Cannes is just around the corner, and for those of us stuck at home wistfully thinking of the Croisette, there is no better place to turn than to the exceptional catalogue of past Cannes selections. MUBI have helpfully prepared a brilliant streaming lineup for their next twelve days of programming, presenting an iconic past Cannes film every day of the festival – surely enough to sate our cinematic appetites without even the need to even get up from the couch. Fantastique!
Read on to find out what our writers thought about the films included in this year’s Cannes MUBI lineup – from sadomasochistic horror, to the first movie to ever premiere in 3D at the festival, to a beloved Palme d’Or winner, there’s something here for everyone.
May 14th: Antichrist, dir. Lars von Trier
Antichrist is deeply disturbing film about witches, misogyny, and the darkness that lurks in the woods. Director Lars von Trier has a rather spotty track record when it comes to working with women and depicting them on screen, and this film is no exception. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star as the film’s couple who are grieving after the death of their son, who fell out of a window while the couple was having sex. In an attempt to address his wife’s grief and her fear of the woods, the man takes her to their cabin in a forest called, Eden. Despite his efforts to fix his wife, the woman succumbs to the evils of the forest. While it is film open to a plethora of interpretations about religion and mental illness, it feels like an indictment of femininity, especially in a rather explicit scene involving a pair of scissors. In yet another divisive film that strays in the realm on horror, von Trier continues to push audience buttons and laugh in the face of their discomfort.
– Mary Beth McAndrews
May 15th: Caramel, dir. Nadine Labaki
Warm and sweet as its namesake, ‘Caramel’ is a much lighter – though equally astute – offering than Nadine Labaki’s latest Cannes triumph, ‘Capernaum’. Following the lives of various Lebanese women who work in and around a hair salon in Beirut, the film documents each character’s individual struggles with a gentle gaze. From marital affairs to repressed sexuality to fractured self-esteem, problems so often cast aside as ‘women’s issues’ are here given centre stage; astute observations on sisterhood delivered with an irresistibly charming humour. As the credits begin, Labaki dedicates the film “to her Beirut”, cementing ‘Caramel’s status as a passionate celebration of a misunderstood city and its people.
– Megan Christopher
May 16th: Nobody Knows, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Twelve year old Akira (Yūya Yagira) has to grow up fast. He and his mother move into a small flat in Tokyo but, unbeknownst to the landlord, so do three of his younger half- siblings. They spring out of the suitcases where they’ve been hiding, thrilled by their adventure, but their mother forbids them from going outside for fear of being discovered. Akira is in charge while she goes out to work, but he eventually realises that she’s left the family for good.
Based on a real case of abandonment, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows (2004) is an intimate portrait of struggle through the eyes of a child. A potentially melodramatic plot is grounded by naturalistic performances and small moments of chaos reverberate through the stillness: a knocked over bottle of red nail polish pools on the floorboards, like a warning. It’s a quietly moving, authentic story of tragedy and hope.
– Laura Venning (oldvenkenobi.com)
May 17th: Paranoid Park, dir. Gus Van Sant
Paranoid Park (2007) is a mixture of arresting poetry, guilt and memory. The film begins with the resonances of a haunting score: one which resembles a soothing nursery lullaby, and ever so slightly morphs into sharp dissonance occasionally. Similarly, Paranoid Park highlights that memory lulls the one who remembers into believing that they have control, all while persistently betraying that belief by situating itself beyond cognitive grasp. Alex (Gabe Devin), a sixteen year old boy, may have inadvertently caused the death of a security guard. He spends the next few years of his life attempting to come to terms with this event through writing it down, and naming this story ‘Paranoid Park.’ As such, the film self-consciously reminds us that we are merely watching what Alex writes of the event than the actual event itself. For this reason, Alex is both the actor and spectator of the theatre that is memory. As actor, Alex is in control of his narrative. Yet as a passive spectator of his past, the film’s penchant for the betrayal of sound fidelity seems to suggest that even Alex is unable to understand his guilt, and his role in this tragic death. In this way, Van Sant’s Paranoid Park navigates the murkiness that is memory, and how it provides a shape for the experience of guilt. Rather than guilt being easily tied to an act of wrongdoing, Van Sant shows us that how one perceives guilt is determined by a selective, subjective, and complicit narrative which may or may not absolve the wrong-doer.
