Cannes 2019 Selection 

The films competing at Cannes, from May 14-25, were announced today.

As ever, I greet them with due excitement, because although there are some familiar names in the mix, there are also some completely left-field picks from Thierry Fremaux that could reveal genius new works and artists on a major stage. One hopes so – one always does.

So, while it’s hard to be excited by new films from serial Cannes laureates, names such as Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, the Dardennes, Marco Bellochio and Arnaud Desplechin always provide solid, thoughtful work. 

Sorry We Missed You image

Sorry We Missed You

Almodovar’s Pain and Glory stars Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, so is reliable for a bit of hot red carpet Euro glamour – the film’s already out in Spain and I’m looking forward to it, although Pedro’s brilliant period when Bad Education, Talk to Her or Volver held Cannes breathless might be behind him. Ken Loach is back with Sorry We Missed You and, you never know, it could be great, like I, Daniel Blake was. 

Similarly, never discount the Dardenne brothers, on course, like Ken, to be the first to get a record-breaking third Palme d’Or – their film this year is Ahmed, about a 13-year-old being ‘radicalised’ in Belgium.

Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die opens the festival, a zombie movie with Bill Murray and Adam Driver and Tilda Swinton, in short, all his usual collaborators, even including Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. It’ll be laconic fun, I’m sure.

Little Joe image

Little Joe

Adding to the female film making presence in Competition – four out of 19 is hardly a deluge but it is an improvement – is Austria’s Jessica Hausner, who I’ve admire for a while now. She has that glacial, Haneke-inspired detachment and brought it to Lourdes in 2009 and her debut Lovely Rita in 2001. Little Joe is her first English language pic, a co-pro with the BBC and BFI, starring Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham as scientists genetically engineering a plant to do strange things to humans. Or something.

But now to a few of the ones that really get the juices flowing. Can’t wait to see Chinese film The Wild Goose Lake, by Diao Yinan, whose grisly police thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice won at Berlin back in 2014 and which was one of my favourites of that year.

Of the usual four or five French titles in the selections, there’s some energy in the new talents, such as Celine Sciamma, who’s been doing consistently fine work for a while now. This French film maker made Girlhood (Bande de Filles) which wowed in Director’s Fortnight a five years ago, so her Portrait of a Lady on Fire, starring her real-life partner Adele Haenel could be wonderful, set in 1760, about a painter who has to create a portrait in secret.

The Dead Don’t Die film

The Dead Don’t Die

More intriguing still are the films by Ladj Ly, a genuine first-timer propelled straight onto the main stage with Les Miserables, a film apparently about the banlieues and police violence… He was born in Mali and has appeared in films with Vincent Cassel but this is based on a successful short he made last year and here’s the trailer for that.

I’m well up for Atlantique by Mati Diop, the Senegalese film maker who has also been a wonderful actress for Claire Denis and Antonio Campos and now become the first black female filmmaker to have a film in Competition. It’s about migration and disappearance in Dakar, and promises much – her Dad is a jazz musician and her uncle was Djibril Diop Mambety, who made the seminal African film Touky Bouky in the 70s. She’s probably going to be the coolest person in Cannes.

Bacurau (Nighthawk) is a Brazilian film from Kleber Mendonca Filho, who made the excellent drama Aquarius in 2016 and the wonderful Neighbouring Sounds in 2012, so I’m very much on board for his latest, apparently set in the north east again – Recife is his preferred locale.

One will always have one’s favourites and bug bears in a selection such as Cannes – I’m never a big fan of Xavier Dolan, nor Bellochio, nor deadpan Palestinian satirist Elia Suleiman, nor particularly of Korean creature feature auteur Bong Joon-ho, whose films such as Okja, The Host and Snowpiercer are adored by genre lovers. And yet all of these are clearly gifted, clever film makers and I hope they surprise me.

I like Ira Sachs a lot, his blend of gay New York indie film making is always edgy, wry and full of heart (Love is Strange, Little Men, Keep the Lights On) – and Frankie is a family drama that stars Isabelle Huppert, serial Queen of Cannes, alongside Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremie Renier. It’s all set in Sintra, Portugal, probably in a great villa, because Sach’s films are often concerned with property and inheritance. That’s my tip for a big prize already, along with the Chinese film from Diao Yinan.

But you can never discount Terrence Malick bouncing back to his finest form, even if his recent output has felt infuriating, almost self-parodic. But A Hidden Life, about an Austrian conscientious objector killed in 1943,  could be wonderful, even transcendent and it does star the late Bruno Ganz. 

Maradona documentary image

Maradona

Out of Competition also looks tasty – Asif Kapadia finally delivers his doc Maradona, so I’m hoping Diego himself will be there and we can play some keepy uppy on the red carpet, up the steps even. 

And Dexter Fletcher will be there with Elton John, presenting Rocketman, which I’ve seen about 10 mins of and which looks great fun, with Taron Egerton incarnating Elton and Jamie Bell playing lyricist Bernie Taupin – this a tale of 70 excess and some iconic pop tunes being created and it’ll be a bit weird being in Cannes and seeing a bit of Pinner on the biggest screen of all. Hopefully, Elton will give us a tune, too.

As always with the Cannes line-up, one lives in delicious, tantalising hope. 

For a complete list of the films in Competition and in the Un Certain Regard sidebar as well as other sections.