“Sicario” (Denis Villeneuve, U.S.). The Canadian director is no stranger to Cannes, which screened his films “Cosmos” (1996, Directors’ Fortnight), “August 32nd on Earth” (1998, Un Certain Regard) and “Polytechnique” (2009, Directors’ Fortnight). Since then, Villeneuve has become one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood, and he cracks the competition for the first time with this crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal, and set against the backdrop of the Mexican drug trade. (Sales: Lionsgate Intl.)
Star-studded English-language dramas from Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Denis Villeneuve, Justin Kurzel, Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone will vie for the Palme d’Or alongside new films by Valerie Donzelli, Jacques Audiard, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhangke at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival, which unveiled its official selection lineup on Thursday.
While there are only two U.S. directors in competition — Haynes with “Carol,” a 1950s lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett, and Van Sant with his suicide drama “The Sea of Trees,” pairing Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe — this year’s Palme race looks to feature more high-profile Hollywood talent than any in recent memory. Canada’s Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” “Enemy”) will bring his Mexican drug-cartel drama “Sicario,” with Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, while Australia’s Kurzel (“The Snowtown Murders”) secured a Palme berth for “Macbeth,” his Shakespeare adaptation toplining Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
In a further sign of the ever-increasing globalization of film culture, two highly regarded European directors will make their Cannes competition debuts with English-lingo efforts: Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) with “The Lobster,” an out-there sci-fier starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, and Norwegian director Joachim Trier with “Louder Than Bombs,” a family drama with Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. Two Italian heavyweights are also bringing English-language fare: Paolo Sorrentino with “Youth” (pictured below), toplining Michael Caine and featuring Weisz, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano and Harvey Keitel, and Garrone with “The Tale of Tales,” a lavish, effects-driven fantasy starring Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and John C. Reilly.
As expected, American studio/specialty fare will be similarly well represented out of competition, with world-premiere screenings of Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone; George Miller’s previously announced actioner “Mad Max: Fury Road,” with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron; and Pixar’s latest toon extravaganza “Inside Out.” The latter will be joined out of competition by another animated feature, Mark Osborne’s French-produced, English-language adaptation of “The Little Prince,” featuring voice work by Riley Osborne, Jeff Bridges, Del Toro and Cotillard.
Meanwhile, of the eight first features announced in the official selection, few will likely stir more interest than director Natalie Portman’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” an Israel-shot adaptation of Amos Oz’s bestselling autobiography that will receive a Special Screenings berth.
Asia will enjoy its strongest competition presence in some time with “Our Little Sister,” a Japanese comicstrip adaptation from Hirokazu Kore-eda; “Mountains May Depart,” a three-part drama from mainland Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke; and “The Assassin,” a long-gestating martial-arts epic from Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien. Cannes 2015 also looks to be a robust edition for Italian filmmakers, with Palme bridesmaids Garrone and Sorrentino duking it out with Palme laureate Nanni Moretti, back with his semi-autobiographical drama “My Mother.” And perhaps the most unexpected competition entry is “Son of Saul,” a Holocaust drama from first-time Hungarian helmer Laszlo Nemes, and the sole debut feature in contention for the Palme.
All these tantalizing prospects aside, Thursday morning’s press conference in Paris left a number of question marks, starting with the fact that only 17 films were announced for competition and 14 in Un Certain Regard, a program that runs parallel to the competition. Cannes delegate general Thierry Fremaux (appearing alongside newly installed president Pierre Lescure) assured those in attendance that more pictures would be added to the lineup in the coming days. It remains to be seen whether that means making room for any British and/or Latin American filmmakers, who are currently unrepresented in competition.
As it stands, while the proceedings will kick off with Emmanuelle Bercot’s previously announced “Standing Tall,” starring Catherine Deneuve, the festival has yet to announce either a closing-night film or an opening film for Un Certain Regard. Acknowledging that there were many films that didn’t make the cut despite having been well liked by the screening committee, Fremaux added, “It’s a good selection. It’s new, it’s fresh … Our selection will lay out some assumptions, some hypotheses, and the mission is to put new names on the world cinema map.”
Fremaux also addressed the large number of English-lingo movies from non-native English speakers, noting that he and his committee had refused many films that used the language in an absurd or non-intuitive fashion.
“We’re trying to make this point understood by certain American producers who really think English is the world’s language,” Fremaux said. “We just can’t have Latin American, Asian or Middle Eastern characters speak in English as if it were their own language.”
Lescure noted that the Sorrentino and Garrone films were worthy exceptions: “The coherence of the choice of language stems from artistic considerations rather than economic ones.”
Of the many films that went unmentioned in Thursday’s announcement (including Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song,” Miguel Gomes’ “Arabian Nights” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Love in Khon Kaen”), two of the most conspicuous and surprising no-shows were Arnaud Desplechin’s “Nos arcadies” and Gaspar Noe’s “Love.” The absence of these two Cannes mainstays can be chalked up in part to an even-stronger-than-usual year for French cinema, which will be represented in competition by Jacques Audiard’s immigrant drama “Erran”; Maiwenn’s “Mon roi,” a love story starring Bercot and Vincent Cassel; Valerie Donzelli’s incest-themed drama “Marguerite and Julien”; and Stephane Brize’s “A Simple Man,” with Vincent Lindon.
Other French-speaking entries that were unannounced on Thursday include Xavier Giannoli’s “Marguerite,” Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love,” Jaco van Dormael’s “The Brand New Testament” and Joachim Lafosse’s “The White Knights,” though it’s expected that most if not all these titles may yet find berths in the official selection or in the Directors’ Fortnight, which will announce its lineup on April 21. (The Critics’ Week sidebar will be announced on April 20.)
Donzelli and Maiwenn are the only two female directors competing for the Palme d’Or, a number in line with last year’s; slotting Bercot’s “Standing Tall” in competition would have brought the total to three. Still, the festival would seem to be making some attempt to address past criticisms of its underrepresentation of women — not only by opening with its first female-directed movie in the nearly 30 years since Diane Kurys’ “A Man in Love” (1987), but also by partnering with French luxury goods company Kering to present Women in Motion, a series of talks and panels highlighting women’s achievements in cinema.
As usual, Un Certain Regard, a sidebar devoted to work by emerging talents as well as established auteurs, will provide a significant platform for national cinemas not represented in competition. These include India (Neeraj Ghaywan’s “Fly Away Solo,” Gurvinder Singh’s “The Fourth Direction”), Romania (Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Treasure,” Radu Muntean’s “One Floor Below”), Iran (Ida Panahandeh’s “Nahid”), Iceland (Grimar Hakonarson’s “Rams”) and South Korea (Shin Su-won’s “Madonna,” Oh Seung-euk’s “The Shameless”).
Another Korean film, Hong Won-chan’s serial-killer thriller “Office,” will receive a Midnight Screenings slot, as will “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s documentary portrait of the late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.
At the press conference, Fremaux made a point of noting that the festival would “wage a campaign to slow down the contemporary practice of (taking) selfies on the red carpet.” While Fremaux said he didn’t want to be coercive or prohibitive, he felt that said practice was “extremely ridiculous and grotesque.”
The Cannes Film Festival runs May 13-24.