Cannes 2019 preview: Tarantino's return, the wide-open Palme d'Or race and the Netflix conundrum
Cannes Film Festival 2019 boasts an impressive array of films debuting in and out of competition, from your usual arthouse stalwarts to exciting new filmmakers.
Bill Murray and Adam Driver fight their way through a zombie apocalypse; Sir Elton John gets his own musical biopic; and Quentin Tarantino fans gets their latest fix of blood, guts and mayhem, as celebrities and cinephiles head to the seaside town of Cannes for two weeks of sun, fun, croissants and cinema.
The 72nd Cannes Film Festival hits the fabled French Riviera on 14 May, kicking off with the most curious genre film in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie extravaganza The Dead Don’t Die. Who would have ever thought the words "zom-com" would be uttered at the Croisette?
But Cannes has championed everything, from auteur-driven dramas to populist Hollywood fare to late-night sex romps in recent years. This year, it boasts an impressive array of films debuting in and out of competition, from your usual arthouse stalwarts to exciting new filmmakers.
We takes a look at some key talking points about films we can’t wait to see.
Tarantino returns to Palme d’Or race 25 years after Pulp Fiction
Europe's biggest and most glamorous film festival has always been kind to Hollywood and its filmmakers, but this year seems particularly heavy on star power, thanks in large part to Tarantino's highly anticipated ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Twenty-five years after the filmmaker won the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction and 10 years after unveiling Inglourious Basterds at the 2009 edition, his new star-stacked ensemble drama will be screened in 35mm at the Grand Théâtre Lumière on 21 May.
Its sprawling cast includes the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino as well as Tarantino regulars like Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen. Set against the backdrop of the Manson murders, it is “a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole,” festival director Thierry Fremaux said during the announcement.
Meanwhile, Jarmusch’s horror comedy The Dead Don’t Die, which also stars Selena Gomez, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton and Steve Buscemi among others, will bring plenty more of that Hollywood glamour to the French Riviera.
The usual suspects
Palm D’Or winners Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley and I, Daniel Blake), the Dardenne brothers (Rosetta and L'Enfant) and Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue Is the Warmest Colour) are joined by Cannes veterans Arnaud Desplechin, Pedro Almodóvar and Bong Joon-ho in a strong competition line-up for the top prize.
Malick will enter the competition with his German-language World War II tale, A Hidden Life, about an Austrian conscientious objector guillotined by the Nazis in 1943. The 82-year-old Loach continues to toil away behind the camera and will be vying for an unprecedented third Palme d'Or for Sorry We Missed You, another socio-realist drama — this time about a couple struggling to get by in modern-day England. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne too will be looking to win for the third time, with Le Jeune Ahmed, a story about the Islamic radicalisation of a young Belgian teenager. It is a timely drama about a grave issue in the wake of Belgium's deadliest terrorist attack in 2016. Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo, Kechiche’s four-hour-long sequel to the three-hour Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno, was a late addition to the line-up (like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and it promises more carnal indulgence, as you would expect.
Desplechin returns with Oh Mercy!, a crime drama which sees Léa Seydoux arrested for the brutal murder of an elderly woman; Almodovar reunites with Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory, which has been hailed as the Spanish filmmaker's take on Fellini's 8½; Two years after festival audiences booed his Netflix film Okja, the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is back with Parasite, which he suggests is "full of details and nuances that are specific to Koreans” but we're intrigued nonetheless.
Other intriguing films in the line-up include Elia Suleiman's It Must Be Heaven, Ira Sachs' Frankie, Jessica Hausner's Little Joe, Xavier Dolan's Matthias & Maxime, Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Justine Triet’s Sibyl. There's also plenty of buzz around The Wild Goose Lake, Diao Yinan's much-awaited follow-up to his 2014 feature, Black Coal, Thin Ice. Mati Diop, the French-Senegalese actress who made her acting debut in Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum, makes her feature directorial debut with Atlantique, which is also in contention for the top prize.
Werner Herzog too makes a comeback with his Japan-shot Family Romance, LLC, which is set to premiere in the Special Screenings section.
Among the films that will screen out of competition are Dexter Fletcher's Elton John biopic Rocketman, Asif Kapadia's new documentary about Argentine footballer Diego Maradona, and Nicolas Winding Refn's neo-noir series Too Old to Die Young.
A year after his phantasmagorical dance odyssey, Climax, won the Art Cinema Award in the Directors' Fortnight section at Cannes 2018, French cinema's enfant terrible Gaspar Noé has secured a midnight screening berth for his new film, Lux Æterna with Beatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Is Cannes still a sausage fest?
Regrettably so. After coming under fire in recent years for failing to spotlight female filmmakers in its main competition, the festival has selected a record-tying four (yes, you read that correctly) films in its heavyweight line-up of 21 films this year. These include the aforementioned films of Celine Schiamma, Jessica Hausner, Justine Triet and Mati Diop. An additional nine women directors are included in other sections of the festival. However, these are terrible numbers when compared to other film festivals like Sundance, where 46 percent of the competition films were directed by women this year.
Eighty-two women, including the late Agnes Varda (who graces this year's official festival poster), Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Salma Hayek and Patty Jenkins marched up the red carpet of the Palais des Festivals last year to protest gender disparity at the festival. But progress has always been slow and hard to come by at Cannes. One can only hope it continues to improve with each year.
A star-studded jury
While Cannes has repeatedly failed to address the glaring gender imbalance in its official competition line-up, it has observed a better ratio in its jury. Since 2013, women have fared a lot better making up either four or five of Cannes' nine-member jury. Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu will succeed Cate Blanchett and preside over the panel this year. Apart from Iñárritu, this year's jury is composed of four men (Enki Bilal, Pawel Pawlikowski, Robin Campillo and Yorgos Lanthimos) and four women (Alice Rohrwacher, Elle Fanning, Kelly Reichardt and Maimouna N'Diay).
French filmmaker Claire Denis will head the short films and Cinéfondation jury while Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki will lead the Un Certain Regard jury.
No Netflix and No Indian films
Last year, Netflix pulled out of Cannes after organisers banned its films from its Palme d’Or competition over the streaming giant's refusal to release them theatrically, as required by French law — an absurdly anachronistic law that mandates a 36-month window between a film's theatrical release and its release on streaming services.
Despite reported peace talks between Netflix execs Ted Sarandos and Scott Stuber and Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, Netflix will be a notable no-show this year too. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, two of its biggest 2019 titles and potential Oscar contenders next year, would have hoped to debut at the festival but sadly, they are not yet ready for public consumption. Like last year with Roma, Cannes' loss could become Venice's gain yet again.
Meanwhile, Indian films will be another notable absentee at Cannes 2019 with not a single feature (from the country with the highest annual output of films) competing in the Official Selection. Last year, India's hopes were led by Nandita Das's Manto, which was selected to compete in the Un Certain Regard section. This year, the only Indian representation at the festival will be your usual Bollywood red-carpet favourites (from Aishwarya Rai to Kangana Ranaut), representing whatever brand has paid them buttloads of money.
The 72nd Festival de Cannes will run from 14 to 25 May 2019. Click here to follow all our coverage straight from the Croisette.
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