Cannes 2016: Film Festival Unveils Official Selection Lineup

Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Jodie Foster among the big American names screening their latest work in Cannes.

Unveiling the Cannes official selection in Paris, festival president Pierre Lescure and artistic director Thierry Fremaux set the stage for an epic clash between the powers of good (including Steven Spielberg’s big friendly giant, The BFG,” and Shane Black’s Nice Guys) and evil (Money Monster and “The Neon Demon”) among its English-language fare, which also includes new films from Jeff Nichols (Loving), Sean Penn (“The Last Face”) and Jim Jarmusch — the latter bringing both bus-driver drama “Paterson” and Iggy Pop docu “Gimme Danger.”

While paparazzi will have plenty of American stars to distract them on the red carpet — ranging from Shia LaBeouf (who headlines British director Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey”) to a double helping of Kristen Stewart (appearing in both “Personal Shopper” and the previously announced opening night film, Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society”) — the lineup also includes new work from such high-profile directors as Pedro Almodovar (“Julieta”), Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden”) and Paul Verhoeven (“Elle”).

The 49 titles unveiled on Thursday represent 28 countries in all, with an especially strong showing for Romania (with two films in competition, past Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation” and Cristi Puiu’s “Sierra-Nevada,” and debut “Dogs” in Un Certain Regard), Israel (“Personal Affairs,” “Beyond the Mountains and Hills”) and, of course, France. While French producers and distributors exert intense pressure on Fremaux and his team, the big winner is American newcomer Amazon Studios, with five films in official selection.

As for the global range of the lineup, such diversity is to be expected from the world’s leading showcase for international cinema, though questions from the assembled journalists immediately revealed perceived blind spots in the lineup (“No Italy!?” “Where’s Mexico?”). Fremaux shrugged off such concerns, stressing that the selection represents the best of the record-setting 1,869 features submitted for consideration.

Regarding the complete absence of Italian filmmakers in competition (a mere year after three of the country’s top directors wrestled for the Palme), Fremaux said the country’s rising generation of filmmakers was repped by Stefano Mordini (“Pericles the Black Man”) in Un Certain Regard, quipping, “Italy is close to our heart, as this year’s Cannes poster demonstrates!”

Still, with only two from Latin America (“Acquarius,” from Brazilian critic-turned-helmer Kleber Mendonca Filho, and Argentine-made “The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis”) and two from Africa (NYU-schooled Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s “Clash” and Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “A Chad Tragedy”), Fremaux should expect further questions in the coming weeks as to the largely Euro- and U.S.-centric lineup.

Although there are only three female directors in competition — Arnold, Nicole Garcia (“From the Land of the Moon” and Maren Ade (“Toni Erdmann”) — roughly one-fifth of the directors in the overall official selection are women. The Un Certain Regard section features the work of five additional female helmers — and showcases a younger crop of talent overall.

Less crowded with “the usual suspects” than recent years, the competition runs the gamut of age and experience, making room for rising young talents — such as Nichols (whose Loving focuses on a mixed-race American couple arrested for miscegenation in 1958) and Canadian Xavier Dolan (“It’s Only the End of the World”) — alongside more well-established auteurs. It’s little surprise to find previous Palme d’Or winners Ken Loach (“I, Daniel Blake”) or Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“The Unknown Girl”) in competition, unless you count the fact that Loach had indicated he expected to retire after 2014’s “Jimmy’s Hall.”

The programming committee poached just one film from this year’s Sundance lineup, Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” which stars Viggo Mortensen as an anti-establishment ex-hippie.

Apart from “Elle” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” (which Fremaux called a “cannibal horror movie set in the fashion world”), the competition lineup is light on genre fare, though there are other juicy examples peppered throughout the rest of the official selection — including American director Michael O’Shea’s debut “Transfiguration” (one of “several vampire stories in this year’s lineup,” per Fremaux) and Na Hong-jin’s gritty Korean crime thriller “Goksung”.

While the selection is nearly complete, Fremaux indicated that he might still add one or two titles in the coming weeks, later telling Variety that he’s still waiting to see Asghar Farhadi’s latest. That said, several much-anticipated films that cineastes hoped to discover in Cannes will definitely not be there, including Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “The Woman in the Silver Plate,” neither of which is done, according to Fremaux. “I have seen parts of it, but it’s not ready even though it finished shooting last year,” he said.

Among the other conspicuous omissions was a closing night movie, which Fremaux explained by saying he instead plans to end the festival by re-screening whichever film wins the Palme d’Or. Asked if that change in strategy was a way to solve the eternal dilemma of finding a decent film to wrap the festival, Fremaux pointed out some closing films have been great successes in the history of Cannes, including Spielberg’s “E.T.” and Ridley Scott’s “Thelma & Louise.” But he acknowledged that the main problem with closing night is the fact that most people have already left by the end of the festival, which makes it a tough sell to convince filmmakers who want to provide the best showcase for their movies. By contrast, he hopes that repeating the Palme winner on closing night might bolster the slot’s profile and trigger more interest in it.

