Previewing the 2015 Cannes Film Festival


The Cannes Film Festival is the world’s most prestigious and diverse showing of world cinema. Wildly varied juries judge even more unique crops of movies over a roughly ten day period, and film-lovers everywhere rejoice. Each year, this festival serves as our first look at some of the most anticipated and intriguing cinematic efforts on offer, and positive critical reception out of Cannes can mean rousing success for films both in and out of competition.

This year’s festival begins today, May 13, and runs until May 24. In that time, industry insiders, critics, and filmmakers will watch dozens of movies and begin spreading the word. Did the audience boo? Did people walk out? How long was the standing ovation for that Hou Hsiao-Hsien martial arts epic? These are the moments and stories that matter, and they no doubt impact the list of awards handed out at the end, not to mention hopes for the upcoming award season.

Let’s dig into Cannes 2015, and learn a little more about what we should be keeping an eye out for this year!

Each year, the various Cannes juries are responsible for making award-granting decisions. Joel and Ethan Coen (directors/writers of Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, and many more) are heading up the 2015 competition jury, also comprised of American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, French-Canadian writer/director/actor Xavier Dolan, British actress Sienna Miller, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, Mali-born composer Rokia Traoré, French actress/director Sophie Marceau, and Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. As you can see, a diverse bunch. They will eventually decide what film or filmmaker will receive the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ most prestigious prize.

They are joined by other juries for various other camps of films: Un Certain Regard, which celebrates new and exciting filmmakers, Cinefondation and short films, and Caméra d’or, all of which will give out their own prizes and recognition.

While films In Competition are under fierce scrutiny, there are also several out of competition premieres at Cannes each year. Often high profile, blockbuster-style films, the out of competition selections represent a far more commercially viable crop of movies, but often yield a great deal of critical praise as well.

What am I looking forward to most this year? I’ll break down the ten Cannes titles that I simply cannot wait to see (including trailers if they have them), with photos and synopses provided by the Cannes website. But first a note: I am by no means as well-versed in the foreign auteurs who will be showcasing their work, so forgive me if my picks are relatively American-centric. It is not intentional, I assure you.

10. Tale of Tales, dir. Matteo Garrone (In Competition)


Synopsis: Once upon a time there were three neighboring kingdoms each with a magnificent castle, from which ruled kings and queens, princes and princesses. One king was a fornicating libertine, another captivated by a strange animal, while one of the queens was obsessed by her wish for a child. Sorcerers and fairies, fearsome monsters, ogres and old washerwomen, acrobats and courtesans are the protagonists of this loose interpretation of the celebrated tales of Giambattista Basile.

Why I’m Excited: The (slightly NSFW) trailer’s lush visuals (including the image above, of Selma Hayek eating a giant heart!) and evocative silence are intriguing, and while the film could verge into style-over-content territory, the cast (which includes John C. Reilly, along with the wonderful Hayek) is exciting!

9. A Tale of Love and Darkness, dir. Natalie Portman (Special Screening)


Synopsis: Based on Amos Oz’s international best-seller, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS is the story of Oz’s youth at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. The film details young Amos’ relationship with his mother and his birth as a writer, looking at what happens when the stories we tell, become the stories we live.

Why I’m Excited: It’s Natalie Portman’s directorial debut AND she’s starring in it—need I say more? While other high profile actors have debuted their first films at Cannes before with little success (last year Ryan Gosling’s Lost River got panned), Portman strikes me as an intelligent, thoughtful actress who could bring the same sensitivity to her direction. It doesn’t hurt that she grew up in Israel, and so likely cares a great deal about the material.

8. The Little Prince, dir. Mark Osborne (Out of Competition)


Synopsis: Rediscover one of the most beloved stories of all time. At the heart of it all is The Little Girl, who’s being prepared by her mother for the very grown-up world in which they live – only to be interrupted by her eccentric, kind-hearted neighbor, The Aviator. The Aviator introduces his new friend to an extraordinary world where anything is possible. A world that he himself was initiated into long ago by The Little Prince. It’s here that The Little Girl’s magical and emotional journey into the universe of The Little Prince begins. And it’s where The Little Girl rediscovers her childhood and learns that ultimately, it’s human connections that matter most, and that it is only with heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Why I’m Excited: As you know, I am a huge animation-lover, and this film looks absolutely stunning. Whether or not the emotional heft—and millions of Little Prince readers’ expectations—live up to the design is yet to be seen, but for now I am content to watch this beautiful trailer over and over, and hope that the story is wonderful!

7. Love, dir. Gaspar Noé (Midnight Projections, Out of Competition)


Synopsis: January the 1st, early morning. The telephone rings. Murphy wakes up next to his young wife and 2-year-old child. He listens to his voicemail: Electra’s mother, sick with worry, wants to know whether he has heard from her daughter. Electra’s been missing for a long time. She’s afraid something really bad has happened to her. Over the course of a long rainy day, Murphy finds himself alone in his apartment, reminiscing about the greatest love affair of his life, his two years with Electra. A burning passion full of promises, games, excesses and mistakes…

Why I’m Excited: Hey, I love a good erotic thriller! Noé is known for his shocking, richly visualized content. From Irreversible to Enter the Void, he has made a career out of warring sensibilities, titillation and horror. The sure-to-be-steamy sexual triangle at the center of Love is intriguing, and now that the film’s very NSFW poster has been making the rounds, everyone at Cannes is surely wondering how this latest film will compare.

