The Films That Could Premiere At The 2021 Cannes Film Festival
May 17, 2021
Often considered the most prestigious film festival globally, the Cannes Film Festival is your one-stop shop for some of the greatest works in international cinema. For the first time since 1968, the festival was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's edition has the potential to be one of the best as dozens of projects from the world's greatest filmmakers jockey for the opportunity to be awarded the coveted first place Palme d'Or, which will be decided by a Spike Lee led jury.
Twenty films will be selected for the Official Competition, with several others being placed in one of the festival's many sidebar sections. And quite a few unlucky films will have to set their sights somewhere else. Cannes also has its place in the Oscar race. To use a sports analogy, it is the preseason to the fall festivals regular season. Films such as Pulp Fiction, The Tree of Life, Amour and Parasite started their Oscar path at the festival.
In this article, I will detail the films that have the potential to premiere at the festival. They are sorted into three categories based on their likelihood, which stemming from a combination of factors that are explained in each summary. The festival will announce the lineup for all sections on June 3rd.
This year's festival will start off with a bang as Leos Carax premieres his newest film on opening night. The movie stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as parents to a young girl with a surprising gift. The film will contain no dialogue and be a completely sung-through musical, which is precisely something that should be expected from the man that brought us Holy Motors.
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has shifted away from Hollywood this century in favor of European productions. His last film was the Isabelle Huppert-led Elle in 2016; a smash hit at Cannes, which led to an Oscar nomination for Huppert for Best Actress. His newest film, a holdover from last year, is a culmination of many topics found within his filmography, such as religion and eroticism, as a nun suffers from disturbing visions in 17th-century Italy.
The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson's newest idiosyncratic feature has been sitting on a shelf for over a year so that it would have its world premiere at this particular festival. Starring a cast of names too long to write, the film is a sort of anthology of stories told in the titular magazine. Looking to be a huge Oscar player this year, this may be Anderson's time to be rewarded for his unique body of work.
Iranian-born Asghar Farhadi has won two Oscars for Best International Feature, doing it first for 2011's A Separation and then for 2016's The Salesman. He's also brought his last three films to Cannes, opening the 2019 festival with the Spain-set Everybody Knows. Plot details are still a secret for his new movie, with the only thing we know is that it is set in Iran and tackles several contemporary issues. The film was recently acquired by Amazon, who is planning an end-of-year domestic release and huge Oscar push for Farhadi.
Filmed in 2018 and early 2019, Mia Hansen-Løve's ambitious film was delayed from the 2019 festival for a primetime slot at the 2020 festival. Obviously, that edition didn't happen, so the film sat for another year. The title Bergman Island refers to the famous Fårö Island, which housed Swedish-auteur Ingmar Bergman and was used for several of his movies, and is now a pilgrimage destination for cinephiles. Starring Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, and Mia Wasikowska, the film follows an American filmmaking couple who retreat to the island to write their screenplays. And like a Bergman film, reality and fiction begin to blur as the couple becomes more ingrained into the magical island.
Everything Went Fine
Prolific director François Ozon has competed regularly at Cannes, and it is expected to do so again with his newest film. Adapted from a novel by Emmanuèle Bernheim, the film follows a daughter who rushes to help her father after he has a debilitating stroke. In a shocking turn of events, he pleads to have his life ended. Will the daughter be able to honor her father's request?
Starring French acting royalty Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon and directed by Claire Denis, Fire surrounds a love triangle that forces a woman to choose between her long-time partner and former lover. Denis has had a long relationship with the festival, as she was the president of the board of the Cinéfondation and short films in 2019.
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul will likely return to the festival where he won the Palme d'Or in 2011 with the indescribable Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Marking his English-language debut, Memoria stars Tilda Swinton as a Scottish woman traveling in Colombia who begins to hear eerily strange noises. This film is also a holdover from last year and is expected to fall in the same lane of Weerasethakul's previous filmography.