Addressing security concerns amid Europe’s current terrorist turmoil, Lescure said the festival will be responsible for ensuring security inside the Palais and its immediate surroundings. “We have staffed up with 599 security staff who are highly experienced,” said Lescure, who added that the festival will be collaborating on a daily basis with local and regional authorities to provide the best possible security measures.

Before the press conference, Lescure and Fremaux gave the floor to French entertainment workers and students who protested against the government’s attempt to toughen labor laws for audiovisual, film and culture industryites.

The Cannes Film Festival runs May 11-22.

2016 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP

OPENER

“Cafe Society” (Woody Allen). The director’s until-recently-untitled 1930s romance, which divides its time between Hollywood and the Bronx, stars Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. His first feature to be shot in digital, “Cafe Society” was lensed by “Apocalypse Now” d.p. Vittorio Storaro and will be released later this year by Amazon Studios (rather than the director’s usual distributor, Sony Pictures Classics). Allen was at Cannes just last year with “Irrational Man.”

COMPETITION

“Aquarius” (Kleber Mendonca Filho). Critic-turned-director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to 2012’s “Neighboring Sounds,” one of the most talked-up Brazilian debuts of this decade, stars Sonia Braga (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) as a retired, widowed music writer, who also time travels.

“American Honey” (Andrea Arnold, U.K.). The British director, who was invited to serve on the Cannes jury in 2012, has earned her fair share of honors from the festival, claiming jury prizes for both “Red Road” and “Fish Tank” in official competition. Her latest — and her first-ever American film — follows a group of young people who travel the country selling magazine subscriptions and making trouble, starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. A24 plans to release later this year.

“Elle” (Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands). The “Black Book” director’s first film to land in official competition since 1992’s “Basic Instinct,” this thriller finds Verhoeven working in French for the first time. Former Cannes jury president Isabelle Huppert plays a top exec for a video-game company who turns the tables after being violated in a home invasion.

“From the Land of the Moon” (Nicole Garcia, France). Adapted from Milena Agus’ Italian novella about a young woman’s romances, both real and imagined, from 1943 until the mid-’60s, this entry — which stars Marion Cotillard and looks to be one of the lineup’s more crowd-pleasing entries — marks the third time the French actress-turned-helmer (“Charlie Says”) has directed a feature in competition.

“Graduation,” (Cristian Mungiu, Romania). A Palme d’Or winner for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Mungiu reportedly scaled back after “Beyond the Hills” (a Cannes screenplay winner), discreetly shooting his latest last summer in Romania. Following films about abortion and forbidden lesbian love, Mungiu’s new project is remarkable in that it centers around a male protagonist, a small-town doctor played by Adrian Titieni.

“The Handmaiden” (Park Chan-wook, S. Korea). This latest from the director of “Old Boy” — back in Cannes after 2009’s “Thirst” — marks a return to Korean-language filmmaking after “Stoker,” although it takes its inspiration from British novelist Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith” (previously adapted for the BBC), in which a female pickpocket aligns with a con man to seduce and scam a wealthy Japanese heiress. Amazon Studios has U.S. rights.

“I, Daniel Blake” (Ken Loach, U.K.). Britain’s celebrated social realist has been a Cannes mainstay, screening 16 films in the fest (a dozen of them in competition) since the 1970 premiere of “Kes” in Critics’ Week. His latest collaboration with screenwriter Paul Laverty (who wrote Loach’s Palme d’Or winner, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”) centers on an injured carpenter and single mother struggling to get by on welfare.

“It’s Only the End of the World” (Xavier Dolan, Canada). After serving on the jury of last year’s festival, the young Canadian director — who split the jury prize with Jean-Luc Godard for his last feature, “Mommy” — returns with this French-language drama, which stars Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel. Inspired by Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play “Juste la fin du monde,” the film follows a writer who returns home to announce his imminent death to his immediate family.

“Julieta” (Pedro Almodovar, Spain). Taking inspiration from a trio of stories by Pulitzer winner Alice Munro included in her book “Runaway,” the Spanish director’s latest celebration of a strong female protagonist stars Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez, who split the title role over the span of more than 30 years. This is the “All About My Mother” director’s fourth film in competition. As usual, Sony Pictures Classics will release in the U.S.

