In Cannes, it's cinema as usual

The film festival is proof that a physical event still matters

A scene from Decision To Leave. (Photos ©

After the cancellation in 2020 and a bump to the month of July in 2021 -- with smaller attendance as international travel was still interrupted -- the Cannes Film Festival returns to its usual mid-May slot, keyed up and fully prepped to show the world that it's cinema, and the cinema business, as usual.

With the pandemic receding, with streaming services gaining strength and then wavering (see Netflix share prices), and with Marvel having colonised the global box office, storied, proud Cannes knows it's carrying the banner of tradition, of film as experience. The full comeback this week will offer a counterargument against those who deem a physical film event an outdated, pre-Covid conceit.

Or so we hope. Running from today until May 28, Cannes teases critics with a line-up that mixes the usual suspects (in the competition) with possible breakouts (in the sidebars) and a sprinkle of wild things (eg Albert Serra in the main slot). At first glance, it seems a little less antenna-prickling than last year, especially with a weaker presence from Asian directors (and with only one film from Southeast Asia, 1976's Itim by Mike de Leon from the Philippines, in the Cannes Classics). But this being Cannes, passion runs high: this circus is a promise, a redemption, and a potential scandal rolled into one.

So what's the word on la Croisette? For starters, the film that has got our bile churning even before anyone has seen it is David Cronenberg's Crimes Of The Future, a literally visceral thriller about organ mutation for which the director predicts "mass walkouts within the first five minutes… while the last 20 will be very hard on people". What a pitch. Cronenberg (The Fly, Crash) has Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as co-conspirators in his latest high-revulsion horror. The film will open in the US and Europe weeks after Cannes, but still no news if anyone will bring it to Thailand.

David Cronenberg's Crimes Of The Future.

Former Palme d'Or winners populate the main competition. Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) is back with Broker, a drama set in Korea and with Korean actors; Ruben Ostlund (The Square) is coming to Cannes with a satire Triangle Of Sadness, in which two models and a cleaning lady are stuck on a desert island with a bunch of billionaires; Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days) is presenting R.M.N, a Transylvanian-set family drama; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) return with Tori And Lokita, about the life of two African-Belgians. Cannes is known for championing its alumni, over and over, but still you can't easily dismiss anything made by these trusty old hands.

One competition entry that will certainly arrive in Thai cinemas (and streaming) is Park Chan-wook's murder mystery Decision To Leave, starring Tang Wei. On the opposite end, a film that is very unlikely to come to the theatre here is the most intriguing: Albert Serra's Pacification sees the Spanish director perform surgical dissection of the life of the French upper-class on Tahiti. Having an idiosyncratic filmmaker like Serra in the elite competition is a strategy Cannes always deploys to give its line-up a slightly subversive, unpredictable edge (but not too much!). Last year, Julia Ducournau's Titane (in which a pole dancer has sex with a Cadillac, for starters) occupied this role -- and ended up winning the Palme d'Or.

Five woman directors are in the main competition. Claire Denis with the romantic thriller Stars At Noon (starring Robert "Le Batman" Pattinson); Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi's Forever Young, about an artist in Paris; Kelly Reichardt's Showing Up, a drama-comedy starring Michelle Williams; Leonor Serraille's Mother And Son, about an African family in a Paris suburb; and Charlotte Vandermeersch's (together with Felix Van Groeningen) Eight Mountains, adapted from a bestselling Italian novel.

Broker by Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Since last year, Cannes has cleared the Un Certain Regard sidebar programme for a larger presence of upcoming and first-time filmmakers. This year, eight out of 21 titles in this section are debut films. This is a welcome move, because while brand-name directors are the main draw, newcomers nourish the health of cinema. From the list, we look forward to Plan 75 by Chie Hayakawa, about a euthanasia programme encouraged by the state to minimise the impact of an aged society. Davy Chou's All The People I'll Never Be tells the story of a young French woman who returns to South Korea, the country of her birth. American actress Riley Keough, co-directing with Gina Gammell, will present her first film War Pony.

And because cinema is relevant, politics is sure to hobnob with glitz -- principally concerning the war in Ukraine. One of the competition entries is Tschaikovski's Wife by the anti-Putin Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov; thus Cannes makes the noble call by not shutting out all Russian directors as some anti-war artists wanted. Meanwhile, the festival will screen Mariupolis 2, a documentary shot by the Lithuanian Mantas Kvedaravicius before he was captured and killed by the Russian army in Mariupol. Then there's Natural History Of Destruction, by the Ukrainian director Sergie Lotznitsa, showing in the Out Of Competition section.

Cinema is back, and there's a lot to keep an eye on.

The Cannes Film Festival starts today and runs until May 28.

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