It’s almost that time of the year again. Red carpets are being prepared, critics are gathering their caffeine tablets, and social media is beginning to buzz about the latest and greatest films from across the world. Cannes Film Festival has always marked the film calendar with ingenuity and controversy alike, and this year is no different. Dramas this year include a return of Nazi-sympathiser Lars von Trier to the lineup after a supposed seven year ban, a long and exhausting battle with Netflix (in which nobody really won), and a lack of female directors in competition (a dismal 14%). On the other hand, the 3 Days at Cannes programme will allow 1000 young cinephiles access to one of the most exclusive film events of the year, the competition jury is majority women, and Cannes’ very first Kenyan feature – discussed below – will compete in the Un Certain Regard section. One step forward, two steps back.
Regardless of all this, we’re excited because Cannes always means one thing: fantastic films. In preparation for the festival, we’ve put together a short list of those premieres that we’re most keen to see.
Blackkklansman, dir. Spike Lee
This is a very exciting film to be premiering because it marks acclaimed director Spike Lee’s return to the Cannes Film Festival. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which premiered at Cannes in 1989 is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s a film that cemented Lee as a provocative and topical voice in the cinema scene, and painted the environment of urban life for black youth with powerful political messages about race relations and police brutality that proceeds to still be culturally relevant today.
Backed by Jordan Peele’s production company, Monkeypaw, Blackkklansman is an adaptation of the 2014 non-fiction novel by Ron Stallworth about an African-American police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan and becomes a head of a local chapter. It is guaranteed to make a splash and spark lots of important conversations at Cannes. Starring talent such as Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, John David Washington and Adam Driver, this is one to look out for. Blackkklansman opens wide in August 10th, 2018 and I am hyped to see what Lee has to say.
Burning, dir. Lee Chang-dong
After an eight year hiatus, Korean director, and Korea’s former minister of culture, Lee Chang-dong has returned to the art film scene with his third Cannes premiere (first being Secret Sunshine in 2007 and then Poetry in 2010). He marks his return with an adaptation of a short story called Barn Burning by Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. The story follows two men and a woman who are brought together after a mysterious incident where one man casually admits his secret hobby is arson. The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen will star alongside Yoo Ah-in and newcomer Jeon Jong-seo.
If this film is anything like a Murakami work, it will be surreal and unnerving with a dash of whimsy. When talking about Burning, Chang-dong said, “It’s a story of young people in the world nowadays. When young people look at the world these days, thinking about the world or their life, and wonder if it’s a mystery that can’t be understood–I can say that [this] movie is made with such an intention.”
– Mary Beth McAndrews
Fahrenheit 451, dir. Ramin Bahrani
Dystopian fiction is always a popular subject. Regardless of the current political climate, we find ourselves fascinated at the prospect of a society even more frightening than our own – perhaps there is some comfort in the fictional elements of these stories. Still, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ comes at a time of particular political upheaval in many Western nations, and the modern twist on the 1953 novel only serves to make this adaptation all the more relevant.
Starring the brilliant Michael B. Jordan, this HBO film retells the familiar tale of a future where books are outlawed, and “firemen” are employed to rid America of any that remain. Jordan will play Guy Montag, a fireman who is loyal to the propaganda machine that provides his living. The film additionally releases at a time when the artistic merit of “television” is constantly under fire; perhaps ‘Fahrenheit 451’ can prove that distribution method is not such a big deal after all.
– Megan Christopher
Rafiki, dir. Wanuri Kahiu
Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Rafiki’ is making waves on many levels; as a female-directed picture, the film already forms part of a minority at Cannes – add to this the fact that this lesbian love story will be the very first Kenyan feature film to be shown at the festival, and you have a special achievement indeed. The film follows two young women, Kena and Ziki, whose families happen to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and has been described by the director as “a story about all that is good and difficult about being in love”.
Sadly, the Kenyan Film Classification Board has banned the film in Kahiu’s home country, in a devastating blow for a filmmaker who deserves so much more. The director’s previous work has received international acclaim, with the 2009 drama ‘From a Whisper’ winning big at the African Movie Academy Awards. This foray into LGBTQ+ cinema should hopefully shine a light on an underlooked segment of Kenyan society, whilst cementing Kahiu’s status as one of Africa’s greatest filmmakers; the KFCB may ban her film, but they can never take away her place in the history books.
– Megan Christopher
Three Faces, dir. Jafar Panahi
Despite his twenty-year long ban on making films, Jafar Panahi has continued to surprise by creating films even with sparse and limited resources at his disposal. We may remember him from Taxi Tehran (2015), a heartwarming metafictional film brimming with both political criticism and empathy, directed merely with a surveillance camera or two, within the enclosed space of a taxi with Panahi as the driver – or is he posing as one? With this, we can see Panahi as a refreshing innovator in cinema, challenging our preconceived notions on what truly constitutes a film.
Therefore, the upcoming premiere of Three Faces (2018) at Cannes leaves us wondering: what has Panahi done this time to subvert the limitations of his ban? The film features three different actresses at different points of their careers: one staged right before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, another actress already successful and the other yearning for a spot in a drama conservatory.
It is known that most of Panahi’s films have always been explicitly political, as seen from his brilliant critique of the ban on “sordid realism” in Taxi Tehran. One can only anticipate what issues Panahi has chosen to tackle with this upcoming film, and more interestingly, how he has managed to do it within the stifling confines of his exile from filmmaking.
– Sharmane Tan
Under the Silver Lake, dir. David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell is no stranger to Cannes, premiering both The Myth of the American Sleepover and the horror hit It Follows at Critics’ Week. It Follows may have been the subject of a hundred jokes about STIs, but it was a chilling exercise in building suspenseful scares and creating a sense of genuine fear that, for lack of a better word, follows you long after the film is over.
Mitchell gets the upgrade to the competition with his newest film, Under the Silver Lake, a surreal noir-mystery-comedy that, judging from the trailer, defies categorisation. Andrew Garfield stars as a wide-eyed young man who becomes enchanted with a mysterious woman (Riley Keough) he meets one night. When she disappears the next morning, he embarks on a search for her and uncovers the seedy depths of Los Angeles along the way. A24 is releasing this one only a month after its Cannes premiere so you won’t have to wait too long to find out what the hell the bizarre trailer is teasing.
– Iana Murray