Cannes Analysis: A Lineup Full Of Promise & Big-Name Auteurs Has Starved Critics Salivating

The French Dispatch
'The French Dispatch' Searchlight Pictures

The Cannes Film Festival’s 2021 Competition lineup is a mix of established international filmmakers (many of them French) and some newer faces, and on the whole looks promising with something for all tastes.

This is a selection that was about a year and a half in the making given the havoc wrought by the pandemic and includes such previous Palme d’Or winners as Jacques Audiard, Nanni Moretti and Apitchapong Weerasethakul. Among other Cannes veterans are François Ozon and Asghar Farhadi (for the full Official Selection list, click here).

Representing the U.S. studios so far is Wes Anderson’s anticipated The French Dispatch (Searchlight) in Competition, and Tom McCarthy with Matt Damon-starrer Stillwater (Focus) running out of competition. (AppleTV+ is bringing Todd Haynes’ out of competition doc The Velvet Underground.)

General Delegate Thierry Frémaux has promised another studio title will be announced, though it is not expected to be in competition and would be a somewhat public event, screening on the beach. For the record, he noted, “It’s not James Bond, it’s not the Spielberg movie and it’s not Dune.”

Sean Penn is also in Competition with his latest directorial effort, Flag Day, and we’ll see the latest from Paul Verhoeven (Benedetta), Australia’s Justin Kurzel (Nitram) and The Florida Project’s Sean Baker (Red Rocket).

Despite the inclusion of well-known filmmakers, it’s clear that this version of Cannes isn’t going to resemble anything we’ve seen before. The Carlton is closed for a start while the beaches are expected to be filled with vacationers (the festival said it is attempting to provide public access to some screenings). Sanitary protocols will be in place with a Covid testing center at one end of the Croisette, while question marks remain over travel restrictions (more on that here).

Among the big red carpet draws, if they can attend, are The French Dispatch’s Timothée Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss, Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Benicio Del Toro, Liev Schreiber, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Lea Seydoux and Tilda Swinton — to name just a few. The latter two have multiple Cannes roles: Seydoux is elevated to Nicole Kidman-level ubiquity status with two other films in Competition — Bruno Dumont’s France and Ildiko Enyedi’s The Story Of My Wife — as well as Arnaud Desplechin’s Deception which is running in new section Cannes Premieres.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in opening night film Annette while Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps are in Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island. Flag Day stars Penn, Josh Brolin, Katheryn Winnick and Miles Teller.

In the sidebars, the new Cannes Premières section will feature work from “confirmed” filmmakers who might otherwise have been in competition. The inaugural class includes Andrea Arnold’s Cow, Val Kilmer documentary Val, Hong Sang-soo’s In Front Of Your Face, Kornel Mundruczo’s Evolution and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s directing debut Jane Par Charlotte.

The section appears to be acting as a sort of spinoff of Un Certain Regard which itself is morphing this year into a forum for auteur cinema and young filmmakers. Notably it includes The Band’s Visit’s Eran Kolirin with Let There Be Morning, sci-fi pic After Yang from Korea’s Kogonda with Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith and Bonne Mère from Hafsia Herzi.

Special Screenings sees Oliver Stone back in Cannes with a new look at his 1991 JFK titled JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass; as well as another intriguing proposition, The Year Of The Everlasting Storm, an anthology from directors Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowery and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Along with Stillwater and The Velvet Underground, Out of Competition also features Valérie Lemercier’s Céline Dion-inspired Aline.

We also learned today that the fest is requiring attendees to pay 25 euros as a contribution to helping it reduce its carbon footprint. A special section dedicated to environmental films will run this year with the titles to be announced in a few days’ time.

Among notable absentees are Netflix movies — including the latest from Jane Campion and Paolo Sorrentino — Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle Of Sadness and Park Chan-Wook’s Decision To Leave. Female filmmakers continue to be under-represented in the main Competition too.

But the lineup has been largely greeted with enthusiasm by critics and industry watchers. One well known reviewer called the selection “off the charts”, while another called it “thrilling”. One Croisette regular quipped: “I’m definitely going to walk to Cannes if I have to.” It’s easy to appreciate why.

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