With the 2020 edition scuttled by covid-19, there was some pressure on the Cannes Film Festival to deliver a big-ticket selection for its comeback (6-17 July). Most would agree it's managed this part fine. The 2021 official selection—spanning categories like In Competition (IC), Un Certain Regard (UCR), Documentaries (D), Special Screenings (SC), and more—is unabashedly starry, with festival favourites like Leos Carax, Jacques Audiard, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, François Ozon, Mia Hansen-Løve, Paul Verhoeven and Nanni Moretti premiering new works.
The number of women directors in Competition is four out of 14, and in the wider official selection, 28 out of 64: the latter a record for Cannes, though it remains to be seen if the festival will continue to push in this direction. There is, perhaps understandably, a preponderance of French auteurs this time around; unlike the last two editions, there might not be an Asian Palme d’Or winner. From a list full of potential riches, here are 10 titles across sections that should be worth your time when they make their way to a cinema (or streaming platform) near you.
Leos Carax’s return has been awaited for years now, and the anticipation has heightened since it was announced he would be directing Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in a musical. The festival’s opening film, Annette has music by Sparks and a dark, delightful trailer. Given how Carax is responsible for some of the great musical sequences in modern cinema—Denis Lavant’s lurching run in Mauvais Sang, the march in Holy Motors—the prospect of an all-out musical from him is terribly exciting.
Paris, 13th District (IC)
Céline Sciamma may not be in Cannes as a director—her Petit Maman premiered at Berlinale earlier this year—but she’s there as co-writer, along with Léa Mysius, of Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District. The film, set in the 13th arrondissement, is adapted from American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine’s collection of stories Killing and Dying. Audiard already has a Palme d’Or for Dheepan, so the pedigree on this one couldn’t be stronger.
After Yang (UCR)
Kogonada cut his teeth as a critic making video essays, before making his feature debut with the quiet, luminous Columbus. His latest, After Yang, is based on a story by Alexander Weinstein about a time in the future when robotic children are used as babysitters. The film stars Colin Farrell, Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) and Jodie Turner-Smith.
Commitment Hasan (UCR)
A farmer tries to get rid of the power pole that is going to be installed in the midst of his land in this film from Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu. Kaplanoglu already has a major award under his belt: the Golden Bear for Honey in 2010. The trailer for his latest looks spare and powerful.
Gaspar Noé is also present in the official selection, with his film Vortex, but the place reserved for a Noé-esque provocative title seems to belong to Julia Ducournau (Raw). No information has been released about her Titane and it’s difficult to piece together a storyline from the trailer. But the two-minute promo is slinky, sexy, violent: a neo-noir dreamscape.
Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun returns after a gap of four years with Lingui. The film, set on the outskirts of N’djamena in Chad, is about a mother and her 15-year-old daughter who she finds out is pregnant and doesn’t want to keep the child, in a place where abortion is forbidden.
Drive My Car (IC)
Ryusuke Hamaguchi has been busy of late. His triptych Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. The Japanese director has another film premiering at Cannes: Drive My Car, based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami. Hamaguchi has a knack for twisty love stories, and this one might be his international breakout.
One of the most highly regarded modern filmmakers, Apichatpong Weerasethakul will premiere his first English-language feature at Cannes. Shot in Colombia, Memoria stars Tilda Swinton, an actor who seems made for a Weerasethakul production.
The Story of Film: A New Generation (D)
Mark Cousins’ epic 15-part documentary, The Story of Film, covered the sweep of cinema until 2010. This new chapter will look at the years since, taking in films from Frozen to Parasite. Expect Cousins’ distinctive voiceover and voracious appetite for cinematic languages of all kinds.
The Year of the Everlasting Storm (SC)
A global portmanteau film by an eclectic collection of directors: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Anthony Chen, David Lowery, Dominga Sotomayor and Malik Vitthal. The synopsis promises a film that “chronicles this unprecedented moment in time, and is a true love letter to the power of cinema and its storytellers”.