Cannes 2019 begins

Arise, this year’s surprises!

Nick James

Web exclusive

Tom Waits as Hermit Bob in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie-horror Cannes opener The Dead Don’t Die

Tom Waits as Hermit Bob in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie-horror Cannes opener The Dead Don’t Die

“What are you excited about in Cannes?” It’s the question most often asked of those who are lucky enough to go there. I rarely say much in reply because I prefer to watch films knowing a little as possible about them in order to get as close to the virginal state filmmakers would like of their audiences, with the potential for maximum surprise. Excitement for me is reserved for the event itself; it’s being there that matters, being where you can watch the best films around in near-perfect projection conditions.

That said, it’s easy to see what the main talking points will be. Jim Jarmusch’s opening film The Dead Don’t Die, a zombie movie (I know that much) with its array of stars – Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Iggy Pop – is bound to cause an oddball stir. Since Quentin Tarantino’s equally star-studded Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – set in the moment of birth of the New American Cinema, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as an actor and his double – looks to be about the glamour of cinema and its seamy underbelly, it will undoubtedly be the main buzz of the second week. (Some of my colleagues will loathe it as a matter of course but I’m not one of them.) That Terrence Malick has taken on a film with non-abstract subject matter and maybe even a story (not that one insists on that) makes the prospect of A Hidden Life pretty intriguing.

I’ve gone immediately to the big American films because that’s how Cannes structures itself: around the red carpet moments. You then almost immediately get to films that could go either way. Can the Dardenne brothers pull off Young Ahmed, a portrait of a Muslim boy who gets quietly radicalised? I have no fear that the craft will be perfect; I’m just anxious about the tone. I have high hopes for Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Young Girl on Fire because I usually love her films. Will Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You stir our anger as well as start probable tears? I hope so, but I hope, too, that it doesn’t push propaganda for Jeremy Corbyn.

Jessica Hausner’s first English-language film, Little Joe, is another one I wish the best for, and I’m most intrigued by Werner Herzog’s drama Family Romance, LLC, shot in Japan in Japanese, a language I believe Herzog doesn’t speak – it worked for Kiarostami so why not Herzog?

Ishii Yuichi<span> and </span>Mahiro Tanimoto<span> in Werner Herzog ’s Family Romance, LLC</span>

Ishii Yuichi and Mahiro Tanimoto in Werner Herzog ’s Family Romance, LLC

The list of auteurs with new work is mouth-watering: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), Pedro Almodóvar (Pain and Glory), Kleber Mendonça Filho (Bacurau), Asif Kapadia (Diego Maradona), Mati Diop (Atlantics), Patricio Guzmán (The Cordillera of Dreams), Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), Marco Bellocchio (The Traitor), Corneliu Porumboiu (The Whistlers), Ira Sachs (Frankie), Elia Suleiman (It Must Be Heaven), Albert Serra (Liberty), Christophe Honoré (On a Magical Night), Abel Ferrara (Tommaso), Rebecca Zlotowski (An Easy Girl), Robert Rodriguez (Red 11), Miike Takashi (First Love) etc.

Yet what is to be wished for most are some great new discoveries. By their nature, I have no clue what they might be. Not even being a surprise choice for the competition, like Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, is any guarantee of quality, though I hope it’s brilliant.

There are some new twists to the usual plot. The Quinzaine section has a new head programmer in Paolo Moretti. It will interesting to see what themes and consistencies unwind over the fortnight. There has also already been much kerfuffle among critics over changes to the press screening schedules but I won’t belabour you with the first of first-world problems. Let’s get to it.


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