Pin It
Elle Fanning in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon

What we’re hyped about seeing at Cannes this year and why

An extensive list of all the films you should care about including a coming-of-age animation, stunning revenge thrillers and a predictably dead pan Kristen Stewart

Cinema’s most prestigious, annual jamboree kicks off this week. Here are ten picks to look out for from the Cannes Film Festival 2016 – including releases starring Shia LaBeouf, Kristen Stewart and Ryan Gosling.


British directors not named Leigh or Loach have frequently struggled to win their films a Cannes Competition slot. Helping to break that mould is Andrea Arnold, whose great Fish Tank won the Jury Prize in 2009 and is back again with her first film set outside the UK. Billed as a sprawling road movie across the American Midwest, it centres on Star (19-year-old newcomer Sasha Lane), a troubled teen who runs away with a travelling sales crew and gets embedded in their hard-partying, outlaw lifestyle. Co-starring Shia LeBeouf and rising star Riley Keough (The Girlfriend Experience), few Cannes entries are as highly anticipated and it’ll be fascinating to see what Arnold, whose wonderful eye for poetic British social realism and untested talent, comes up with as she hits the road Stateside.


The last time Dutch director Paul Verhoeven competed on La Croisette was with, believe it or not, 1992’s V-neck-and-knicker-free erotic thriller Basic Instinct. In his first major feature since 2006’s underrated World War Two spy drama Black Book (which launched Game of Thrones’ Red Witch Carice van Houten), he’s back with a project that smacks of his wonderfully lurid Hollywood Instinct / Showgirls heyday: a revenge thriller about an executive who turns the tables on the stalker who violated her in a home invasion. That Elle’s star is the legendary Isabelle Huppert - look her up, kids - has us crossing more than just legs that’s it a late-career return to form for a filmmaker who, at his best, is so much more than just a slightly pervy provocateur (though he’s absolutely that too).


When the stylish and brutal Oldboy swept to 2004’s Grand Prix (effectively, second place), naysayers palmed it off as Asian Extreme fanboy adoration from jury president Quentin Tarantino. Then the rest of the world saw Park Chan-wook’s ferocious modern classic, plus the equally hypnotic and beautiful installments in his “vengeance trilogy” and realized that this was a filmmaker of the highest (if sometimes nastiest) caliber. After his uneven if still underrated English-language debut Stoker (2013), Park returns to his South Korean homeland, but with an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ cult Victorian novel Fingersmith. Resetting the story to pre-World War Two, Japanese-occupied Korea, but no doubt keeping the thrillingly sensual lesbian seductions, betrayals and pickpocketing, the trailer and poster elicit a coolly transgressive allure that’s instantly seductive.


He’s twenty-seven now, so who knows how much longer we’re required to prefix “enfant terrible” or “wunderkind” to French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. In any event, he’s back at Cannes with his sixth feature and follow-up to Mommy (which shared Cannes 2014’s Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard, no less), not to mention Adele’s “Hello” video. Apparently inspired by the late Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play Juste la fin du monde, an all-star French cast – Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux – surround Gaspard Ulliel’s writer who returns to his hometown to announced his impending death to his family, triggering a wave of recriminations and conflicts. Meaty, emotional stuff, then, potentially a perfect fit for Dolan’s melodramatic flare when teamed with such powerhouse performers.


Animation fans aren’t traditionally catered for at major film festivals, the films too often seen as part of a specialist “genre” (aaargh!) to be separately categorized and therefore sidelined. Rare exceptions like Berlin’s Golden Bear recipient Spirited Away (2001) or Ari Folman’s multi-award-winning Waltz With Bashir (2008) can break through, and this year’s Cannes strands have two primer contenders: Un Certain Regard’s Studio Ghibli collaboration with Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit The Red Turtle, and this stop-motion animation from French-Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras in the Director’s Fortnight selection. A coming-of-age adventure of a 9-year-old boy, the wild card factor here is a screenplay written by Celine Sciamma, the brilliant filmmaker behind Water Lilies and Girlhood. That and the wonderfully weird title mark this out as a must-see.


Feted for 2011’s thrillingly self-conscious Drive, booed for 2013’s laughably self-important Only God Forgives, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is never merely “comme-ci, comme-ca” at Cannes and this lavish horror flick looks no exception. Promising L.A. neon-soaked noir and cannibalistic models, it pits virginal Elle Fanning’s rising starlet against a vampiric industry that literally feeds off youth and beauty: so your basic day-in-the-life of Hollywood, then. The trailers look suitably sleek and dazzling, as does a supporting cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Abby Lee and even Keanu Reeves. Composer Cliff Martinez has described “the first half as a melodrama like Valley of the Dolls, and the second half is like Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Consider us front row for Winding Refn’s psycho fashion show.


Sometimes when Hollywood or star-driven genre cinema hijacks Cannes – witness 1998’s Godzilla debacle – it’s shown up as the cynical attempt to strong-arm the world’s media that it is. And sometimes – last year’s barnstorming Mad Max: Fury Road – it’s a bracing adrenaline shot to all that weighty, lengthy arthouse fare, a fix of wisecracking profanity, punchy action and fizzing star chemistry you hadn’t realized you needed as a palate cleanser. Advance word on Shane Black’s retro ‘70s buddy movie is heavily slanted towards the latter. Certainly the dynamite trailers of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling’s odd couple looks like Black’s previous buddy thrillers – the script for Lethal Weapon, meta-as-hell Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – on steroids.


France’s love affair with Kristen Stewart continues. The face of French fashion houses Chanel and Balenciaga makes two screen appearances at this year’s festival (the other is in Woody Allen’s opener Café Society) but this is the one to cement le grand comeback. Her unexpectedly excellent turn in Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria – going toe-to-toe with Juliette Binoche is no small feat – made her the first American actress to win a César (the French Oscar), so it’s no surprise that she’s back in the director’s new film. If this sounds similar – instead of playing beleaguered PA to a movie star, this time she’s the lonely personal shopper to a fashionista – the tragic supernatural element at play (Stewart’s, er, Maureen - take that, Donatella! - is mourning the recent death of her twin brother, and searching for some kind of afterlife communion with him) suggests a more spiritual undertow to Assayas’s musings on fantasy vs. reality.  


Despite a full 50% increase in the number of female directors in 2016’s main Competition line-up (that’s three whole women this year, up from last year’s two), Cannes still comes under fierce scrutiny for the gender imbalance of its presentations. Other sections are therefore striving to readdress the gap, not least the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section, which even has two women filmmakers – sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin – on the same film, The Stopover. The Coulins’ second feature, following 17 Girls (2011), about a deliberate high school pregnancy outbreak, follows two military women on a short break in Cyprus after their tour of duty in Afghanistan and their struggle to leave the war behind. The presence of fine rising Greek actress Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) in one of the lead roles gives a compelling premise added appeal.


German writer-director Maren Ade might just be European cinema’s best-kept secret. Despite her superb marital drama Everone Else winning two major awards at 2009’s Berlinale, it remained unreleased in the UK (among other countries) and those who saw it are in great anticipation of her long- overdue new film. Details are still thin on the ground, other than a broad, intriguing outline: highly eccentric prankster father tries to reconnect with his serious businesswoman daughter on a trip to Bucharest by developing a wild alter ego. It’s a subject that could be played for broad laughs or absurdist tragedy (or, naturally, both), though the eye-catching poster suggests large – and very hairy - comic potential. And any fans of intense 2006 German film Requiem will be looking forward to another leading role from the excellent Sandra Hüller.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 11th to the 22nd.