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Cannes Predictions - Part 1: The Question Marks

April 5, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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With Oscar season firmly behind us (although it never really ends), it’s time to set our sights on the next white whale barreling toward us: festival season! Sundance and SXSW have provided the appetizer with their concentration of indies and spring studio releases, opening the doors for Cannes to take center stage with glitzy red carpets and world-class talent. Last year’s edition proved to be one of its best, with Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall and Grand Prize winner The Zone of Interest being two of the most acclaimed and rewarded films of the year. Also featured were About Dry Grasses, Fallen Leaves, La Chimera, May December, and The Taste of Things.

Last year’s SAG and WGA strikes will likely put a damper on the presence of Hollywood on the Croisette (and potentially at the later fall festivals), but it shouldn’t prevent Delegate General Thierry Fremaux and his team from assembling some of the best that world cinema has to offer. The festival will announce its full lineup on April 11. Until then, I’ll take a closer look at some of the films that are generating buzz and predict which ones are likely to make it up the coveted steps this year.

The first of three parts of this series looks deeper into the fog. There’s a multitude of reasons why these projects are slotted here, all of them very much deserving of a selection spot. There could have been production delays due to the strikes, distributors have a different release strategy, or the pedigree of the director/stars may not be at the level Cannes desires. But miracles have happened, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding so many projects, there had to be a cap on how many I could include. Festival favorite directors such as François Ozon, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Jia Zhangke have been reported or rumored to be working on new films, but the information is too sparse and unsubstantiated for them to be considered.


The Apprentice

A Donald Trump biopic doesn’t sound like the most commercial project in an election year such as this. But it may be enough of a button pusher to garner the juicy headlines that Cannes craves. Director Ali Abbasi made a name for himself at the festival in the 2018 Un Certain Regard section with Border, which led him to be promoted to the Official Competition in 2022 with Holy Spider. Sebastian Stan will play a young Donald Trump, with Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn, and Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump. Wherever this premieres, controversy will surely follow.

The Way of the Wind

There’s no way to precisely know when a Terrence Malick film will be released. All you can do is wait and pray. Malick premiered his last film, A Hidden Life, at Cannes in 2019, and he also won the Palme d’Or for his magnum opus The Tree of Life in 2011. He once again has saddled himself with another weighty topic, as The Way of the Wind will tell several episodes of the life of Jesus Christ, led by a cast of Mark Rylance, Ben Kingsley, Joseph Fiennes, and Matthias Schoenaerts. Several of Malick’s films have been delayed for years as he endlessly tinkers in the editing room, with this one (shot in 2019) being just as likely to come out later than sooner.


Lucrecia Martel’s Zama was one of the most acclaimed films of 2017 and appeared on several “Best of the 2010s” lists. She’s been relatively silent since, plugging away at her new film, which marks her first venture into non-fiction storytelling as it explores “The murder of indigenous activist Javier Chocobar and the removal of his community from their ancestral land in Argentina.” While Cannes has been more averse to admitting documentary films into their official selection compared to other major festivals, they have opened up in the past few years, most notably last year with Four Daughters and Youth (Spring). Martel is a festival veteran, but she recently presided over the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, the landing spot for Zama. Like Terrence Malick’s The Way of the Wind, it could be a few more years until we get an answer to this question.


Cannes president Thierry Fremaux let it slip last year during the Occupied City Q&A that McQueen’s WWII epic will potentially premiere in this year’s competition. That fact should come as no surprise considering McQueen has been a regular at Cannes since 2008’s Hunger. Apple TV+ has big Oscar prospects for this film, and a glitzy premiere on the Croisette would put the right foot forward. Of course, a more conventional awards path starts at the fall festivals, so it’s still up in the air.

Father, Mother, Sister, Brother

When thinking of established American directors to make Cannes their home, you’d tend to think of the Coens and Wes Anderson. But it’s actually Jim Jarmusch that deserves to be at (or at least near) the top of that list as he’s premiered eleven feature films on the Croisette since 1984. His highest point was 2005’s Broken Flowers, which took home the Grand Prix. He began shooting his new film in the fall and late winter, recruiting the trio of Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Rampling, and Vicky Krieps. With production delayed due to the strikes last year, Jarmusch will have to work around the clock to get it submitted in time. If he is able to accomplish that, there’s no doubt Fremeaux will extend an invitation to one of the festival’s most cherished figures.

The Balconettes

Noémie Merlant is stepping behind the camera for a second time with a Marseille-set comedy-horror film she co-wrote with her Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma. Merlant will also be starring in the film along with Souheila Yacoub (just seen in Dune: Part Two) and Sanda Codreanu. Her debut directorial feature, Mi Iubita Mon Amour, played at the Special Screenings section in 2021. With both this and her starring role in Audrey Diwan’s Emmanuelle, Merlant could be the big talking point of this year’s festival.

Hand of Dante

With a cast composed of Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Gerard Butler, Gal Gadot, Al Pacino, John Malkovich, and Martin Scorsese, Julian Schnabel’s crime drama will surely grab headlines wherever it debuts. Venice would be the likely landing spot based on precedent, with all but one of Schnabel’s films premiering on the Lido. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly remains the outlier, which netted the festival prize for Best Director. Fremeaux will at least make a push to grab that assemblage of stars for his red carpet.


Audrey Diwan rose her stock considerably after winning the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival with Happening, which also received numerous nominations/awards from groups such as the BAFTAs and Césars. She’s enlisted Noémie Merlant and Naomi Watts to headline her new film, an adaptation of the famous erotic novel she co-adapted with Rebecca Zlotowski. Diwan likely now has the pedigree to be extended an invite to her native festival, but she may opt to return to Venice in hopes of repeating her past success.


Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin has been puzzling cinephiles for years with his often non-linear and perplexing arthouse pieces. He’s sizing up to blockbuster levels (at least in the context of the rest of his filmography) with his newest work to be co-directed with usual partners Evan and Galen Johnson. Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander, Takehiro Hira, Charles Dance, and Denis Ménochet play world leaders who “get lost in the woods while drafting a statement on a global crisis, facing danger as they attempt to find their way out.” Maddin has never played Cannes before, nor, opting between Venice or Toronto. His longstanding reputation within the industry and this cast may beckon him over to the Croisette.

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