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Poster for Gaspar Noé's "Love"via senscritique.com

What to watch: Cannes edition

Keep an eye out for Gaspar Noé’s smutty return, a lesbian melodrama and a harrowing Amy Winehouse documentary

Le grand fromage of the film festival world, Cannes opens this week for its 67th annual edition. With many of its regular heavyweight auteurs absent this year – no Michael Haneke, Ken Loach or Dardennes brothers, and even the Coen brothers head up the Palme d’Or jury rather than competing – there’s a crop of intriguing films from rising and established filmmakers ready to stir the hearts and minds – or if you’re professional provocateur Gaspar Noé, more erogenous zones – of movie lovers worldwide. Here are ten to keep an eye on.

THE LOBSTER – YORGOS LANTHIMOS

The superb Dogtooth and its follow-up Alps demonstrated Greek director Lanthimos’s surrealist streak and bleak, acerbic humour. Here, working for the first time with non-native stars (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw) the outline and posters for futuristic dystopian fantasy The Lobster promise an even more outrageous conceit: namely that single people are given 45 days to find a mate or are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the woods... Expect the trademark Lanthimos absurdist, deadpan humour – with claws.

CAROL – TODD HAYNES

Returning to the 50s era of his subversive Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven, the long-awaited cinematic comeback from Haynes also seems to be retracing his New Queer Cinema roots, as Rooney Mara’s department store clerk falls for Cate Blanchett’s eponymous married older woman. Given the star power and track records of the principal talent involved (it’s based on a Patricia ‘Talented Mr. Ripley’ Highsmith novel too), this is possibly the most eagerly anticipated film of the whole festival.

THE SEA OF TREES – GUS VAN SANT

One of only two main competition directors – the other being Italian Nani Moretti – to have already won the Palme D’Or (for 2003’s oblique high-school massacre study Elephant), Gus Van Sant’s return to Cannes sounds an equally somber affair. Matthew McConaughey plays a man who wants to take his own life in Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest’ near Mt. Fuji, where he meets Ken Watanabe’s lost local. Despite the A-list cast including Naomi Watts, this suggests the more experimental, enigmatic Van Sant of Gerry and Elephant rather than crowd-pleasing Good Will Hunting form.

TALE OF TALES – MATTEO GARRONE

Italian Garrone is steadily establishing himself as a Cannes favourite, picking up prizes for both his last two festival entries: vicious street-level Mafia thriller Gomorrah and TV fable Reality. Showing off his versatility, Tale of Tales is clearly another departure, a lavish, fairy tale portmanteau based on 17th century poet Basile’s ‘Pentamerone’ and starring an eclectic cast including John C. Reilly, Stacy Martin and Salma Hayek, whose bloody, giant-heart-eating scene in the trailer has intrigued as many people as it repulsed. Either way, Garrone’s film looks like nothing else he or anybody else vying for the Palme D’Or has come up with and a definite must-see.

LOUDER THAN BOMBS – JOACHIM TRIER

There’s a distinct Cannes trend this year for international filmmakers working in English with big US and British names – Yorgos Lanthimos and Matteo Garrone (see above), Paolo Sorrentino (Youth with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel), and now Norway’s Joachim Trier. Trier’s two previous films, Reprise and Oslo August 31st, became cult items for their innovative narrative structure and subtle character work. So based on little more than a premise about secrets from Isabelle Huppert’s late war photographer emerging to family members Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, and an alleged Rashomon-like structure (multiple views on the same event), Louder than Bombs – named after the Smiths album title? – is already being talked about as a dark horse for awards, in Cannes and throughout the year.

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART – JIA ZHANGKE

Acclaimed director Jia made his name with minimalist, low-key underground films like Platform and The World. His last appearance at Cannes, however, came with 2013’s A Touch of Sin, an atypically bold, propulsive, violent critique of modern China, which won the Screenplay award. Advance word on his new film is very good, the filmmaker again looking to challenge himself with a love triangle set across three time zones – 1999, the present and 2025 – and two continents, ending in Australia. As ever his longtime muse and partner Zhao Tao appears in what could be the film that brings him his first-ever Palme D’Or at the fourth attempt.

SICARIO – DENIS VILLENEUVE

Genre pics don’t tend to go down well among Cannes’s highbrow cineastes – even No Country for Old Men came away empty-handed – but just maybe this drug cartel thriller can buck that trend. Set on the US-Mexican border, Sicario (slang for “hitman”) stars Benicio Del Toro as an assassin, alongside Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin as FBI and CIA agents, on the trail of a notorious drug lord. Optimism also comes from the fact that Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is on a roll now after 2013’s Prisoners and underrated exercise in head-fuckery Enemy with Jake Gyllenhaal. Given that his next project is the Blade Runner sequel with Ryan Gosling, it’ll be fascinating to see how Villeneuve steps up as the anticipation hots up.

DOPE – RICK FAMIYUWA

It’s easy to get fixated on Cannes’s Official Competition strand and thus miss gems a little off the beaten red carpet. Take Dope, a Sundance hit now debuting across the Atlantic in the Directors’ Fortnight strand. The story of a young African-American geek from Inglewood trying to offload some drugs, rather than Boyz in the Hood earnestness, director Rick Famiyuwa instead renders his coming-of-age in effervescent 90s hip-hop garb, accentuating the comedy, romance and music (including four Pharrell Williams tunes) alongside the drama, backed by a vibrant young cast including X-Men’s Zoe Kravitz and rapper A$AP Rocky.

LOVE – GASPAR NOÉ

Give the man credit: most enfant terribles need at least a reel of film screened, or a dodgy press conference (bonjour, Lars Von Trier) to start a ruckus; Gaspar Noé, mastermind behind shit-stirrers like Irreversible and Enter the Void merely requires a poster. Tease that he is, the first image for Noé’s 3D threesome sex film Love was an extreme close-up of seductive, kissing lips. The second shot was, quite literally, the very NSFW money shot. As a result the midnight screening of his “sperm, fluids and tears” saga is now the festival’s hottest ticket. Expanding artistic boundaries or simply pushing sensationalist buttons – no doubt he’d claim both – for hardcore controversy, just say Noé.

AMY – ASIF KAPADIA

UK cinema’s woeful (lack of) participation in this year’s Cannes stinks like a week-old Camembert on the beach. Thankfully one British director, Asif Kapadia, sneaks a lone entry in under the wire, with a special late-night screening of Amy, a documentary on the late Ms. Winehouse. Kapadia’s previous doc, Senna, was a surprise critical and commercial hit, eschewing talking heads and letting the stunning archive footage and voiceover do the talking. We’ll see if he repeats the trick here, though hype has been whipped up even further by the Winehouse family’s criticisms of their (mainly her father Mitch’s) supposedly negative portrayal. As with the supremely talented, troubled Amy herself, no matter how messed up Kapadia’s film might be, it’ll be impossible to look away.