Even in a world where ‘Avengers: Endgame’ can break the $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion) box office barrier in 11 days, Cannes remains the centre of the cinematic universe. The festival’s 72nd edition opens on May 14 with a critic-flattening line-up of 154 features, a notable 10 of which are detailed below. Two years after The Great Rift, Netflix remains a touchy subject: dated French broadcast laws are the sticking point. But even in the absence of the streaming giant’s new Scorsese and Soderbergh titles, this year’s selection has a range and confidence that stands in muscle-flexing contrast to the quieter so-called “transitional years” of the recent past.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The jewel in Cannes’ 2019 programme almost slipped down the back of the sofa, thanks to an unexpectedly cumbersome editing process that left writer-director Quentin Tarantino scrambling to meet the mid-May deadline. But it’s finished, and ready for unveiling on the 25th anniversary of Pulp Fiction’s now-mythical 1994 world premiere. Set in 1969 on the eve of the Manson murders, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a Burt Reynolds-esque hunk and his trusty stunt double, both blundering through the dying days of golden age Hollywood.
Sorry We Missed You
Ken Loach is among the hardiest of Cannes perennials, but the social-realist firebrand isn’t the only two-time Palme d’Or winner in this year’s competition strand. (Bonjour, Belgium’s Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.) Still, after the surprise triumph of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ in 2016, he returns on a roll with what is likely to be his last film, ‘Sorry We Missed You’, a timely, Tyneside-set drama about a struggling father who turns to delivery driving in the gig economy. It stars Kris Hitchen, a former plumber whose highest-profile role to date was a walk-on part in ‘Coronation Street’ in 2017.
The early PR push around Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic seems determined to distance it from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a few key respects — not least with a franker approach to its subject’s sexuality and repeated assurances that star Taron Egerton sang the songs himself. With the film launching in UK cinemas days after its out-of-competition premiere, Fletcher and co will be hoping to harness the powers of the Cannes publicity machine to their most glittering effect. Elton himself, limelight-phobe that he is, will be on hand for a celebratory post-screening gig.
The Dead Don’t Die
No chalice is more poisoned at Cannes than the opening night slot, when critical knives are still ringing from the whetstone and every lens in town is trained on the Palais red carpet. But it’s hard to see how this ensemble zombie comedy from Jim Jarmusch can fail to charm attendees, with Bill Murray and Adam Driver as two small-town cops leading the motley resistance against a rising tide of the living dead. Tilda Swinton also features as a sword-fighting mortician, naturally.
The other hotly anticipated horror film in Directors’ Fortnight comes from America’s Robert Eggers, whose 2015 period piece ‘The Witch’ was one of the most auspicious debuts in years. His follow-up stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as wiry and sullen lighthouse keepers in New England in the 1890s. Shot in black and white on cameras from the Twenties and Forties, it has already been compared by its producer Rodrigo Teixeira to Kubrick’s The Shining: safe to say this one is aiming high.
A busy year for British filmmaking talent continues with this psychological horror from Babak Anvari, whose 2016 breakthrough was the Tehran-set ghost story Under the Shadow. Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson bring movie-star wattage to this story of a bartender who snoops through a discarded phone, only to be sent text messages, images and sounds that freeze his blood. Adapted from Nathan Ballingrud’s novel The Visible Filth, it promises to send a horrible chill coursing down the Croisette.
Pain & Glory
The 21st film from Pedro Almodovar sounds like the Spanish maestro’s most autobiographical work since 2009’s ‘Broken Embraces’. Antonio Banderas is an ageing film director who reflects on his earlier successes in the hope it will restore his creative mojo. Already released in Spain, where early reviews framed it as something of a greatest-hits encore, it should go down well at a festival that helped establish its director as one of world cinema’s most essential voices.
Too Old to Die Young
Cannes’ feud with Netflix might be continuing apace, but the festival insists it is neither anti-television nor anti-streaming on principle. This year’s case for the defence: a prestigious out-of-competition slot for two episodes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s forthcoming Amazon series, a Los Angeles-set cop show that channels the brooding, neon-noir spirit of ‘Drive’, the Danish provocateur’s 2011 breakthrough hit. David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ revival was extended the same honour in 2017, and you can bet Refn will be pleased to follow in his footsteps.
Rambo V: Last Blood
Sylvester Stallone and Cannes go together like ris de veau topped with a cheeseburger: festival-watchers may fondly recall his last appearance in 2014 to promote ‘The Expendables 3’, when he drove up the Boulevard de la Croisette in a tank. At a late-night event his year he’ll be sharing some images from the forthcoming ‘Rambo V’, in which the Vietnam veteran takes on a Mexican cartel, before introducing a new restoration of Ted Kotcheff’s ‘First Blood’. Carriages are still tbc, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be noisy.
After his ‘Senna and Amy’ rewrote the bio-documentary rule book, Britain’s Asif Kapadia submerged himself in this passion project about the Argentine football icon. Compiled from more than 500 hours of previously unseen footage from Maradona’s own archive, it centres on his time at SSC Napoli in the 80s, but looks back to his shanty town beginnings and to the personal and professional turmoil to come. Kapadia doesn’t pull punches, but his subject must be pleased enough with the result, as he’s due to walk the red carpet.