– Sharmane Tan
May 18th: The Kid with a Bike, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike (2011) definitely lives up to its prestigious accolade. The film follows the journey of a young boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret), who escapes from a children’s home to re-unite with his father. Like any child yearning for unconditional love, Cyril believes that his father is keeping his bike for him, and uses this belief to postpone the gnawing realisation that his father has actually abandoned him. While this premise could have easily embarked on a crude exploitation of our sympathy, The Kid with a Bike balances pain with overwhelming kindness. At the heart of this film is Cyril’s relationship with Samantha (Cecile de France), a stranger he bumps into entirely by chance. She showers him with unconditional love, and thus embodies a kindness which surprises both Cyril, and the audience. The film never reveals Samantha’s motivations for taking Cyril in, suggesting that kindness might just be the only thing which abolishes a rational economy based on ruthless reciprocal transactions. For this reason, The Kid with a Bike is a profoundly evocative film: it teaches us that empathy is not a pre-requisite for kindness. Rather, our kindness towards others opens up an avenue for empathy, and the opportunity to be undone in relation to something beyond ourselves.
– Sharmane Tan
May 19th: The Homesman, dir. Tommy Lee Jones
Westerns aren’t known for their progressive gender politics, favoring displays of violent masculinity rather than examining the struggles women faced while living on the prairie. Tommy Lee Jones’ 2014 film, The Homesman, tries to remedy that but doesn’t always succeed. Hilary Swank plays an unmarried woman who agrees to take three women (played by Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, and Sonja Richter) who have gone mad to a convalescent home some five weeks carriage ride from their town. She picks up drifter George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) to help with the journey. While women outnumber the men in terms of character, there is not much explanation or attention given to why these women have lost their minds. Brief interludes provide glimpses into miscarriages and assault, but they feel like afterthoughts to try and give these three mostly-silent characters more depth.
The star-studded cast, led by Swank and Jones, features brief appearances by James Spader, Meryl Streep, Tim Blake Nelson, and Hailee Steinfeld. Fans of the Western will enjoy The Homesman, though they will not find the genre’s typical violence. Instead, they will find beautiful shots of wide open spaces, tortured minds, and emotional conflict.
– Mary Beth McAndrews
May 20th: The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, dir. Cristi Puiu
Cristi Puiu’s big breakout has sustained itself as one of the most fascinating entries in the canon of the romanian new wave – a sprawling, frustrating, permanently engaging portrait of the romanian healthcare system through the eyes of a sick man and the nurse who accompanies him through the waiting rooms of several, overcrowded hospitals over the course of a night. While the characteristic pursuit of authenticity of the wave is particularly impressive in this film, its true quality lies in the story that it tells. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu doesn’t merely interrogate the harrowing downsides of a broken system, it also portrays what happens when the loss of a human life becomes routine. Mr. Lăzărescu’s life gets relativized, because he drinks, because he is difficult, because everyone is tired and uncommunicative and there are so many more patients waiting outside. Puiu manages to process his harsh observations with humor – desperate and developed under stress. Because what else can you really do, but laugh, to stay sane in mind-bogglingly unreal situations like these? It doesn’t make it okay, but it makes it better. At least a bit.
– Kareem Baholzer
May 21st: Jimmy P, dir. Arnaud Desplechin
Set at a veterans hospital in Tokepo, Kansas, ‘Jimmy P’ depicts the tale of post-war psychological trauma through a fresh lens: that of the colonial subject. Blackfoot Native American Jimmy Picard is played by Benecio Del Toro in a performance that could be a knockout, were it not for the elephant in the room regarding casting; Del Toro is, of course, Puerto Rican, and the chance to have cast a genuine Native actor seems like a missed opportunity. Still, ‘Jimmy P’ is a sensitive portrait of a man deeply lost within emotional upheaval, exploring the combined aftermath of lifelong prejudice, difficult memories and jarring cultural expectations.
