The Cannes Film Festival is an annual 12-day shindig in the south of France where high-toned art movies screen in lavish shrines to cinema under the same roof where opportunistic sellers hawk schlocky exploitation flicks designed almost solely to grab a few bucks from international buyers looking for a deal.
Last year saw the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’Or, go to the glacially-paced, philosophical Turkish film “Winter Sleep” a few days after Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren rolled down the coastal town’s main drag in tanks to promote “Expendables 3.”
It saw the paparazzi go crazy for Kristen Stewart and Ryan Gosling — though the market for those red-carpet pictures was made up almost entirely of fans who were unlikely to see the movies that brought them to Cannes, “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Lost River,” respectively.
This year, Cannes’ 68th, brings a “Mad Max” movie, a Pixar movie and a whole lot of international auteurs.
Here are five other things to expect as filmmakers, film executives, press, buyers, sellers, agents, wannabes, hangers-on and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of the movie industry heads to the south of France for Wednesday’s opening night.
Note: This list deals with the festival itself, not Cannes’ Marche du Film marketplace, which occupies a space in the Palais des Festivals beneath the theaters where the festival’s top selections screen. The market is its own beast, which TheWrap’s Jeff Sneider deals with in a separate piece.
1. The English Language
For a festival whose main competition is devoted largely to international cinema, Cannes will play host to a surprising number of English-language films this year.
But Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes are the only American directors in the competition; many of the English-language films are by directors more accustomed to working in their native languages.
Yorgos Lanthimos, for instance, whose 2009 Greek film “Dogtooth” was probably the strangest foreign-language Oscar nominee since Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” in 1972, is making his English-language debut with “The Lobster,” with Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Norwegian director Joachim Trier has “Louder Than Bombs,” with Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert.
Matteo Garrone, the director of the acclaimed “Gommorah,” is represented by an English-language period piece with Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly, “The Tale of Tales.” His fellow Italian Paolo Sorrentino is working in English with “Youth,” with Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz, as is Mexican director Michel Franco with “Chronic.”
Denis Villeneuve, the French-Canadian director who began his career with French language films like “Incendies” before making the English-language features “Prisoners” and “Enemy,” is sticking English with “Sicario,” with Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. And Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love” stars French icons Huppert and Gerard Depardieu, but it is set in California’s Death Valley and is partly in English, partly French.
Throw in Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees,” Haynes’ “Carol” and Justin Kurzel’s “MacBeth,” and almost half the main competition lineup is in English — not to mention out-of-competition titles like Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Pete Docter’s “Inside Out” and Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy.”
2. More women … by Cannes’ standards, at least
Cannes organizers were so excited that the festival was opening with “La Tete Haute,” a drama directed by Emmanuelle Bercot, that it proclaimed in the press release that it was the first time the fest had ever opened with a movie directed by a woman.
It turned out that they were wrong: Diane Kurys’ “A Man in Love” did the kickoff honors 28 years ago. But Cannes has been stung in recent years by criticism that the festival, and particularly its main competition, gives short shrift to female directors. So even the largely symbolic choice to put Bercot’s movie in a spot that more often than not goes to a lackluster film seems like a sign of progress.
In the main competition, meanwhile, are two films directed by women: Valerie Donzelli’s “Marguerite & Julien” and Maiwenn’s “Mon roi,” which features Bercot in its cast. Three more women are in the artier Un Certain Regard sidebar, including Cannes regular Naomi Kawase opening the program with “An.” And Natalie Portman has an out-of-competition slot for her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
It’s not much, perhaps, for a festival that loves to put women on its jury: Over the last 14 years, actresses outnumber actors on the jury by more than two to one, 41 to 20. (And sure enough, this year’s jury has two actresses, Sophie Marceau and Sienna Miller, to one actor, Jake Gyllenhaal.)
But it’s progress enough that when TheWrap asked Highland Film Group partner Arianne Fraser what she was most looking forward to at this year’s festival, she singled out “La Tete Haute.”
“Women in film seems to be a common thread in this year’s festival,” she said, “so I’m hoping for a strong opening and statement.”
3. Double dippers
Every year you find actors and actresses who have two movies at Cannes — perhaps with dreams of faring as well as Jessica Chastain, who went to Cannes in 2011 with “The Tree of Life,” which won the Palme d’Or, and “Take Shelter,” which won the top prize in the Critics’ Week sidebar.
This year, Huppert is the queen of Cannes with two films in competition, “Louder Than Bombs” and “Valley of Love,” and another out-of-competition, “Asphalte.” But Cannes also has two films featuring John C. Reilly, “The Tale of Tales” and “The Lobster”; two with Rachel Weisz, “The Lobster” and “Youth”; two with Vincent Cassel, “Tale of Tales” and “Mon roi”; and two with Benicio del Toro, “Sicario” and the animated “The Little Prince.”
It has one film directed by Emmanuelle Bercot and another that stars Bercot, and one film directed by Louis Garrel (“Les Deux Amis,” in Critics Week) and another in which he’s an actor (“Mon roi”). And it has two animated films due for release by major American distributors, Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out” and Warner Bros.’ “The Little Prince.”
4. Woody Allen — out of competition, as usual
For the first 36 years of his career, which included 31 films, Woody Allen never went to Cannes. The streak ended in 2002 with “Hollywood Ending” – and since then, Allen has been a regular visitor to the Croisette. Of the last 13 Allen films, beginning with “Hollywood Ending,” “Irrational Man” will be the the sixth the director has brought to Cannes, in a list that also includes “Midnight in Paris,” “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Match Point.”
As always, though, Allen refused to show his new movie in competition, though the festival admits it begged him to.
“He likes coming to Cannes, but he never feels his film should be in a competitive situation,” Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker told TheWrap. “We respect that, and I think Cannes respects it, too.
5. A wide-open Palme d’Or race
On the final day of the festival, May 24, a jury headed by Joel and Ethan Coen will bestow a number of prizes, including Cannes’ top award, the Palme d’Or. And at the moment, with the 19 competition films unseen and only hunches to go by, the result is anybody’s guess.
Will the Coens respond to what one assumes will be the characteristic deadpan humor and absurdity of Lanthimos with “The Lobster?” Will Nanni Moretti’s “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”) strike a chord with juror Xavier Dolan, who’s certainly been working through his own mommy issues in his own films? Will Jake Gyllenhaal lobby hard for Denis Villeneuve, with whom he’s made two films, and “Sicario?” Will Joachim Trier receive a warm Cannes welcome to make up for the cold one meted out to his sadly outspoken distant relative, Lars von Trier, in 2011?
The British bookmakers Paddy Power currently have “The Lobster” a slight favorite for the Palme at 9/2 odds over “Umimachi Diary” (Hirokazu Kore-eda) and “Louder Than Bombs” at 11/2. Jia Zhangke’s “Shan He Gu Remn,” “The Tale of Tales” and “Sicario” follow, with “Mon Roi” and Stephane Brize’s “La Loi du Marche” bringing up the rear at 25/1 odds.
But those are just bookies’ guesses. Cannes is unpredictable.
Gentlemen (and a couple of ladies), start your projectors.