Just by the title alone, this seems like a Cannes selection. The film is by Argentinian duo Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn and stars Spanish superstars Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz. The synopsis is that of a wealthy businessman who impulsively recruits filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Cruz) to make a smash hit movie. Banderas plays the Hollywood heartthrob that will headline the picture. Expect a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the unglamorous task of creating a film.
On a Half Clear Morning
Bruno Dumont has been a staple of Cannes for nearly a decade, as he's premiered his last three films at the festival. Also, a recurring character at Cannes is actress Léa Seydoux, who stars in Dumont's newest film that he both wrote and directed. Listed as a comedy-drama, On A Half Clear Morning has Seydoux play a celebrity journalist who has her life turned upside down after she is in a freak car accident.
Paris, 13th District
A previous winner for Dheepan in 2015, Jacques Audiard returns with a new film that also happens to be co-written by Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celinne Sciamma and stars Noémie Merlant. The film follows four young adults as they navigate their friendships and love lives in modern Paris.
Another holdover from last year, Russian writer/director Kirill Serebrennikov adapts the novel of the same name that follows a family living ordinary lives with extraordinary secrets. At the head of the family is the titular Petrov, who seems to be fading in and out of reality as he battles the flu. Serebrennikov wrote the movie under house arrest, and an early teaser trailer showcases some of the visual bizarreness.
Italian national treasure Nanni Moretti has had a very successful career at Cannes, winning the Best Director award for Dear Diary in 1994 and the Palme d'Or for The Son's Room in 2001. His newest film is a holdover from last year and follows the intersecting story of three families who each live on different floors of a bourgeois condo.
Triangle of Sadness
Expect Swedish auteur Ruben Östlund to return to Cannes after winning the Palme d'Or with The Square in 2017. His follow-up is said to be in that same satirical vein as the story takes place on an uber-rich yacht captained by a crazy Marxist (Woody Harrelson). The boat becomes shipwrecked, flipping the social hierarchy as everyone fights for survival.
With this movie, along with The French Dispatch and On a Half Clear Morning, the question becomes how many Léa Seydoux films will play at the festival? Seydoux is reteaming with another Cannes-favorite in Arnaud Desplechin, who's competed six times in the official competition. The title translates to deception, as the film is about an American novelist navigating his relationship with several women in his life, including his wife, mistress, and other characters he has dreamed up.
Starting with video essays, writer/director Kogonada had a remarkable feature-film debut with Columbus in 2017. That success allowed the enigmatic director to work with Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith on his newest film. Set in the near future, the story tracks a family as they must try to save the life of their A.I. helper, who unexpectedly breaks down. Given the low-key nature of Kogonada's work, an out-of-competition spot may be a more likely place for it to debut.
It's usually Ken Loach's job to be the British representative at Cannes, but this year that duty may fall to Terence Davies, who premiered a slew of his earlier films at the festival. Davies' film tells the true story of Siegfried Sassoon, an English poet, writer, and soldier in World War I. Jack Lowden plays the younger Sassoon, while Peter Capaldi takes over in the later years. After A Quiet Passion made waves a few years ago, all eyes will be on what Davies can do with his next biopic.
For his first feature since winning the Best Leading Actor Oscar for Joker, Joaquin Phoenix is teaming with writer/director Mike Mills (20th Century Women & Beginners) for what seems to be another acting showcase. Phoenix plays an artist who must embark on a cross-country road trip after he is left to take care of his precocious nephew. Shot in black-and-white by the great Robbie Ryan, the movie was forecasted to premiere at the virtual Sundance Film Festival in January but was quietly absent. Was it because they wanted to premiere it at Cannes?
De Son Vivant
Catherine Deneuve is one of the finest French actresses ever to grace the silver screen. Any of the projects she's attached to surely deserves festival buzz. Her newest film is a reteaming with director Emmanuelle Bercot and tells the story of a mother coming to terms with her terminally ill son, who has one year to live.