– Megan Christopher
May 22nd: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, dir. Takashi Miike
When news broke that Takashi Miike would be directing a 3D remake of Harakiri, the violent 1962 jidaigeki samurai film by Kobayashi Masaki, everyone assumed the worst—if you consider extreme gore bad, that is. Yet Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai shocked audiences not with extremes, but with its restraint and commitment to emotional depth. There’s still swordfights and bloodshed galore, but Hara-Kiri is often more interested in the implications of this violence than the violence itself. Takashi’s 2011 film, which was the first movie in 3D ever to premiere at Cannes, closely follows its renowned source material in telling the tale of Tsugumo (Ichikawa Ebizō XI), an Edo-period ronin requesting to commit ritual suicide (harakiri, or seppuku) in the palace courtyard of the Iyi clan. After Iyi leaders recount the story of another ronin who recently passed through their gates and the film-within-a-film begins, the movie blossoms into an intense political melodrama, eventually revealing Tsugumo’s ulterior motives. Hara-Kiri preserves many of the cinematographic techniques used by Kobayashi, creating an atmosphere of constraint as a comment upon the rigid social structure of bushido, or the samurai code, while playing with all-new 3D visuals (in color, unlike the original’s black-and-white) and expanding on Tsugumo’s emotional backstory. It’s another excellent entry into one of the most popular genres in the history of film.
– Cassidy Olsen
May 23rd: Declaration of War, dir. Valerie Donzelli
Two drunken strangers both alike in dignity. In a dingy nightclub where we lay our scene. A boy and a girl’s eyes meet across a crowded room. There’s an instant connection. He introduces himself: Roméo. “Are you joking?” she asks. Her name is Juliette. Perhaps their literary namesakes had doomed them from that moment. Roméo and Juliette fall quickly and deeply in love. Soon, they have a son, Adam, who develops a terminal illness and puts their relationship under strain. It’s practically a cliche at this point to suggest a French film evokes the New Wave, but that’s exactly what Declaration of War does. A whimsical first act hints at Truffaut before it transitions into hardened medical drama – the carefree joys of love extinguished by reality. The film is based on director Valérie Donzelli’s own experiences, and so it’s easy to forgive the film’s wildly fluctuating tone. Even when the lovers intermittently break out into song, not a single moment rings false.
– Iana Murray
May 24th: Amores Perros, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 154-minute breakout film rarely, if ever, feels long. Rather, Amores perros races through its triptych of narratives with brutal, bloody efficiency, leaving just enough room for the pain to set in before continuing to move forward, inevitably, into the horizon. Set in Mexico City, Amores Perros connects three people from different levels of society using intertwined stories of personal tragedy, sweeping passions, and the shared theme of dogs. There’s Cofi, the large black rottweiler who becomes a star in the underground dogfighting scene at his owner Octavio’s (Gael García Bernal, in a career high performance) bidding — he is later found by professional hitman and estranged father El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría). There’s also Ritchie, owned by model Valeria (Goya Toledo), who gets lost under the floorboards of their high-rise apartment.
Octavio, Valeria, and El Chivo’s narratives abruptly intersect following a violent car accident. The incident has impacts both small and profound. An exercise in intense and unrepentant storytelling, Amores perros ruminates on steep class inequality, the seemingly endless human capacity for violence, and our ability (or lack thereof) to confront life-altering loss.
– Alejandra Salazar
May 25th: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, dir. Cristian Mungiu
Strikingly effective in its bleakness, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) combines minimalistic settings with almost suffocating suspense, creating an uncomfortable yet necessary viewing experience. When Romanian student Gabita becomes pregnant, she has no choice but to turn to roommate Otilia for help; under Decree 770, established by the Romanian communist party, abortion is almost entirely outlawed. Together, they arrange an illegal termination, but the strength of their friendship is tested when the true danger of this procedure comes to light.
Though firmly set in 1987 – the endless grey walls of the Eastern Bloc beautifully mirror Gabita’s entrapment – Mangiu avoids overstating the historical context of the film, establishing a narrative which reflects upon authority and the abuse of power as a wider topic. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days does not only exist as a vehement argument for reproduction rights; this multi-faceted drama is a poignant tale of female friendship, and an ode to the strength of marginalised individuals.
– Megan Christopher