The 2021 Cannes Film Festival or Palme d’Or is in full swing.
The Cannes Film Festival returns this week, promising to bury the long months of darkness and solitude under an avalanche of celebrity, champagne and chin-stroking arthouse cinema.
It is billed as nothing less than a resurrection. “Cinema is not dead!” festival supremo Thierry Fremaux declared last month. It is the first major fully-fledged film festival since the pandemic, and a truckload of Hollywood stars – from Timothee Chalamet to Nicole Kidman to Matt Damon – are expected on the Croisette between July 6 and 17.
It’s not quite a return to normal, of course, even if France’s Covid numbers have been steadily improving and most restrictions lifted. There will be no “bises” – the French-style peck on the cheeks – at the top of the fabled steps to the Palais des Festivals.
And some of the glitz will be toned down, with many after-parties cancelled and the big galas cutting their invite lists in half to meet social distancing guidelines.
Organisers are also slowly waking up to the fact that the sight of celebrities and moguls arriving on private jets and mega-yachts doesn’t seem so chic in an age of impending climate disaster. So this year: no plastic, lots of electric cars, and most symbolic of all: a red carpet that is half the size and made from recycled material.
But our collective need to gawp at megastars on the Cote d’Azur will not be denied.
One film in this year’s competition accounts for an outsize share of the celeb-count: Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” includes Chalamet, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray and many more. Two other stars of that film – Tilda Swinton and Lea Seydoux – will be near-ubiquitous on the Croisette, with appearances in a remarkable eight movies between them.
Damon is in town for the premiere of his latest thriller, the Marseilles-set “Stillwater”. But Cannes is all about the filmmakers, and after last year’s edition was cancelled due to the pandemic, a particularly rich crop of festival alumni is competing for the Palme d’Or.
Among those submitting themselves to the famously blunt audiences of Cannes are several past winners: Italy’s Nanni Moretti with his new film “Tre Piani”, France’s Jacques Audiard (“Les Olympiades”) and Thailand’s master of the slow-burn Apichatpong Weerasethakul with his English-language debut (“Memoria”).
The opening night film is also a first in English for France’s Leo Carax, directing Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in what is certain to be a bizarre and visually arresting musical about a celebrity couple and their mysterious child, “Annette”.
Dutch shockmeister Paul Verhoeven, who made his name with Hollywood megahits like “Robocop” and “Basic Instinct”, continues his late run of (slightly) more subtle European fare with “Benedetta” about lesbian nuns in 17th century Italy.
Sean Penn will also be hoping for a personal resurrection after his catastrophic Cannes appearance in 2016, when his Africa-based humanitarian love story “The Last Face” was mercilessly booed. He is aiming for a warmer reception to “Flag Day”, starring himself and his daughter Dylan.
Also in the competition are Iran’s two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, who returns with “A Hero”, and Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov, who is unable to attend due to an embezzlement conviction that is widely seen as punishment for criticising Vladimir Putin.
The panel judging the 24 entries is headed by US director Spike Lee – the first time a black man has led the jury – and includes “The Serpent” star Tahar Rahim and US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.
With just four female directors in the competition, the festival’s tendency to pick the usual (male) suspects of the arthouse elite is once again under scrutiny. Only one woman has won the top Palme d’Or prize in 73 editions of the festival: Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993.
The selection is more balanced in the other sections, however, with over half the entries in the independent Directors’ Fortnight and International Critics Week coming from women directors. US actor-director Jodie Foster will likely field questions on the subject as she picks up an honorary Palme.
There is plenty happening outside the competitions, including a first showing of Oliver Stone’s new documentary about the JFK assassination, updating his feature-length conspiracy theory from 1991. That will play in the new Cannes Premiere section, along with other intriguing documentaries: one about troubled star Val Kilmer (“Val”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ode to her mother Jane Birkin (“Jane”).
Annette by Leos Carax, France
Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star as a glamorous celebrity couple whose lives are upended by the arrival of their first child. The first film in a decade from auteur Carax is also the first in English from the eccentric French mind behind arthouse favourites “Holy Motors” and “The Lovers on the Bridge.”
The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson, US
Film fans can never get enough of Wes Anderson, and his latest quirky bauble can be counted on for more obsessively curated sets and shots, 20th-century nostalgia, family disharmony and Bill Murray. Plus yet more megastars in Anderson’s menagerie in the form of Timothee Chalamet and Benicio Del Toro, and a set-up – foreign correspondents in France – that is likely to play well with critics at Cannes.
Benedetta by Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands
From “Robocop” to “Basic Instinct” to “Starship Troopers,” Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has always walked a fine line between gaudy schlock and cinematic genius. His latest tale recounts a lesbian affair in a 17th-century convent, starring Virginie Efira and Charlotte Rampling.
A Hero by Asghar Farhadi, Iran
Iran’s lauded director Asghar Farhadi has worked in multiple languages but returns to his homeland for his latest, details of which are scant. He has won awards all over, including Oscars for “A Separation” and “The Salesman”, which also won best screenplay at Cannes.
