There is a youth surge going on in Cannes and it is all up on the screen. I have been to many of these Cannes fests, but I can’t remember one that featured so many outstanding performances from the under-21 set, and most of them are in movies their age group are not even old enough to see.
I was reminded of this Monday as I saw a doubleheader of two very fine films: Yorgos Lanthimos’ chilling thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the main competition and then Sean Baker’s The Florida Project over in Directors’ Fortnight. Both feature superb acting from a group of young thesps who are just part of an impressive showing since the 70th edition of this venerable festival got going in earnest last week with the first competition entry, Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film based on the 2011 children’s best seller by Brian Selznick.
It stars young actors Oakes Fegley, Jaden Michael, and in an extraordinary role deaf actress Millicent Simmonds (left) as the 1927 version of the part Julianne Moore plays as a grownup in 1977. Simmonds, shot in glorious black and white by ace cinematographer Ed Lachman, is luminous in a silent turn set right around the time movies started talking. There is some awards buzz that a top acting prize could come her way if the jury wants to make a little history.
And how can we do a story on the younger actors in Cannes and not mention currently the best known of them all, Elle Fanning, who stars in two films in the Official Selection: How to Talk to Girls at Parties (out of competition) and Sofia Coppola’s new take on a 1971 Clint Eastwood picture The Beguiled, which premieres here in the Competition lineup on Wednesday. At 19, she is almost a veteran but also the perfect example of a shining star who is making this festival her own when she is not even out of her teens yet.
In Sacred Deer, both Raffey Cassidy as Kim and Sunny Suljic as Bob, the kids of parents superbly played by Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, are right on the money nailing the very specific abstract style of delivering the stilted dialogue and beats required of all the actors in Lanthimos’ films. So is twentysomething Irish actor Barry Keoghan, who plays the frightening lead teen Martin with remarkable precision and a creep factor that sends chills down your spine. A24 will release this film in November and is aware that it’s likely to be divisive, but as I told one of its execs here, if it isn’t divisive, they have done something wrong. I can’t get it out of my head.
As for Florida Project, I know several buyers have been circling it since it premiered Monday morning, and you can see why they would want it. As Sean Baker’s follow-up film to 2015’s Tangerine, which was shot on an iPhone 6, this time he has stepped up to 35MM and great vibrant Sunshine State color in this idyllic tale of a 6-year-old and her friends who live the high life in and around an Orlando motel near Disney World. Their parents are kind of a mess, but these kids are captured in high spirits almost like Francois Truffaut did in Small Change. It is a loving look at the
innocence of childhood against tough odds. Stealing the show as 6-year-old Moonee is an Orlando local Brooklynn Prince, and she is a natural — a New Age Shirley Temple who makes you laugh and cry. She dominated the post-Q&A too in a Cinderella-like ball gown where she kept throwing kisses to her adoring French crowd.
Also delighting onscreen and at the JW Marriott Theatre, where films in the Directors’ Fortnight play, was Valeria Cotto, who plays Jancey in Florida Project. The other main kid star is Christopher Rivera as Scooty, and they all play opposite a fine adult cast including a very likable turn from Willem Dafoe as the motel manager. Orlando locations are perfect in this unexpected and very pleasant surprise that will lift Baker’s burgeoning indie career even higher thanks to these kids. When an audience member shouted, “Where did you find that girl?” Baker answered, “We had many auditions, but there is one day we saw Brooklynn, as well as Christopher Rivera, and they had this great chemistry. I almost knew at that moment we would be casting those two. And Valeria, we met at Target one night. We do street casting on all my films. I gave her mother my card and really hoped they would show up at the open audition, though it must have been a little creepy — a 40-year-old guy in the middle of the night with a card saying, ‘I
like the way your child looks.’ But the mom realized it was legit and they came in and she blew us away with her audition.”
Another movie that also made waves in Directors’ Fortnight was A Ciambra, which comes from Mediterrania director Jonas Carpignano, along with (among others) executive producers Martin Scorsese and Emma Tillinger. He discovered the local child, Pio Amato, who played himself in that film, and now at 14 is the center of the new movie just picked up for domestic distribution by IFC Films’ Sundance Selects, as Deadline first revealed earlier today. The movie is cast with many members of the Amato family who are from the Romani community in Calabria, Italy. Pio is a complete natural as a young man trying to prove he can be better than his older brother, but getting in over his head in this film which reminded me in part of another Truffaut classic, The 400 Blows, especially in its treatment of a young person growing up in difficult circumstances. The camera just loves this kid, just as Truffaut’s camera loved the young Jean Pierre Leaud. Scorsese tells Deadline, “What [the director] does with his young lead, drawing from him a mature and complex performance, is truly remarkable. A moving and beautiful picture.” It got a huge standing ovation at the first screening over the weekend when many members of the Amato family, including Pio, took the stage for the Q&A,
I was also highly impressed with the lead performance of young Korean actress An Seo-Hyun who plays Mija the girl who brings up the super pig and title star of Bong Joon Ho’s wonderfully entertaining Netflix film, Okja. As in the case of Pio Amato, the camera loves this new star who holds her own- and then some- against the amazing CGI -created pig. Since she obviously had to work against nothing but green screen most of the time, it is even more remarkable to see the final result and this newcomer starring opposite the likes of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. Like Simmonds in Wonderstruck it is not at all inconceivable to think that 13 year old Ahn Seo-Hyun might also be in contention for that actress prize if the jury can get over Netflix controversies that have surrounded this festival.
Also in the Netflix Cannes stable was another impressive young actress, Grace Van Patten who got her start in The Sopranos. As the daughter of Adam Sandler’s character in Noah Baumbach’s terrific The Meyerowitz Stories she clearly can hold her own in that cast that also includes Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. And another major young discovery coming out of this year’s Cannes is undoubtedly Fantine Harduin getting her first big movie break as Isabelle Huppert’s daughter and Jean Louis Trintignant’s 13 year old granddaughter Eve in Happy End, Michael Haneke’s followup to his Oscar and Palme d’Or winning Amour. Her scenes alone with Trintignant where both express the sadness they feel on opposite sides of life are standouts and, like others mentioned in this story, the camera is in love with her.
Cannes does not tend to acknowledge the younger set with an acting prize although there has been precedent in the past. In 2004 Japanese actor Yuya Yagira at age 14 became the youngest ever to win for Nobody Knows. If ever there was a year to do it again this would be the one as Cannes looks ahead to its next 70 years and the beginnings of very promising careers that are hitting the world’s most important film festival right here, right now.