With the banning of red-carpet selfies, a bitter renewal of last year’s heated Netflix debate and more intense discussion than usual over how many female directors would be selected for competition, it was shaping up to be a dramatic year for the Festival de Cannes even before its official selection lineup was announced.
For those who hoped Cannes would shake things up further still with its freshest, nerviest, most unpredictable slate in years, the festival did not disappoint.
Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake” will lead a relatively slim American presence in the main competition, for which selections were unveiled Thursday morning in Paris by festival general delegate Thierry Frémaux and President Pierre Lescure.
Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” which Focus Features will release in the United States in August, stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colo., who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1979. It will be Lee’s first film to compete for the Palme d’Or since “Jungle Fever” 27 years ago.
“Under the Silver Lake,” an A24 release set to open in June, is a Los Angeles neo-noir starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough and Topher Grace. (Grace, as it happens, also has a role in “BlacKkKlansman.”) It will mark Mitchell’s first appearance in competition, though he was previously at Cannes with two well-received indies, “It Follows” and “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” both of which played in Critics’ Week, a program that runs parallel to the official selection.
The number of American directors and Hollywood stars tends to fluctuate at Cannes from year to year. The 2017 edition, for example, featured a more robust U.S. showing, with new films from Sofia Coppola, Josh and Benny Safdie, Noah Baumbach, Todd Haynes, John Cameron Mitchell and Taylor Sheridan in the official selection. A smaller American contingent is nothing new at Cannes, which remains world cinema’s most prestigious annual showcase.
The more startling development at this year’s 71st annual edition is the absence of new films from heavyweight European auteurs — among this year’s possibilities were France’s Olivier Assayas, Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino and Britain’s Mike Leigh — who are often seen as competition mainstays. The annual inclusion of usual suspects has led many to dismiss Cannes as a perpetual old boys’ club, resistant to change.
Not this year. In what Frémaux hailed as “a great renewal” for the festival, the competition is teeming with new names and unknown quantities. Eight directors, including Mitchell, will compete for the Palme d’Or for the first time, a bumper crop without recent precedent.
Two of those newcomers are women: France’s Eva Husson with “Girls of the Sun,” starring Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as a Kurdish fighter trying to take back her hometown from extremists, and Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki with “Capernaum,” a political fable set somewhere in the Middle East, about a rebellious child who pursues a lawsuit. Labaki was previously at Cannes with “Where Do We Go Now?,” which screened in the festival’s Un Certain Regard program in 2011.
Three of the 18 films in competition are directed by women: Husson, Labaki and the Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher, who will follow “The Wonders,” which won the Grand Prix (second prize) at Cannes in 2014, with a rural time-travel tale, “Lazzaro Felice.” Cannes draws criticism annually for not featuring more female directors in competition, and it is likely to face continued scrutiny on the issue as the film industry confronts issues of representation and gender parity worldwide.
This year’s number is neither the best nor the worst the competition has managed in recent years. Frémaux, who has often rebutted these criticisms by noting that he would never program a female-directed film simply for inclusiveness’ sake, nonetheless said he deplores the fact that only one female director, Jane Campion, has won the Palme d’Or in the festival’s seven-decade history. “Jane Campion would love to have another woman receive the Palme d’Or,” he added.
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