Tout s’est Bien Passe (Everything Went Fine) by Francois Ozon, France
Featuring French stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, France’s prolific and eclectic director Francois Ozon tells the story of a woman asked by her father to help him die.
Tre Piani (Three Floors) by Nanni Moretti, Italy
Exactly 20 years after winning the Palme d’Or with “The Son’s Room” and nine years after heading the main jury at Cannes, Moretti is back with his first-ever adaptation of a novel, which looks at three families who live on three different floors, in three chapters.
Titane by Julia Ducournau, France
Starring French veteran actor Vincent Lindon, “Titane” is the second feature after “Grave” by horror film specialist Ducournau, which she reportedly wrote in six weeks between two Covid-19 lockdowns.
Red Rocket by Sean Baker, US
The comedy-drama by indie filmmaker Baker features Simon Rex as an over-the-hill porn star who returns to his hometown in Texas, where he is not very welcome, and hopes to build on the success of “The Florida Project”.
Petrov’s Flu by Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia
An alcohol-fuelled stroll by a cartoonist and his friend in post-Soviet Russia brings back childhood memories that get mixed up with the present. Serebrennikov is unable to attend Cannes due to a criminal conviction, widely seen as punishment for his political views.
France by Bruno Dumont, France
The gritty director adapts a novel by Charles Peguy, killed in World War I, updating it to chart the fall from grace of a star TV reporter in contemporary France.
Nitram by Justin Kurzel, Australia
Following a smash hit adaptation of “Macbeth” starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and a less successful adaptation of video game “Assassin’s Creed”, the Australian director looks at events leading up to the Port Arthur mass shooting in Tasmania that led to gun control reforms.
Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand
Tilda Swinton stars in the slow-burn director’s first film in English. It comes 11 years after he won the Palme d’Or for the dreamlike “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”. Shot in Colombia, “Memoria” follows a Scottish horticulturist as she tries to understand strange sounds in the night.
Lingui by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad
Set in the outskirts of N’Djamena, “Lingui” tells the story of an adolescent whose unwanted pregnancy puts her in conflict with her country’s traditions and the law. Haroun lives in France, but most of his films have been produced in his birth country of Chad, which he left during unrest in the 1980s.
Paris 13th District by Jacques Audiard, France
Audiard won the Palme in 2015 for “Dheepan”, but is best-known abroad for “The Prophet” and “Rust and Bone”. His latest is based on three graphic novels by US author Adrian Tomine and set in a mixed neighbourhood of Paris. It features four young people who are sometimes friends, sometimes lovers, and sometimes both.
The Restless by Joachim Lafosse, Belgium
Starring Leila Bekhti and Damien Bonnard, the film tells the story of a couple under stress due to Bonnard’s character suffering from bipolar disorder, and who do their best to protect their child.
The Divide by Catherine Corsini, France
Two decades after her film “Replay” entered the Cannes competition, Corsini returns with a drama about a couple stuck in a hospital that comes under siege during a violent Paris demonstration inspired by the Yellow Vests movement.
The Worst Person in the World by Joachim Trier, Norway
A film about love and its complications, Trier’s latest concludes an accidental trilogy of Oslo-based films exploring exclusion and isolation. It tells the story of Julie, turning 30 and looking for answers in a new relationship, only to be let down by reality.
Hytti No 6 (Compartment No 6) by Juho Kuosmanen, Finland
Two strangers – a Finnish woman and a gloomy Russian – share a train compartment winding its way up to the Arctic circle in a road movie set against the backdrop of the 1980s Soviet Union. Kuosmanen hopes to follow the success of his charming, low-key boxing flick, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”.
Casablanca Beats by Nabil Ayouch, France-Morocco
Ayouch rocks the suburbs of Casablanca with a film about young people seeking an outlet through hip-hop in an underprivileged neighbourhood made infamous in 2003 after a group of radicalised local youth carried out suicide bombings in the city.
Ha’Berech’ (Ahed’s Knee) by Nadav Lapid, Israel
After winning prizes in Locarno, Cannes and Berlin for his first three films, Lapid explores two battles waged by an Israeli director, one against the death of freedom and one against the death of a mother, both of which are doomed to failure.
Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan
An aging, widowed actor looking for a chauffeur ends up hiring a 20-year-old woman. Things go wrong between them at first, but then a special relationship emerges.
Bergman Island by Mia Hansen-Love, France
An American film-making couple spends a summer on Faro, the windswept Baltic island that inspired Ingmar Bergman. Reality and fiction start to blur as the weeks pass.
A Felesegem Tortenete (The Story of My Wife) by Ildiko Enyedi, Hungary
Featuring France’s Lea Seydoux, who features in three of the films in competition this year, Enyedi’s film kicks off with a bet by a sea captain that he’ll marry the first woman who walks in. It follows Enyedi’s Golden Bear win at Berlin in 2017 for “On Body and Soul”.
Flag Day by Sean Penn, US
Star actor Penn again steps behind the camera for a film about a conman whose daughter struggles to come to terms with his choice of profession. Penn stars alongside his own daughter Dylan, as well as Josh Brolin.
Hero and feature image by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
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