Sean Penn is extremely loved by the Cannes brass, as he won Best Actor in 1997 for She's So Lovely and premiered two of his directorial efforts at the festival. His newest project stars himself, along with Miles Teller and Josh Brolin. It'll be interesting to see if Penn is welcomed back after his latest film, The Last Face, was one of the most reviled films in festival history.
Palestinian writer/director Hany Abu-Assad has had two previous films at the festival, winning the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize in 2013 for Omar. His newest film is based on real-life events as a woman's experience entering a hair salon becomes a living nightmare after the owner blackmails her. The filmmaker has plans to return to Cannes, hopefully with the promotion that comes with being selected to the Official Selection.
It's an unofficial rule at Cannes that at least one movie selected stars, Isabelle Huppert. This time she stars as the titular character who retreats to the countryside with her son when a figure from her past unexpectedly returns. Writer/director Laurent Larivière's last film, I Am a Soldier, premiered in Un Certain Regard in 2015. The coupling of Larivière's experience at the festival and Huppert's prestigious reputation gives the film a good shot of being selected.
Mona Lisa and The Blood Moon
Rumored to be a part of the selection in 2020, Ana Lily Amirpour's newest film promises to be unique. Set in contemporary New Orleans, a girl breaks out of a mental asylum and must use her supernatural powers to survive. Considering the stylism found within Amirpour's previous features, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and The Bad Batch, it's safe to assume there is more than meets the eye here.
The Card Counter
Longtime Martin Scorsese scribe Paul Schrader received a career resurgence in 2017 with the critically acclaimed First Reformed premiering at the Venice Film Festival and received his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Schrader used his goodwill to stack the cast for his newest film, which has Oscar Issac starring as a reformed gambler who attempts to mentor a young man (Tye Sheridan) seeking revenge on a mutual enemy (Willem Dafoe). Also in the cast is Tiffany Hadish as a mysterious casino financier. The film has also been invited to Venice, so there is the likelihood it premieres there instead.
The Souvenir Part II
Joanna Hogg took Sundance by storm in 2019 with her semi-autobiographical take on young love in The Souvenir. With a UK release date set for late 2021 and A24 acquiring domestic rights, the time is right for Hogg to unveil the sequel. Filming has been completed for a while, with Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton returning. This may be Hogg's time to shine under the brightest lights.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Coen brothers are the cream of the crop when it comes to Cannes royalty, winning the Best Director award a record three times and winning the Palme d'Or for Barton Fink. The last two films by the brothers that premiered at Cannes were No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis, which both became prominent Oscar players, with the former winning Best Picture. For the first time, Joel Coen is the sole director of his upcoming adaptation of The Tragedy Of Macbeth, which stars Denzel Washington in the titular role and Frances McDormand as his wife. With its subject matter and leading stars, the film has high Oscar prospects, begging the question of whether Apple will wait to premiere it near a friendlier award season date.
The Worst Person in the World
Norwegian director Joachim Trier has debuted two films at Cannes, most recently his star-studded English-language debut Louder Than Bombs in 2015. Trier is returning to his native language for his newest film, which follows the life of Julie, who must take a hard look at herself after years of navigating love and careers. The cast comprises almost all newcomers, opening the possibility of the festival being a launchpad for a few young stars.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau made a splash at Cannes in 2016 with her debut, Raw, which won the first place prize in the Director's Fortnight section. After years away, she's back with Titane, a mystery film surrounding a child returning home after being missing for nearly a decade. There's also a murder element as a series of gruesome killings has been ravaging the area. The question is if Ducournau will be promoted to the official competition or if she'll remain in the sidebars.
The Velvet Underground
Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine made a splash for its cast and crew when it hit the Croisette in 1998. Twenty-three years later, Haynes is returning to rock music with a documentary on the famous titular American band. The documentary is an Apple TV+ production, and a big festival push may be just the thing the streamer needs to break into the awards conversation.
