A range of unconventional American players — from Sofia Coppola to the Safdie brothers, Noah Baumbach to Netflix — will populate this year’s Cannes Film Festival competition lineup.
Organizers announced the selections Thursday morning in Paris, where in addition to some European and Asian favorites came the names of movies by American directors who’ve rarely been in competition at Cannes — or to the festival at all.
Cannes, particularly in its competition lineup, is widely seen as a temperature-read on the state of prestige film. Judging by the slate announced Thursday, the heat is moving decidedly, even startlingly, toward U.S. auteurs and digital upstarts—while studios and their directors, until even recent years a steady Cannes presence, have gone cold.
Among the more indie elements at this year’s festival are Baumbach and his “The Meyerowitz Stories,” a story of adult siblings starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller; Coppola and her “The Beguiled,” based on the same novel as Clint Eastwood’s outre 1971 film; and Benny and Josh Safdie and their caper “Good Time.” All three movies will play in competition.
Ditto Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck.” With his time-spanning adaptation of Brian Selznick’s children’s book, the “Carol” director will make his return to the Croisette after his 2015 appearance — which was his first in 17 years.
Making an even rarer showing on the Croisette is the offbeat hyphenate John Cameron Mitchell, with his “How To Talk to Girls At Parties” playing out of competition. The sci-fi romance, starring Elle Fanning and Alex Sharp, is based on a Neil Gaiman short story. (Or in the words of an IMDB summary: “An alien touring the galaxy breaks away from her group and meets two young inhabitants of the most dangerous place in the universe: the London suburb of Croydon.”)
And newcomer Netflix will bring two movies to competition for the first time ever: “Meyerowitz,” which it recently bought, and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja,” the South Korean director’s story of a girl and her mythic-creature friend that marks the director’s followup to 2013’s “Snowpiercer.”
The distributor is debuting movies in Cannes after dominating such recent festivals as Sundance but remaining at arm’s length from the French confab, which heavily privileges the theatrical experience.
The company wasted little time Thursday touting the achievement. “Netflix celebrates its first Cannes selection of original movies … marking a milestone for its ever-growing slate of exclusive and diverse content,” it said in a release shortly after the announcement.
Upstarts ruled the day around the world too. Sure, a number of international darlings will be back to a festival known for rewarding its own: the Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (“In the Fade”), “The Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius (“Redoubtable,” about a young Jean-Luc Godard, quelle scandal) and Arnaud Desplechin (“Ishmael’s Ghosts,” a return to competition after he opted for the Directors Fortnight section with his 2015 dramedy “My Golden Days” rather than take a spot in Un Certain Regard; his new movie will open the festival).
Cannes darling Sergei Loznitsa — the Ukrainian director behind fest titles “My Joy,” “In the Fog” and “Maidan” — will be back with the “Crime & Punishment”-flavored “A Gentle Creature.”
The beloved French director Claude Lanzmann (“Shoah”) will also be there, screening “Napalm,” a documentary about North Korea that is one of several politically inflected films at the fest.
And perhaps most prominently for some film fans is a new Yorgos Lanthimos work. The director of the Cannes hits “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” brings a new movie, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” with a plot described as “a surgeon forms a familial bond with a sinister teenage boy with disastrous results.” Like “Lobster,” it’s in English, has an animal theme and stars Colin Farrell.
But as a rule the festival is short on diehards. Michael Haneke, who will bring the European refugee drama “Happy End” to Cannes, is the only director of the 19 announced in competition to have won the Palme d’Or. (He’s won it twice in the past eight years, with “The White Ribbon” and “Amour.”)
Instead are a number of foreign-born competition first-timers, like Bong Joon-ho, who previously was in Un Certain Regard (and even that was eight years ago). The 73-year-old French director Jacques Doillon, far more likely to premiere his movies in Berlin and elsewhere, is in competition with his biopic “Rodin.”
Among actors, it will be hard to top for anyone to top the year that Nicole Kidman is having. After an Oscar nomination in February for her work in “Lion,” acclaim this spring for her turn in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and even the social phenomenon of the Kidman World Cup, she will now follow it with the Cannes hat trick. The Aussie actress has parts in “The Beguiled,” “Sacred Deer” and “How To Talk to Girls at Parties.” (Colin Farrell, incidentally, notches two Cannes goals: he’s in “Beguiled” and “Sacred Deer.”)
