The Cannes Film Festival has announced the films that will compete in this year's official competition from May 8 to 19, with the winner picking up the coveted Palme d'Or from one of the world's most prestigious industry events. There's a diverse mix of directors in the running this year, from Hollywood giants to icons of world cinema and emerging darlings of the indie scene. There's plenty of regional interest this year, too, with films from Egypt, Lebanon and Iran in the mix. Here's our pick of some of this year's highlights.
Perhaps tired of winning Best Foreign Language Film Oscars in his native Farsi, Iranian legend Farhadi steps outside his comfort zone this year to direct Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in this Spanish-language, French/Italian/Spanish co-production about a family reunion going awry. While Farhadi, 45, won an Oscar and the Golden Bear at Berlin for his 2011 breakthrough film, A Separation, and a further Oscar for 2016's The Salesman, he is yet to take home the coveted French prize. A third Oscar, should it arise, would elevate Farhadi from the ranks of the six directors to have won more than one foreign language prize to Ang Lee's side, in the even more rarified group of Oscar winners to have won Oscars in several languages.
Little is known about the latest from feted Iranian director Jafar Panahi. The director was imprisoned for six years in Tehran in 2010 – reduced to house arrest a year later – and given a 20-year ban from making films or speaking to the media because of the perceived seditious nature of his work. Despite the far-from-ideal working conditions, Panahi has regularly managed to smuggle films out of Iran since the sentence was imposed, beginning with 2011's documentary This is Not a Film. That was taken to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a cake. Subsequent films Closed Curtain (2013) and Taxi (2015) have both picked up awards at the Berlin Festival. Panahi's case has become a cause celebre for the global cinema industry, with directors Ken Loach and Farhadi, actors Juliette Binoche and Brian Cox and a host of international festivals among those campaigning for his release. Cannes has pleaded with the Iranian authorities to let the director fly to Cannes to show his film this year, with no success as yet.
Lebanese actress and filmmaker Nadine Labaki is no stranger to the Palais des Festivals. Her debut feature Caramel featured in the 2007 Directors' Fortnight section of the festival, while 2011's Where Do We Go Now? played in 2015's Un Certain Regard programme. Nabaki also joined the judging panel for 2015's Un Certain Regard. This is the first time Labaki has featured in the official competition section, however, and the first time a Lebanese feature has appeared in competition since 1991, when Maroun Baghdadi's Hors La Vie competed. Labaki's film was such a late submission that it doesn't even have a synopsis or trailer yet, but the director said she is "proud and happy" to be bringing Lebanon back to the Palme d'Or after such a long gap.
Les Filles du Soleil (Girls of the Sun)
This is technically a French film, although the region takes centre stage as Hope to Die director Eva Husson sets her sights on the Kurdish women's brigades battling jihadists in Syria and Iraq. Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani plays Bahar, a former lawyer who becomes the commander of a Yazidi Sun Brigade.
Abu Bakr Shawky
A Coptic leper and his orphaned apprentice leave the confines of their colony for the first time and embark on a journey across Egypt to search for what is left of their families in Shawky's feature debut, which is produced by Egyptian-American producer Dina Emam and Shawky's own company, Desert Highway Pictures, and co-produced by Clash producer Mohamed Hefzy's Film Clinic. The film is Egypt's first representation in official competition for six years, and Hefzy was clearly pleased with the selection: "I'm glad for the return of Egyptian cinema to the most prestigious section of the festival after the participation of After The Battle, by Yousry Nasrallah, in 2012," he said. "Also for the increasing participation of Egyptian films in the festival during the past years, and for being one of the makers of these films. Finally, I'm happy because the selection was for a directorial debut, which sends out an encouraging message to talented Egyptian filmmakers." Hefzy's Clash opened Un Certain Regard at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
Le Livre d’image (The Picture Book)
When it comes to iconic European directors, they don't come much more iconic than Jean-Luc Godard. He was the leading light of the French New Wave in the sixties, a Marxist firebrand in the seventies, a leading proponent of experimental jazz through his collaborations with ECM Records in the eighties, and was still competing for the Palme d'Or as recently as 2014, when Goodbye to Language picked up The Jury Prize. In typically obtuse style, Godard has given nothing away about the new movie other than this enigmatic snippet: "Nothing but silence, nothing but a revolutionary song, a story in five chapters like the five fingers of a hand." Thankfully, production house Wild Bunch's co-chief Vincent Maraval gave a little more away when he told Screen Daily in December 2016 that Godard had been shooting for almost two years "in various Arab countries, including Tunisia" and that the new film is an examination of the modern Arab World.
Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchell
It Follows was undoubtedly the best horror of 2014, and can be seen as a forerunner to the recent spate of thoughtful, high quality horror that has led the genre through both a critical and commercial renaissance. That film debuted at Cannes to screams of both terror and delight four years ago, and this year director David Robert Mitchell is back with Under the Silver Lake. Mitchell promises more of a black comedy thriller this time around, though still with a grisly murder at the centre of the action. The director's highly stylised approach, with nods to great horror, should be guaranteed to bring results whichever genre he tackles.
US director and activist Spike Lee takes the chair and shares production duties with man-of-the-moment Jordan Peele for this drama based on the real-life story of an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Colorado Ku Klux Klan in 1978, eventually becoming the head of his local chapter. John David Washington plays him, with Adam Driver as his police partner. Written and directed by Lee, the film will open in the US in August, on the first anniversary of 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an anti-racism activist was killed in violent clashes and two police officers died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the situation below.