusoe story transplanted into the Icelandic tundra. The premise for the movie is familiar: A nameless survivor, played by Mads Mikkelsen, fights to live after a plane crash. He battles the elements and tries to make something out of nothing.

The slow pulse of the work, orchestrated by director Joe Penna, allows Mikkelsen to become the commanding presence that drives Arctic forward, in spite of the barebones plot. There’s a bit of a twist though, so it isn’t all about a Defoeian struggle to survive, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)

Wanuri Kahiu’s queer love story is the first Kenyan film screened at Cannes, which is a massive artistic feat for such an underrepresented community, but it has also garnered much attention after Rafiki was absurdly banned in its native country with the claim that it “promotes homosexuality”.

That regardless, Rafiki is an electrifying expedition of love, discovery and taboo in Nairobi — a necessary inclusion into the predominantly-white terrain of queer cinema.

Birds of Passage (dir. Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra)

Birds of Passage may seem like it’s riding on the coattails of cartel-centric hits like Narcos, but its cinematic dexterity and highly-saturated visual landscape makes this work a star player of the genre. Set in pre-Escobar Colombia, Birds of Passage takes place between the ’60s to the ’80s, detailing the genesis of the Colombian drug industry through the eyes of the Wayuu clan.

There is little glamorisation of the drug trade in this film, as many of its kind are wont to do, but instead, the husband-wife director duo takes great care to detail the conflicted lives of the Wayuu clan, portrayed with a poignancy that allows Birds of Passage to stand as a poignant testimony of a Colombian story lesser-told.

For more on the Cannes Film Festival 2018, click here.