But the announcement particularly marks a next phase for the American independent movement, with Baumbach and the Safdies stepping into the Cannes competition limelight for the first time.
The Safdies, the indie filmmakers behind such quirkfests as “Daddy Longlegs” and “The Pleasure of Being Robbed,” take perhaps the biggest notch up with “Time,” starring Robert Pattinson and Barkhad Abdi; many of their festival appearances have been of the more niche sort. (In France this time of year, they’ve had previous entries in the Cannes-parallel Directors Fortnight.)
Their movie and others will seek the favor of a jury headed by Pedro Almodovar, himself a Cannes mainstay, from a country (Spain) that this year has...no movies in competition.
For Coppola, meanwhile, the “Beguiled’ premiere (the film is an adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s book “A Painted Devil”) marks an upgrade after her “The Bling Ring” opened the lower-profile Un Certain Regard four years ago. Coppola will have her first film in competition at Cannes in over a decade; her “Marie Antoinette” divided audiences all the way back in 2006.
That same year, Mitchell scandalized audiences with his explicit “Shortbus,” out of competition. Eleven years later he’ll come back.
And add to that another American auteur in David Lynch—whose episodes from his “Twin Peaks” Showtime reboot will be screened—and Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut “Wind River” in Un Certain Regard, and Cannes has a very U.S. indie feel.
On the other end of the spectrum comes the conspicuous absence of big American studio directors: Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh. So prevalent in the past — indeed, last year saw studio mainstays Spielberg, Jodie Foster and Shane Black all premiere movies out of competition — their ranks thus far will not be represented at Cannes at all.
In some cases that’s a function of timing, as Cannes-friendly movies may simply not be ready. And some seeming changes at festivals as much circumstantial as fundamental. But directors such as Soderbergh and Allen, who actually have new works at or near completion, are notable absences.
Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” a Southern heist comedy starring Adam Driver and Channing Tatum, might have been expected to nab a slot in Cannes, especially since it marks the director’s return to feature film helming after a much-ballyhooed retirement — not to mention that Soderbergh is a Palme d’Or winner who had debuted several films on the Croisette. But the August release is now likely to skip the festival circuit entirely. Allen, a Cannes regular (his “Café Society” opened the fest last year), won’t bring his “Wonder Wheel,” a story of 1950s Coney Island to the festival ahead of its Amazon release likely later this year.
In fact, many major studios — from Warner Bros. to Fox to Universal to Pixar — will, as of now, all sit Cannes out. That might not seem like major news in this franchise-happy era, but it’s in fact rare; usually a “Mad Max” or “Inside Out” makes its way on to the lineup, as a studio looks to ride good reviews to a big international release.
The movies that might have most expected to do that this year are Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” or Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.” But the Warner Bros. war film and Paramount economy-themed dramedy, respectively, are not headed to Cannes.
It’s a very different story for U.S. upstart firms. Netflix is far from the only new-generation distributor with multiple competition entrants. The New York-based A24, fresh off its best picture win for “Moonlight” — and rapidly becoming Netflix’s HBO-esque foil on the film side — has “Deer” and “Good Time.”
And Amazon, which had multiple selections at Cannes last year, returns with films such as “Wonderstruck” and “You Were Never Really Here,” Lynne Ramsay’s movie based on the Jonathan Ames novel that stars Joaquin Phoenix. The movie marks the Scottish auteur’s first effort since “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” which was a sensation at Cannes six years ago. (One Netflix title that won’t be there, incidentally: “War Machine,” the David Michod-directed tale inspired by Stanley McChrystal starring Brad Pitt as the polarizing general.)
Even virtual reality, a development Cannes has been slow to embrace, is seeing an uptick: Mexican-American director Alejandro Inarritu will be among those debuting a new piece on the Croisette, when “Carne Y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible”), a story of refugees and immigrants, premieres in the official selection.
Whether these changes are a function of Cannes enthusiasm for a new kind of work, big-conglomerate reluctance to head to the Croisette or a combination of the two is tough to parse. But whatever the reason, it will give this year’s festival a decidedly different flavor, one that at least in some ways is in keeping with the Next Big Thing-minded Sundance than the studio- and repeat-heavyweight essence of past gatherings.
Cannes kicks off May 17, entering one of the most charged environments in a generation, coming just weeks after a French election that could usher in a new era. It’s fitting that this year’s Cannes does something of the same.