Nabil Ayouch to Julia Ducournau: the directors competing at Cannes for the first time this year

A number of filmmakers will be bringing thought-provoking works to the famed festival's competition

A man wearing a protective face mask stands near magnets featuring the Cannes Film Festival on the Croisette in Cannes as the French Riviera prepares for the 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival which will take place next July, in France, June 3, 2021.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
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For a film festival that is often accused of favouring its old friends, this year's Cannes line-up has a surprising number of new recruits graduating to the competition section.

Of course, there is a smattering of usual suspects, including three former Palme d’Or winners: Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Italy’s Nanni Moretti and France’s Jacques Audiard.

But this year’s robust 24-film selection has opened the doors to several filmmakers at interesting – and often impressionable – stages in their careers.

Sean Baker ('Red Rocket')

MAITLAND, FL - OCTOBER 04:  Director and writer Sean Baker poses during "THE FLORIDA PROJECT" Cast & Crew Orlando Premiere at The Enzian Theater on October 4, 2017 in Maitland, Florida.  (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for A24)

Back in 2015, Baker's career took flight with Tangerine, a Los Angeles-set street-hustlers story that he shot on an iPhone. He followed that with The Florida Project, which premiered at Director's Fortnight in Cannes and won an Oscar nomination for its star, Willem Dafoe.

Now he's back with comedy-drama Red Rocket, the story of a washed-up adult film star who returns to his Texas home town. The film stars actor-rapper Simon Rex, best known for the Scary Movie series.

Getting to climb the red carpet in Cannes is going to be quite the culture shock for Baker.

Nabil Ayouch ('Casablanca Beats')

Remarkably, Casablanca Beats is the first Moroccan film since 1962 to be selected for competition at Cannes. The director is French-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, who previously gained acclaim for his 2012 film Horses of God (which dealt with suicide bombings) and 2003's Ali Zaoua (about street children in Casablanca).

This latest effort stars real-life musician Anas Basbousi as a rapper-turned-tutor who works at a cultural centre in Sidi Moumen, on the outskirts of Casablanca. There, he encourages a group of young children to express themselves through hip-hop, in this uplifting musical odyssey.

Mia Hansen-Love ('Bergman Island')

After six previous features, including the impressive Eden and Father of My Children, it feels about time that French-born Mia Hansen-Love was admitted into the Competition category at Cannes.

She's finally made it with Bergman Island, a drama about an American filmmaker couple (Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth) who journey to the Swedish island of Faro to write new screenplays.

Famed for inspiring renowned filmmaker Ingmar Bergman – he lived and died on the island and also shot several movies there, including 1973's Scenes from a Marriage – Faro will probably prove to be an enticing backdrop, as the couple find that "the lines between reality and fiction start to blur", according to the enigmatic synopsis.

Juho Kuosmanen ('Compartment No 6')

Finnish film director Juho Kuosmanen is already well-acquainted with Cannes after his feature debut The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki won the Un Certain Regard award when it played in that sidebar in 2016.

His second feature, Compartment No 6, will compete in the main arena. The film is about two strangers on a train, and stars Seidi Haarla and Yuriy Borisov. The two mismatched travellers are forced to share a tiny sleeping compartment on a train heading up to the Arctic Circle. Life-affirming is the vibe we're getting.

Workers wash the windows during the preparations for the Cannes festival at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France, on June 25, 2021. Photo by Lionel Urman/ABACAPRESS.COM

Joachim Lafosse ('The Restless')

When Belgium's Joachim Lafosse heard that he'd been admitted into the Competition category at Cannes for the first time, he received congratulations from the Dardenne Brothers – his nation's most successful Cannes entrants (they twice won the Palme d'Or).

"It was with them that I started to think and think about cinema," he said, slightly overcome. While he has seen films played in the Un Certain Regard category (2012's Our Children) and Director's Fortnight (2008's Private Lessons; 2016's After Love), this graduation present seems richly deserved.

Featuring Leila Bekhti and Damien Bonnard as a couple – one of them with bipolar disorder – it looks set to be an emotional ride.

Nadav Lapid ('Ahed’s Knee')

Member of the International Jury, Israeli director Nadav Lapid, poses at the 71st Berlinale International Film Festival ahead the awarding ceremony during the "Berlinale Summer Special" film festival in Berlin, Germany June 13, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid is on a hot streak. His last film, 2019's Synonyms, won the Berlin Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Bear, while he also saw his 2014 film, The Kindergarten Teacher, which played in Cannes' Critics Week, adapted into a well-regarded American indie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Now he's back with his most personal film to date, the existential crisis tale Ahed's Knee. Shot in the desert, it's the story of an Israeli filmmaker who is left shattered by the death of his mother.

Julia Ducournau ('Titane')

French director Ducournau is arguably one of the most exciting additions to the Competition line-up. Her first film, 2016's Raw, played in Director's Fortnight and this story of a girl with cannibalistic urges won a host of awards, including the Camera d'Or for Best First Film.

Only her second feature, Titane brings her into Competition at Cannes. It's the story of a father reunited with his son 10 years after he went missing, and stars former Cannes Best Actor winner Vincent Lindon.

The dialogue-free trailer makes it look like David Cronenberg's Crash meets Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious. Expect this to be the film everyone ends up talking about.

Ildiko Enyedi ('The Story of My Wife')

Member of the International Jury, Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi, poses at the 71st Berlinale International Film Festival ahead the awarding ceremony during the "Berlinale Summer Special" film festival in Berlin, Germany June 13, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS

You can't exactly call Hungarian-born Ildiko Enyedi a newcomer. Thirty-two years ago, her debut film My 20th Century won the Camera d'Or when it played in Cannes. Since then, she has wonBerlin's Golden Bear – with her 2017 film On Body and Soul. But this is the first time one of her films will be playing in Competition at Cannes.

Adapted from Hungarian writer Milan Fust's novel of the same name, it's a delicious-sounding story, too: a man makes a bet with a friend that he will marry the next woman who walks into the cafe where they are eating.

Lea Seydoux, the French starlet from Blue is the Warmest Colour, takes the female lead.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from Tuesday, July 6 to Saturday, July 17. You can find the full selection here


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