6. Sicario, dir. Denis Villeneuve (In Competition)


Synopsis: In Mexico, SICARIO means hitman. In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past, the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

Why I’m Excited: While I haven’t been a huge fan of Villeneuve’s previous efforts (Enemy’s nonsensical mind-fuck really did nothing for me, and Prisoners suffocated me with doom), this looks to be a somewhat more coherent, politically-charged change of pace. Emily Blunt is leading an excellent cast (including Benicio Del Toro, above, and Josh Brolin), and I am ready to see what Villeneuve brings to a tried-and-true narrative.

5. The Lobster, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (In Competition)


Synopsis: A love story set in the near future where single people, according to the rules of The City, are arrested and transferred to The Hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. A desperate Man escapes from The Hotel to The Woods where The Loners live and falls in love, although it is against their rules.

Why I’m Excited: I haven’t seen Lanthimos’s Alps, but I was hugely impressed by Dogtooth, a truly singular vision about the damage that can occur when children are faced with psychological isolation. With an English-speaking cast on board this time around (including Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Ben Whishaw, my personal obsession) and a similarly warped reality shaping the narrative, it will be fascinating to see just how far Lanthimos takes his concept. Are we going for CGI human-to-animal transformation here, or something more vague and conceptual? I’d lean towards the latter.

4. Inside Out, dir. Pete Docter (Out of Competition)


Synopsis: Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear heads up safety, Anger ensures all is fair and Disgust prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind—taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places.

Why I’m Excited: This is Pixar’s first outing since Monster’s University (2013), and its first non-sequel/prequel since Brave (2012). That’s reason enough to expect greatness and hope for the best. The trailers for the film look beautiful and could suggest that Pixar is going somewhere more dark and emotional than they might usually venture. But Inside Out could turn out to be a simple, bright-colored romp. Will Pete Docter (director of Up and Monsters, Inc.) pull through? I’d put money on “yes.”

3. The Sea of Trees, dir. Gus Van Sant (In Competition)


Synopsis: It’s love and loss that lead Arthur Brennan, across the world to Japan’s Aokigahara, a mysterious dense forest known as The Sea of Trees lapping the foothills of Japan’s Mount Fuji – a place where people go to contemplate life and death. Arthur enters the depths of the forest and loses himself beyond the guiding ribbons threaded through the trees by many before him. Having found the perfect place to die, Arthur encounters Takumi Nakamura, a Japanese man who also appears to have lost his way. Unable to leave Takumi behind, Arthur invests all of his remaining energy into saving Takumi and returning him to safety. The two men embark on a journey of reflection and survival, which affirms Arthur’s will to live and reconnects him to his love with his wife.

Why I’m Excited: As far as I know, the image above is the only one that has been released from Sea of Trees, and that’s just fine. It is moody, evocative, and a nice set-up of what sounds, essentially, like a two-hander. I’d say that Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe are relatively sure hands to be placed in, too! With Van Sant—a hit-or-miss director with a deeply feeling, queer sensibility—at the helm, I am looking forward to seeing how this one plays out. Overly sentimental? Emotionally detached? I’m hoping for just right.

2. Macbeth, dir. Justin Kurzel (In Competition)


Synopsis: Macbeth is the story of a fearless warrior and inspiring leader brought low by ambition and desire. A thrilling interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of Shakespeare’s most famous and compelling characters, a story of all-consuming passion and ambition set in war torn 11th Century Scotland.

Why I’m Excited: You may not have needed that synopsis, but the brilliantly-composed, terrifying picture above is necessary. With can-do-no-wrong Michael Fassbender taking on the role of Macbeth, and Marion Cotillard playing his Lady, my level of anticipation for a Shakespeare adaptation has leapt to new heights. Take into account that everyone is already raving about the striking imagery and production design, and I can’t help but feel like, if all goes right, this Macbeth could be one of my favorite films of the year.

1. Carol, dir. Todd Haynes (In Competition)


Synopsis: In New York in the early 1950s, Therese Belivet, is working in a Manhattan department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol Aird, an alluring woman trapped in a failing marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their connection deepens. When Carol’s involvement with Therese comes to light, Carol’s husband retaliates by challenging her competence as a mother. And as Carol and Therese take refuge on the road, leaving their respective lives behind, a confrontation emerges that will test each woman’s assumptions about herself and commitments to one another.

Why I’m Excited: Todd Haynes. Cate Blanchett. Enough said. Alright, I’ll mention a few more points of interest: Rooney Mara (so wonderful in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Kyle Chandler (as reliable an everyman as anyone in Hollywood these days), and Sarah Paulson (the best part of American Horror Story, hands down). Haynes is a perfect fit for this distinctly queer material, and Carol is easily one of the most anticipated films of the festival. Will it deliver? It’s hard to imagine it won’t.

Still unconvinced by the Cannes fever about to hit every film news outlet around the world? Check out this fun trailer for the 2015 festival, including footage from last year when Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (among many others) were awarded top prizes!


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