UNLIKELY, BUT POSSIBLE
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivered a one-two punch with Amelie and A Very Long Engagement at the beginning of the century. He hasn't done much since, meaning it could be time for Cannes to welcome him back to the international stage. His newest film is an adventurous comedy where an android uprising causes a bickering suburban family to be locked in their home. Like many other films in this section, Netflix holds the distribution rights. Given the lighter nature and Jeunet's inexperience at the festival, an out-of-competition spot may be possible.
Andrew Dominik has made his way around the festival circuit, hitting up Venice in 2007 with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and going to Cannes in 2012 with Killing Them Softly. His next film looks to be a prime Oscar contender as it tells a fictionalized story about the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. Burgeoning superstar Ana de Armas plays the iconic Blonde Bombshell, with Adrien Brody, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, and Scoot McNairy rounding out the supporting cast. Again, this movie has a Netflix problem, so a Venice premiere seems to be the most likely outcome.
Contrary to his all-American image, Clint Eastwood is quite beloved over in France, as he has debuted several films at the festival, such as Mystic River and Changeling. He even served as jury president in 1994, awarding Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction the Palme d'Or. Being as Eastwood's upcoming Cry Macho very well could be his final outing, it would be fitting for it to make a splash at the festival that has welcomed him for decades.
Decision to Leave
Along with Bong Joon Ho, director Park Chan-wook has helped popularize South Korean cinema in recent decades. Chan-wook has won the second and third place prizes at the festival, doing so with Oldboy in 2003 and Thirst in 2009, respectively. After some time away since his last effort, The Handmaiden, Chan-wook is diving into the detective genre with a story following an investigation about man's mysterious death and his equally mystifying wife. Filming began in October, making a Cannes premiere very difficult in such a short time.
Sources say that Fremaux has been trying his best to get Paul Thomas Anderson to debut his newest film at the festival, a sentiment that Anderson also shares. This would mark the second time PTA has debuted a film at Cannes, as he first did it in 2002 with Punch-Drunk Love. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman's son Cooper Hoffman, Benny Safdie, and Bradley Cooper, this would easily be the most anticipated premiere. The recently announced Thanksgiving release date does put a damper on things, as distributor MGM may want to wait a while to premiere the film closer to Oscar season.
The Hand of God
After helming both seasons of The Young Pope and The New Pope over at HBO, Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino is making a return to the silver screen. Little is known about the plot, except that it is a very personal film set in Naples that centers on the legend of Diego Maradona and his miracle play. Toni Servillo, who has frequently participated in Sorrentino's movies such as the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, leads the cast. Netflix holds the distribution rights for the film, which does put a dent in any premiere plans. With Sorrentino's lauded history at the festival, hopefully, some arrangement can be made.
The Perfumed Hill
Hailing from Mauritania, Abderrahmane Sissako has released only three films this century, but they all premiered at Cannes, with 2014's Timbuktu also being nominated for the Best International Feature Oscar. Little is known about his next film, except that production began in the fall of 2019. If filming were completed before the pandemic, Sissako would likely be invited back to the festival he has called home for so many years.
The Power of the Dog
New Zealander Jane Campion remains the only woman ever to direct a Palme d'Or winning film, doing it in 1993 with The Piano. Campion's newest film stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as Montana ranching brothers who both pine after the affection of Kirsten Dunst. What makes this a tricky situation is that Netflix is treating this as their prize Oscar contender. It has also been invited to the Netflix-friendly Venice Film Festival, which could very well be its eventual landing spot.
The Way of the Wind
There's no way to figure out when a Terrence Malick film will be released. All you can do is wait and pray. Malick premiered his last movie, 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, so there's no telling when this film will be seen.
Where is Anne Frank?
Ari Folman took the world by storm with his 2008 animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir, which played at Cannes and was nominated for the Best International Feature Oscar. Announced just after that film premiered, Folman's newest animated effort will tell the story of Anne Frank through Kitty, the imaginary friend from Frank's diary. Considering the already long production cycle of the film and that no new information has been released in quite some time, it seems unlikely that the film would be ready.