Cannes Film Festival prepares for a blockbuster return

The festival opens on Tuesday with the premiere of Jeanne du Barry starring Johnny Depp

Several highly anticipated films are in the line-up for the Cannes Film Festival this year. AFP
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The Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on Tuesday, is a colossal extravaganza that showcases the world's best cinema. Following a cancelled 2020 festival, a much-diminished 2021 iteration and a triumphant 2022 return — it is finally back to its former glory.

“Let’s just say it’s gotten very hard to get restaurant reservations again,” says Christine Vachon, the veteran producer and longtime collaborator of Todd Haynes.

When the 76th Cannes Film Festival opens with the premiere of Jeanne du Barry, a historical drama by Maiwenn starring Johnny Depp, the gleaming Cote d'Azur pageant can feel confident that it has weathered the storms of the pandemic and the perceived threat of streaming (Netflix and Cannes remain at an impasse).

Last year, three Oscar Best Picture nominees were shown at the festival — Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis and the Palme d'Or winner Triangle of Sadness — proving the event is the premiere global launching pad for films big and small.

The titles to get excited for

This year's festival is headlined by a pair of marquee premieres — Martin Scorsese's Osage Nation 1920s epic Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, and James Mangold's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, starring Harrison Ford in his final outing as the character.

Both Scorsese and Mangold were first at Cannes decades ago to premiere their early breakthrough films in the Directors Fortnight sidebar. Scorsese with 1973's Mean Streets and Mangold with 1995's Heavy.

This time, though, they'll debut much bigger films — Scorsese has his $200 million epic for Apple TV+, while Mangold will premiere, as he says, “a more splendiferous project" than his minimalist debut.

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.  AP

The “Indy” celebration will include a tribute to Ford. He, along with Michael Douglas, will be given honourary Palme d’Ors. To Mangold, it’s a chance for Ford to embrace the franchise's international following. The Indiana Jones films' essence, the director says, is rooted in golden-age cinema.

“These are things where you’re taking your guidance from the classics,” Mangold says. “That’s something that’s really appreciated by the French about American cinema. In many ways, they revere the old pictures more than even the audience in the United States do. That makes it a really wonderful platform.”

A record high for female filmmakers

This year, 21 films are competing for the Palme d’Or, with the award decided by a jury led by last year’s winner, Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund. Seven are directed by women, a new high for Cannes in its nearly eight decades of existence. Among the most anticipated is Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, starring Josh O’Connor and Isabella Rossellini.

The festival, running until May 27, will unspool against the backdrop of labour unrest on both sides of the Atlantic. France has been beset in recent months by protests over pension reforms, including raising the retirement age. In the US, screenwriters are on strike to seek better pay in the streaming era.

The prospect of a prolonged work stoppage could potentially drive up prices for finished films at Cannes. Among the titles seeking distribution is Haynes’ May December, which stars Natalie Portman as a journalist who embeds with a couple (Julianne Moore, Charles Melton) once renown for their age discrepancy.

Though arthouses have struggled to match the box-office recovery at multiplexes, Vachon, a producer on May December, says her company, Killer Films, and the indie stalwart Haynes are accustomed to “pivoting endlessly and finding opportunities no matter what the sea winds bring".

Auteurs and A-listers

As usual, this year’s competition line-up features plenty of Cannes heavyweights, including Hirokazu Kore-eda (Monster), Wim Wenders (Perfect Days), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (About Dry Grasses), Ken Loach (The Old Oak) and Nanni Moretti (A Brighter Tomorrow).

From left: Wes Anderson, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Wim Wenders, Todd Haynes, Ken Loach. Photos: Getty Images

Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, shot in Auschwitz, is one of the festival's most eagerly awaited films. It’s his first since 2013’s Under the Skin. Pedro Almodovar will premiere the short Strange Way of Life, with Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke. Wes Anderson, flanked by another starry ensemble, will debut Asteroid City.

There’s also the coming HBO series The Idol, from Euphoria filmmaker Sam Levinson starring The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp; Firebrand with Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr and Jude Law as Tudor King Henry VIII; and the Pixar movie Elemental, which closes the festival.

Steve McQueen, the 12 Years a Slave filmmaker, will debut the longest film playing at Cannes and one of its most thought-provoking. Occupied City, which McQueen made with his wife, Dutch author Bianca Stigter, is a four hour-plus documentary that combines narration detailing violent incidents across Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation with present-day footage from those locations.

McQueen, too, began his feature filmmaking career at Cannes. His 2008 debut Hunger won the Camera d’Or, a prize for best first film. “It’s never as good as the first time,” McQueen says.

“But it’s the most important film festival,” continues McQueen. “Our film is asking questions. This is where you want to premiere films that challenge and films that ask questions. You’re right on the front line.”

Potential breakthroughs

While many eyes will be on reactions to the new Scorsese or Asteroid City, Cannes will, as it does every year, bring new directors to wider film audiences. Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s Banel & Adama is the rare first feature in Palme competition.

Argentine filmmaker Rodrigo Moreno, 50, will be making his first trip to Cannes with The Delinquents, a heist drama sprinkled with existentialism and cinematic flourishes. It's one of the highlights of the Un Certain Regard section.

The film took Moreno five years to make, partially because of the pandemic. But its Cannes selection is a long time coming in another way. Moreno’s first feature as a solo director was invited to both Un Certain Regard and main competition at Berlin. The producers chose Berlin.

“At this point of my career I’m focused on if this allows me to keep on working and make the next film, to me, that’s OK. It’s the only thing I really want,” says Moreno.

“The shooting of this film spanned almost five years, which is crazy," he adds. "But the nice side of that is that every year, I had to shoot. The one thing I knew was that a new year began, and I had to shoot. And the following, I had to shoot.”

Updated: May 14, 2023, 8:45 AM