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Photograph: CG Cinéma International

Cannes 2021: 15 films we can’t wait to see

Will one of these be this year’s Parasite?

Phil de Semlyen
Dave Calhoun
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
Dave Calhoun

The movie calendar doesn’t make as much sense without the Cannes Film Festival stretched out elegantly in the middle. It’s a grand old gateway through which future classics, like Taxi Driver, Parasite and Pulp Fiction, will pass on their way to glory. Or, in the case of the occasional spectacular dud, never get spoken of again in polite company.

After a year without it, Cannes is back in a big way this year. And there’s lots for movielovers to keep an eye out for, including new movies from Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes, Mia Hansen-Løve, Leos Carax and Clio Barnard, and a much more progressive representation of female filmmakers than in previous years. All of them will be arriving in cinemas near you (and the odd streaming site) in the months ahead. Here are our picks of the movies to circle twice in red ink and start firing your friends up about. 

Cannes 2021: 15 films we can’t wait to see

Photograph: Guy Ferrandis / SBS Productions

1. Benedetta

In the absence of Lars von Trier, sensation-seeking Cannes-goers will be looking in the direction of Paul Verhoeven with hopeful expressions. The Dutchman rarely disappoints when it comes to provocative talking points – as anyone who tried to take a date to see his last film, Elle, will probably testify. His latest is a sensual tale of 17th century nuns haunting by erotic reveries. Could it be his Black Narcissus?

The French Dispatch
Photograph: 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

2. The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson abandons his artful blueprint for a high-octane action movie full of gun battles and exploding buildings… nah, not really. It’s his artful blueprint again. But we’re very more than okay with that, not least because this one adds Timothée Chalamet and Elisabeth Moss to a Wes-osphere that packs in regulars like Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton. The Paris-based American auteur is calling this one his love letter to journalism. 

Photograph: GoodThing Productions

3. Nitram

A film based on Tasmania’s 1996 Port Arthur Massacre from the director of Snowtown, Justin Kurzel, is unlikely to make for jaunty viewing. But with Aussie great Judy Davis (My Brilliant Career) and The Babadook’s Essie Davis (Kurzel’s partner IRL) in the cast, the tough realities it depicts will be portrayed by some very fine actors. Caleb Landry Jones plays a version of real-life gunman Martin Bryant – Nitram is ‘Martin’ backwards – in a film that is expected to stir up some fierce passions back in Australia.

Photograph: Carole Bethuel

4. Titane

Julia Ducournau’s Raw was, well... raw – in the best possible sense. A cannibal drama with heart as well as gristle, Parisian writer-director’s big-screen debut marked her out as a talent to watch. Sure enough, she’s back at Cannes and the surprise factor replaced with a palpable buzz of anticipation. Plot details are still pretty thin on the ground, save to say that Titane follows a man who claims to be a child who’d disappeared ten years previously, is backdropped by some grisly murders, co-stars Raw’s Garance Marillier and could be another killer cut from a filmmaker in a hurry.

Bergman Island
Photograph: CG CINÉMA

5. Bergman Island

Anyone who doesn’t love Mia Hansen-Løve’s movies may not have seen enough of them. Her latest represents her first Cannes film since 2009’s achingly sad Father of My Children. It follows Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth’s couple to the remote Swedish island of Fårö, a place made famous by the great auteur Ingmar Bergman, for artistic and relationship struggles. (Fun fact: Bergman island is open to visitors IRL in all sorts of cinephile-delighting ways.)

Photograph: Kate Kirkwood

6. Cow

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold premiered her first two feature films (Red Road, Fish Tank) in the competition for the Palme d’Or, and returned again in 2016 with her fourth, American Honey. Now Arnold is back with her first documentary, Cow, which is apparently exactly as it sounds: a portrait of a cow (and one in her own backyard, no less). Arnold is a poetic champion of the underdog, so expect something less in the David Attenborough camp and more in the arena of the sensitive and experimental. Rumoured to be a contender for the Barn d’Or.

Where is Anne Frank
Photograph: Purple Whale Films

7. Where is Anne Frank

Ari Folman is best known for Waltz with Bashir, his 2008 animated documentary which was built on the back of recollections by fellow former Israeli soldiers involved in the early 1980s Lebanon War and especally the massacres in the Sabra neighbourhood  and Shantila refugee camp in Beirut. For this latest animated feature, Folman turns to the story of the murdered  Anne Frank, imagining that her own imaginary friend Kitty returns to the Franks’ Amsterdam house in the present day, looking for Anne. 

