x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

This year's Cannes Film Festival delivers

Compared with 2010, this year's film festival features movies that hold great promise for their wide release.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides stars Johnny Depp once again as Captain Jack Sparrow, but viewers can expect a new leading lady: Penélope Cruz.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides stars Johnny Depp once again as Captain Jack Sparrow, but viewers can expect a new leading lady: Penélope Cruz.

Four women and two first-time directors are among the makers of the 19 films in official competition at Cannes this year. The eclectic line-up has seen the festival's programmers respond to criticism about the lack of female directors in competition in recent years - there were none last year - and there remains an emphasis on big-name directors and star names.

Leading the way this year is the British director Lynne Ramsey, with her adaptation of Lionel Shriver's bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, the story of a mother coming to terms with her son's psychopathic behaviour.

The adaptation stars John C Reilly and Tilda Swinton as Franklyn and Eva, the parents of Kevin, who is played by Ezra Miller. It's the first film from the Ratcatcher director since she made Morvern Callar in 2002. Also up for the Palme d'Or is Japan's Naomi Kawase, whose historical drama Hanezu No Tsuki is one of only two Asian films vying for the big prize. Kawase is a novelist and documentary filmmaker - her credits include a film about her search for her father and also one about the grandmother who raised her - and became the youngest winner of the Camera d'Or (awarded for best new director) at Cannes in 1997. A major disappointment in the line-up is that Wong Kar Wai's much-anticipated martial arts film about IP Man, the trainer of Bruce Lee, failed to be completed in time.

One of the debut filmmakers to have a movie in competition is also a woman, 40-year-old Julia Leigh. The Australian newcomer was mentored by Jane Campion; her film Sleeping Beauty is about a university student who becomes entangled in a web of desire.

The fourth woman in competition is Maïwenn Le Besco from France. The director also stars in her own films and it's as an actress that she is best known for having played an opera-singing alien in 1997's The Fifth Element. She began directing in 2006 and Polisse, about a journalist investigating the police, is her fourth film.

Other prominent films by female directors playing at Cannes include the new film from Jodie Foster starring Mel Gibson, The Beaver, which plays out of competition, having already debuted at South By Southwest film, and the new film from Caramel director Nadine Labaki.

It was a surprise that Labaki was omitted from the main selection and put into the Un Certain Regard section. (But the line-up in Un Certain Regard looks particularly strong and opens with the much-anticipated Restless by Gus van Sant). Lebanese director Labaki became an international star when her debut film, set in a Lebanese beauty parlour, wowed audiences at Cannes and her new film, Where Do We Go Now, again focuses on a group of women, who this time are trying to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village. The 37-year-old is once again, director, writer and star of her own picture.

Those critics who fretted about the absence of big-name directors up for the Palme d'Or will be satisfied by the knowledge that the competition line-up includes new films from Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In); Nuri Bilge Ceylan with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, starring the Turkish superstar Yilmaz Erdogan as a doctor living on the Anatolian steppe; double Palme d'Or winners the Dardenne Brothers (The Kid With the Bike); the much-anticipated new film from Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life); Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre; Romanian Radu Mihaileanu's La Source des Femmes; Nanni Moretti's potentially controversial tale of Catholicism in Italy (We Have a Pope); and Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai.

There are three English-language films by European directors that promise to be some of the highlights of the festival. This Must Be the Place directed by Il Divo director Paolo Sorrentino stars Sean Penn as a bored, retired rock star who lives in Dublin and returns to New York after the death of his father. Lars von Trier weighs in with his much-anticipated end-of-the-world bonanza Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters who find their relationship under pressure by the impending end of the world. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan star in Drive from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn about a stunt driver who gets in a tangle when a robbery goes wrong.

Other films in competition include House of Tolerance by French director Bertrand Bonello, which stars The Secrets of the Grain star Hafsia Herzi; Israeli director Joseph Cedar following up Beaufort with Footnote; Alain Cavalier's new film Pater; and first-time French director Markus Schleinzer with his shocking debut film Michael.

Cannes has made a concerted effort to appeal to Hollywood this year and there are few franchises that are much bigger than Pirates of the Caribbean. The fourth instalment, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, sees Johnny Depp return as Jack Sparrow but this time Penélope Cruz stars as the principal female in the absence of Keira Knightley.

Angelina Jolie and Jack Black are expected to be on the red carpet to support the animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 2. The original also opened at Cannes before it went on to become a box-office favourite.

As had already been announced, the festival will open with a screening of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, the first film by the New Yorker to be made in France. Most of the intrigue will come from Carla Bruni, the wife of the French president, who has a small part in the film, which also stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen and Adrien Brody.

With Robert de Niro at the head of the jury this year, the star quotient will be high on La Croisette. It also makes it hard to pick out any early favourites for the big prize. With more films in the sidebar selections still to be announced, the festival has already created a buzz that was largely absent in 2010.

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