Put your palmes together for Cannes

By Robbie Collin, Tim Robey

For a festival capable of feast and famine, this year's schedule will have even fussiest fans salivating with glee.
The Nice Guys starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Photo / Supplied
The Nice Guys starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Photo / Supplied

Like any film festival, Cannes has thick years and thin ones, but there's one constant factor: those folks at the Palais know how to put together a menu.

The 2016 programme is one of the most broadly appealing for years, with a bruisingly robust main competition - big beasts of the Croisette, like Pedro Almodovar and the Dardenne brothers, thrown in with younger agitators and hellraisers - plus an unusually starry selection of world premieres.

Even the Quinzaine - the independently run Director's Fortnight strand, typically studded with unsung treasures - seems like even more of a sweetshop than usual.

The litmus test of a great festival programme is always how loudly people complain about what's not in it: this year's grumbles have barely risen above a mouse-squeak.

Martin Scorsese's passion project Silence, James Gray's Charlie Hunnam-starring Amazonian epic The Lost City of Z, Oliver Stone's techno-thriller Snowden, based on the Edward Snowden NSA leaks, and Ben Wheatley's ensemble heist thriller Free Fire had all, at one stage, been mooted for inclusion: now it seems likely that all four will surface at either Venice or Toronto in September.

But who cares? There's simply too much else to get excited about. Here are some highlights.

1 The BFG

Steven Spielberg's second collaboration with Mark Rylance (two more are on the way) is an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children's story - a fantasy of surrogate parenthood about an orphan and a giant that dances across about a thousand Spielbergian sweet spots. The film's Cannes world premiere falls two months before its UK release in late July: Spielberg and co will be hoping for Inside Out levels of buzz, which played the same game last year to world-conquering effect. An early trailer, with a motion-captured but still eminently recognisable Rylance, was aglow with promise.

2 The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn is a veteran of the Cannes roller-coaster. Drive took the roof off the Palais des Festivals at its world premiere there in 2011, while two years later, his career-derailing Only God Forgives floundered. (Refn's seat on the competition jury in 2014 showed there were no hard feelings.) His latest is a sleekly stylised psycho-horror about cannibalistic models, with Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves: the prospect of a glorious comeback or another fiasco immediately made it one of 2016's hottest tickets.

3 The Nice Guys

No one writes buddy action-comedies quite like Shane Black: in fact, his Lethal Weapon script more or less chiselled the genre rules into marble. His latest, which he also directed, is a noirish-looking caper starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who play a bounty hunter and a private investigator on the trail of a missing girl in 1970s Los Angeles. Black's last jaunt to the Croisette was in 2005, when his witty, self-aware and far-too-little-known directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, premiered out of competition.

4 American Honey

British director Andrea Arnold's films are renowned for their skin-prickling intimacy and beady social-realist focus: see Red Road, Fish Tank and her maverick Wuthering Heights adaptation for more (really, see them, they're great). Quite how that style will transfer to a sprawling road movie set in the American midwest and co-starring Shia LaBeouf remains to be seen, but it's an intriguing question - as is whether Arnold's street-casting magic touch will have struck again with her latest discovery, 19-year-old screen newcomer Sasha Lane. As one of only three female film-makers in contention for the Palme d'Or, Arnold will be in the full glare of the Cannes spotlight, making American Honey one of this year's most high-stakes premieres.

5 Staying Vertical

Those in search of Cannes scandal should look no further than Alain Guiraudie, a hot up-and-coming French film-maker whose penchant for eye-wateringly explicit sex is as much of a trademark as his flair for heightened, Hitchcockian tension with addictively surreal detailing. This drama about a creatively blocked film-maker and single father sounds tamer than his gay cruising thriller Stranger by the Lake, which took the Un Certain Regard sidebar by storm in 2013. But its position in the main competition is a sure indicator of a talent on the rise.

Steven Spielberg's The BFG, featuring Mark Rylance. Photo / AP
Steven Spielberg's The BFG, featuring Mark Rylance. Photo / AP

6 Aquarius

If you haven't heard of the Brazilian film-maker Kleber Mendonca Filho, don't fret: his hugely promising 2012 feature debut, the psychological drama Neighbouring Sounds, never quite found the audience it deserved. That film first popped up at the comparatively lowly International Film Festival Rotterdam, so the fact that his latest - a strange-sounding drama about a music critic battling a property developer - hasn't just made the jump to Cannes, but is in competition for the Palme d'Or, sets off every advance-warning siren at Film Critic HQ. We predict something big.

7 The Red Turtle

When Studio Ghibli indefinitely shuttered its animation business two years ago, fans worldwide were distraught. But the latest project from Oscar-winning Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit brings a glimmer of hope. The Red Turtle, a dialogue-free ecological fable, was created by two French production houses and the venerable Japanese studio, whose co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, fell in love with de Wit's 2000 Oscar-winning short Father and Daughter. Its berth in the traditionally more experimental Un Certain Regard sidebar kindles the hope of both brains and beauty in plentiful supply.

8 Dog Eat Dog

After the studio locking him out of the editing suite on The Dying of the Light, and Lindsay Lohan turning the shoot for The Canyons into a waking nightmare, Paul Schrader deserves a break from disappointment. Cannes 2016 might be it: the new hard-boiled thriller from the writer of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver will close the Director's Fortnight programme. Based on a novel by former San Quentin inmate Edward Bunker, it stars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as two crooks whose kidnapping of a baby goes sickeningly wrong.

9 My Life as a Courgette

This French-Swiss stop-motion animation should make it on to any self-respecting Cannes wish list for its title alone. The debut feature from animator Claude Barras is adapted from a children's novel about a 9-year-old boy finding his feet in an orphanage: a bleak premise that'll hopefully be leavened by the gorgeous puppets and a script that's tantalisingly written by Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood), a gifted navigator of children's inner lives.

10 Cafe Society

Woody Allen opens Cannes for a record third time - with another honeyed period piece, about a plucky dreamer played by Jesse Eisenberg who tries to make a go of things in 1930s Hollywood. This is set two decades earlier than the Coens' Hail, Caesar!, but the supporting cast (Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis) promises similarly spiky comedy, and the romance side rests on a third Eisenberg-Kristen Stewart pairing, after Adventureland and American Ultra.

We just hope it's a sparkier curtain-raiser than Allen's similarly insidery 2002 turkey Hollywood Ending.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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