The official selection of the 73rd Cannes Film Festival was scheduled to be announced today, April 16th. It should have been a most joyous day. That one day of the year cinephiles everywhere hyperventilate as they get an early peak at their Christmas gifts and start counting down the days. Of course we all know what happened.
To be clear, Cannes73 hasn’t been officially cancelled yet. After a series of high-profile festivals called off their upcoming edition due to COVID-19, the mother ship in the south of France is still holding out stalwartly. However, now that the original dates (May 12-23) and the suggested postponement to late June/early July are both off the table following the extended bans on big gatherings, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine how a festival that so prizes the collective, cinematic experience can still take place in the near future.
The prospect of a Cannes-less year is especially unfortunate considering how it just came off a banner year that launched, among others, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, LES MISÉRABLES, PAIN AND GLORY (not WP but still), PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE and of course the historic Oscar-winner PARASITE. And a quick survey of this year’s potential Palme d’Or contenders suggests a promising slate that could have kept the momentum going. Just to torture ourselves a little bit more, let’s run through some of these titles.
One of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year, Wes Anderson’s 10th feature THE FRENCH DISPATCH, would have made total sense to be in the mix. Anderson opened Cannes with MOONRISE KINGDOM eight years ago, the starry ensemble cast of his latest, France-set film includes many Cannes regulars, and the fact that he skipped the Berlinale, where his last two features debuted, was also a give-away. In the parallel world where cinemas are still open and THE FRENCH DISPATCH can keep its original summer release date, I would be very surprised if it doesn’t make a splashy premiere in Cannes first.
In that same world, Dutch maestro Paul Verhoeven’s medieval lesbian nun erotica BENEDETTA would also appear destined to be heading to the Croisette. Verhoeven made a sensational comeback four years ago in Cannes with eventual Oscar nominee ELLE. The subversive, lurid nature of the material feels like a perfect fit for his unique sensibilities. Also, the film stars esteemed veteran actors Charlotte Rampling, Lambert Wilson and current It-Girl of French cinema Virginie Efira. If not for the director’s health issues that prevented him from finishing post production last year, the film would probably have made Cannes72 already.
Another film that has Cannes in its DNA is French auteur Leos Carax’s musical ANNETTE. Carax’s last mind-bending feature, HOLY MOTORS, was widely hailed as one of the greats of the 2010s (also competed in Cannes). His English-language debut features original songs by the band Sparks and a couple of powerhouse actors who know a thing or two about singing – Adam Driver (that scene in MARRIAGE STORY) and Marion Cotillard (won an Oscar for playing Édith Piaf). This would have been a shoo-in.
Carax’s compatriot Mia Hansen-Løve is also making her English-language debut with BERGMAN ISLAND. Starring an international cast including Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps and Anders Danielsen Lie, the relationship drama would seem like the right vehicle for Hansen-Løve to graduate to the A-league (she won Best Director in Berlin for the wonderful THINGS TO COME). Also, Cannes can always use more female filmmakers in their selection.
Speaking of, Cannes darling Sofia Coppola (Best Director winner for THE BEGUILED) would most likely be welcomed back with ON THE ROCKS, a New York-set father-daughter dramedy that reunites her with longtime muse Bill Murray.
Then there’s my most anticipated of the year, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s MEMORIA starring Tilda Swinton. Thierry Frémaux has often been criticized (rightfully) for his blind spot re. Asian cinema (downgrading Apichatpong’s miraculous CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR, follow-up to his Palme d’Or winner UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, to Un Certain Regard being a prime example), but after two straight years of Asian filmmakers winning the Palme d’Or, I would have bet on this inclusion.
An even more obvious choice would be Italian veteran director Nanni Moretti’s THREE FLOORS. Moretti is among the most revered European filmmakers and has competed in Cannes seven times in the past. This would have been a no-brainer à la any Loach, Dardenne or Almodóvar (Cannes can be really predictable that way).
Prolific French director François Ozon who’s a regular at Berlin (last won Grand Jury Prize for BY THE GRACE OF GOD), Venice AND Cannes, would have been ready to join the lineup with SUMMER OF 85. Also from France, Palme d’Or winner (for THE CLASS) Laurent Cantet has ARTHUR RAMBO. And France-based Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid could have been invited to compete with the big guys after winning the Golden Bear for SYNONYMS with another semi-autobiographical drama AHED’S KNEE.
Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov, whose last film LETO premiered in Cannes competition in 2018, could have returned with PETROV’S FLU. Same goes for Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczó, who competed in 2018 with JUPITER’S MOON, with PIECES OF A WOMAN starring Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf. There’s also Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl’s long-gestating WICKED GAMES, Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg’s second collaboration with Cannes Best Actor winner Mads Mikkelsen in ANOTHER ROUND, Mexico’s Cannes regular Michel Franco with THE DREAMS OF A FEW, the animated WHERE IS ANNE FRANK? by WALTZ WITH BASHIR director Ari Folman from Israel, and three buzzed sophomore features: AMMONITE by British filmmaker Francis Lee, THE INNOCENTS by Norwegian writer/director Eskil Vogt and THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER by Swiss filmmaker Ramon Zürcher.
If Cannes is serious about upping its inclusion of female filmmakers, Naomi Kawase from Japan probably could have landed in competition for a sixth time with THREE MOTHERS, French actress/director Maïwenn could have competed for a third time with DNA. And the competition lineup might also have included such high-profile debutants as Hungary’s Golden Bear winner Ildikó Enyedi with THE STORY OF MY WIFE, Chloé Zhao with NOMADLAND, Ana Lily Amirpour with MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON and Joanna Hogg with THE SOUVENIR: Part II.
And what about the typically snazzier/grimier Out of Competition lineup? Pixar’s SOUL with its original June release would have seemed like a slam dunk. Ditto Korean zombie apocalypse extravaganza PENINSULA, sequel to the Cannes breakout hit TRAIN TO BUSAN. It would have been amazing to see British helmer Edgar Wright’s follow-up to BABY DRIVER and his return to the horror genre LAST NIGHT IN SOHO. Elsewhere, Amy Adams’ quest for that elusive Oscar continues in Joe Wright’s THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, whose original May date hinted at a Cannes premiere. We’re also hearing that Cannes was ready to welcome Sean Penn back with FLAG DAY after his last, disastrous outing THE LAST FACE. Perhaps the most surprising title that Thierry Frémaux let drop in a recent interview was the Tom Cruise vehicle TOP GUN: MAVERICK, although the idea of watching the IMAX-ready nostalgic actioner on the giant screen of the Lumière Theater is undeniably mouthwatering. Lastly, since we’re in fantasy territory anyway, why not imagine Warner Brothers giving Nolan’s TENET the Côte d’Azur treatment it deserves?
Are there other films you think would have made the announcement today? Will Cannes happen at all in 2020? In what shape or form? Which major film festival will be able to go ahead next? Locarno? Venice? Telluride? Toronto? Until then, stay home and stay safe everyone.