See Keep the Lights On and Love is Strange and especially Little Men, and you’ll see the exquisite, low-key textures Ira Sachs brings to his dramas. FRANKIE may be his big break-out, with its high-profile cast of Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson and Marisa Tomei. The story is about three generations of a family grappling with a life-changing experience during a single day of a vacation. Sachs says the script has a theatrical quality, and Huppert says the film is “very, very different from anything I’ve done before”. The historic resort-town setting of Sintra, in Portugal, is icing on the cake.
Diao Yinan took home the Golden Bear at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival for Black Coal, Thin Ice, and before that, he had an Un Certain Regard premiere for Night Train (2007) — so he’s not exactly “not-so-famous”. But he’s definitely low-profile, and his new film will hopefully push him out of his corner. THE WILD GOOSE LAKE is about the leader of a biker gang who sacrifices everything for his family, goes on the run, and finds himself involved with a woman he meets. It sounds like a socko genre piece like Black Coal, Thin Ice, while similarly addressing socio-economic realities in contemporary China.
Last year, at Cannes, Christophe Honoré had Sorry Angel. Despite being a story that focuses on two men, it was less a “gay romance” than a… fluid-sexuality relationship drama. This year, he’s back with his twelfth feature, ROOM 212, which, again, seems to be a prickly, not-easily-slotted story about relationships. Richard and Catherine fell in love and got married when they were just 20. Decades later, Catherine has an affair and moves into a hotel opposite their home. From there, she keeps an eye on what she had. Starring Carole Bouquet, who, for my generation of male viewers, will always be the mind-meltingly beautiful Bond girl from For Your Eyes Only.
Marco Bellocchio has been making films since the 1960s. And yet (and despite the Silver Bear Special Jury Prize at the 1991 Berlin International Film Festival for The Conviction), he isn’t as known as his fellow-Italian contemporaries, Bernardo Bertolucci and Pier Paolo Pasolini. His last film, a sweetly sentimental ode to mother love titled Sweet Dreams, was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. TRAITOR promises a return to more radical territory. It’s a biopic of Tommaso Buscetta, the first Italian Mafia boss who turned informer.
Despite last year’s pledge to include more female filmmakers, the numbers have gone up just a bit. Afghan filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat’s first feature, Wolf and Sheep, was a beguiling mix of sharply observed way-of-life documentary and magical-realist drama – it won the Art Cinema Award at the Directors’ Fortnight section in 2016. Sadat is back with THE ORPHANAGE, whose storyline, set in the late 1980s, sounds irresistible to Indian viewers. It’s about a 15-year-old boy, a black-market cinema-ticket seller in Kabul. He’s a Bollywood fan. He likes to dream of himself in his favourite movie scenes. But the idyll is shattered when the Soviets enter the picture, so to speak…
At the height of the 1980s political crisis in Peru, a young woman from the Andes finds that her newborn daughter has been stolen at a shady-sounding health clinic. Her search for the child leads her to a journalist, who decides to investigate. First-time filmmaker Melina León’s CANCIÓN SIN NOMBRE (SONG WITHOUT A NAME) is based on a true story. And a near-autobiographical one. The director’s father was a journalist who uncovered a child-trafficking ring. León is the first female Peruvian filmmaker to be selected for one of the Cannes sections, and the buzz is strong with this one.
Mati Diop is another first-time female filmmaker, and more importantly, the first black woman with a film in the Competition section in the festival’s 72-year history. She’s also the niece of Djibril Diop Mambéty, whose Touki Bouki, generally known as the first avant-garde film from Africa, was shown at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. ATLANTIQUES is based on Diop’s 2009 documentary Atlantique, which won acclaim at film festivals around the world. It’s the story of a young woman from the Senegalese capital of Dakar, whose lover disappears — apparently in a bid to migrate to Europe in search of better prospects. (That was the theme of Touki Bouki, too.) Diop’s film isn’t about the men who leave. It’s about the women who stay behind and wait.
Justine Triet made a splash with Act of Panic, which was nominated for the César Award for Best First Feature Film in 2014. Her follow-up, In Bed with Victoria, opened the Cannes Critics’ Week in 2016. SIBYL, Triet’s third film, billed as a comedy-drama, is about a novelist who became a psychoanalyst, and, now, is letting her patients go as she wants to return to writing. The title suggests that there’s more. Sibyl, after all, is one of the most famous examples of multiple personality disorder in real-life psychoanalytic circles. Triet has a talent for layering razor-sharp drama with laughs, and this film will hopefully continue the streak.
Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV (2016) was touching for more reasons than its lyrical showcasing of a mighty monarch’s last days. Said king was played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, the once-young star of The 400 Blows, which opened the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. Now, nearly six decades later, seeing Léaud old and frail in a film at Cannes, it was like being reminded of another kind of death. These sentimentalities aside, Serra returns with FREEDOM, another period piece based during the reign of Louis XVI. This time, it’s about libertinage, a philosophy of enlightenment founded on the rejection of conventional morality. Serra likes to compare movie-watching to reading a book. He wants an immersed audience. With this subject, that shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s work is often compared to the films of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton, for his poetic, graceful mash-ups of slapstick and sobriety. Suleiman denies being inspired by these greats, but the touches are obvious: Divine Intervention (2002) features a man dressed as Santa Claus being chased up a hill by a gang of teens. His new film is titled IT MUST BE HEAVEN, and its protagonist (Suleiman) flees Palestine and seeks an alternate homeland in other cities, only to find that his own country clings to him like a second skin. Sounds like Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, this year’s Golden Bear winner at the Berlinale — but with laughs.
Baradwaj Rangan is a National Award-winning film critic. He has authored Conversations with Mani Ratnam and Dispatches From the Wall Corner. His long-form story on Vikram was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.” His short story, The Call, was published in The Indian Quarterly. He has written screenplays and works for theatre. He teaches a course on cinema at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.