Flag Day  
Photograph: Allen Fraser © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc - Tous droits réservés

8. Flag Day  

Sean Penn had a rough experience last time he showed a film in Cannes: 2016’s humanitarian drama The Last Face stared down boos and one-star reviews. But everyone deserves another chance, and Penn is back as the director and star (alongside his daughter Dylan Penn) of this drama, written by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and telling the true story of a criminal counter-feiter and his relationship with his daughter.

Photograph: Pili Films

9. Lingui

Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man, Grigris) tells the story of Amina, a woman whose 15-year-old daughter, Maria, is pregnant and does not want to keep the baby. Abortion is outlawed by both law and the religious authorities: Amina and Maria’s tough lives have just got even tougher. Haroun’s filmmaking style is controlled and spare; his way of storytelling is to boil down images and words to the essential. This looks set to be an essential missive from a part of the world where it’s something of a miracle that such cinema is being made at all.

Everything Went Fine
Photograph: Tout S'est Bien Passe credit Carole Bethuel:Mandarin Production:Foz

10. Everything Went Fine

Blink, and it’s not unlikely French filmmaker François Ozon will have made a film. He had one (Summer of 85) ready for the 2020 Cannes festival that never happened, and now he’s back with this story of a woman (Sophie Marceau) whose ailing elderly father asks her to end his life as an act of compassion. Ozon’s career has embraced all sorts of moods and styles (with a slick precision underlying all his work), so it will be curious to see if this new one lands as the sombre drama it sounds like or if it’s something else entirely.

The Restless
Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

11. The Restless

Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse keeps returning to the tragic mysteries of the family dynamic – especially those families for whom external forces just seem too strong to prevent them falling apart. Here, he gives us an artist (Damien Bonnard) in southern France whose family - wife (Leila Bekhti) and young son - struggle to survive in the orbit of his clinical depression. Past LaFosse films have looked at the pressures of economics, parental expectation, immigration or just staying in love through marriage - all of them rooted in deep thought and compassion. Expect no less here.

Paris, 13th District
Photograph: Shanna Besson

12. Paris, 13th District

Back in 2018, Jacques Audiard said he’d never have another film in competition at Cannes – but then hey, we all said some stuff in 2018. The French filmmaker, always an urgent and visceral storyteller, is back with a black-and-white adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel ‘Killing and Dying’. He’s won a stack of awards here in the past, including a Palme D’Or for Dheepan. Don’t rule him out of winning the prize he’d never intended to go for, especially with Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) sharing a co-writing credit. Look out for Jehnny Beth of UK post-punk band Savages in her biggest screen role to date.

Photograph: CG Cinéma International

13. Annette

What’s the collective noun for madcap geniuses? ‘An annette’ may be fitting once this Cannes opener unleashes its musical stylings and wondrous visuals on the world. It’s directed by one-time Cinéma du Look pioneer Leos Carax and written by Ron and Russell Mael of alt-pop band Sparks (see also: Edgar Wright’s upcoming doc The Sparks Brothers), and their combined vision sets a couple’s life upside down when their baby daughter is born with a rare gift. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in a film where every line of dialogue is sung in the spirit of Jacques Demy. We couldn’t be any more sold. 

Photograph: © 2021 Studio Chizu

14. Belle

There’s more to Japanese animation than Studio Ghibli – great as it is. Mamoru Hosoda is one of the main reasons for that, which is why the late addition of his new anime, Belle, to the Cannes line-up has sent a thrill down the Croisette. From The Girl Who Leapt through Time to Mirai, via Wolf Children and other enchanting hand-drawn tales of families and growing up. His new one dips a toe into the world of social media stardom as it follows an insecure teenager, Suzu, into a virtual double life as a musical icon.

Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

15. Vortex

It would be a shock if a new Gaspar Noé film wasn’t shocking: this is the guy who reportedly had people fainting in the aisles during 2002’s Irreversible and later pushed the boundaries of taste and style with Enter the Void and Love. Very little is known about Vortex, although most eye-grabbing at this stage is seeing elderly Italian giallo legend Dario Argento credited as one of three actors in a story about an older couple coming to the end of their lives. Imagine if it was a sweet late-life romance. That would be a shock. Also: unlikely.

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