“The Last Face” (Sean Penn, U.S.). The controversial actor-director’s new drama stars Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as aid workers who fall in love against the backdrop of war-torn Liberia. The film marks a return to Cannes for Penn after his helming debut, “The Indian Runner” (1991, Directors’ Fortnight), and “The Pledge” (2001, competition). Penn served as president of the official Cannes jury in 2008.

“Loving” (Jeff Nichols, U.S.). Mere months after “Midnight Special” premiered at Berlin, Nichols will unveil this civil rights drama starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as an interracial couple in 1958 Virginia. Set to open theatrically Nov. 4 through Focus Features, the film would mark a return to Cannes for Nichols after “Take Shelter” (2011, Critics’ Week) and “Mud” (2012, competition).

“Ma’ Rosa” (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines). Little is known so far about the latest from the prolific Filipino auteur, who was in Cannes just last year with his Un Certain Regard entry, “Trap.” He was previously in competition with “Kinatay” (2009), which earned him the jury’s directing prize, and “Serbis” (2008).

“The Neon Demon” (Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark). According to an early statement by the Danish director, “After making ‘Drive’ and falling madly in love with the electricity of Los Angeles, I knew I had to return to tell the story of ‘The Neon Demon,’” a style-drenched horror movie in which Elle Fanning plays a young model preyed upon by jealous rivals. Amazon will release in the U.S. this summer.

“Paterson” (Jim Jarmusch, U.S.). Adam Driver plays Paterson, a blue-collar bus driver who lives in the modest New Jersey city of the same name. He dabbles in poetry, encouraged by on-screen wife Golshifteh Farahani, in what’s sure to be one of the film’s more low-key entries — nothing like the director’s last Cannes competition selection, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Six of his pics have competed for the Palme.

“Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas, France). Assayas’ latest reunites him with Kristen Stewart, who won critical accolades and a supporting actress Cesar for “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Set in the world of Paris fashion and interwoven with supernatural elements, the intriguing project stars Stewart as an American woman working as personal shopper for a celebrity. Sales: Mk2.

“Sierra-Nevada” (Cristi Puiu, Romania). One of the most revered Romanian filmmakers has remarkably never been in competition at Cannes; both “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “Aurora” premiered in Un Certain Regard. That looks to change at last. His new film (which stars “Lazarescu’s” Mimi Branescu”) is set around a contentious family reunion intended to commemorate the life of a recently deceased patriarch.

“Slack Bay” (Bruno Dumont, France). After earning some of the best reviews of his career with “Li’l Quinquin,” Dumont seems determined to get even wackier, eschewing unknowns for established stars, including Fabrice Luchini and Juliette Binoche. Set in the same dreary corner of northern France where the director has always lived and worked, during the summer of 1910, the period comedy marks the director’s third film in competition, following “L’Humanite” and “Flanders.”

“Staying Vertical” (Alain Guiraudie, France). The director attracted international attention three years ago with “Stranger by the Lake,” a daring thriller set in a gay cruising spot. The edgy film earned him best director honors in Un Certain Regard and a handful of Cesar nominations at the end of the year. His latest feature, which turns on a film director who raises his young son alone, graduates to competition. Sales: Les Films du Losange.

“Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade, Germany). One of only three female directors in competition — and the first German to compete since Wim Wenders’ “Palermo Shooting” in 2008 — Ade won the Silver Bear in Berlin for “Everyone Else.” Her third feature stars Peter Simonischek as a father convinced that his daughter (Sandra Huller) has lost her sense of humor, so he drops in on her in Bucharest and unleashes a series of jokes. 

“The Unknown Girl” (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium). After casting movie stars Marion Cotillard and Cecile de France in their previous two films, the Belgian brothers cast the lesser-known but rising French star Adele Haenel (“Love at First Fight”) alongside regulars Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet in this story of a young doctor investigating the identity of a patient who died after being refused treatment.

OUT OF COMPETITION

The BFG” (Steven Spielberg, U.S.). A reunion between former Cannes jury president Spielberg and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s” (late) screenwriter Melissa Mathison, this all-ages Roald Dahl adaptation represents the biggest film on the Croisette, kicking off an international campaign for Disney’s July 1 release. Mark Rylance plays the eponymous giant, while Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader and Jermaine Clement play more normal-sized characters.

“Goksung” (Na Hong-jin, S. Korea). The gritty Korean genre director has been to Cannes twice before, with “The Chaser” (midnight, 2008) and “The Yellow Sea” (Un Certain Regard, 2011). Set in a remote village set into turmoil by a series of deaths, his ultra-stylish new film is told from the perspective of a police detective who comes to suspect that the crimes have something to do with his own daughter. Sales: Finecut.

Money Monster” (Jodie Foster, U.S.). George Clooney plays the host of a television financial-advice program taken hostage by an angry viewer (“Unbroken’s” Jack O’Connell), who holds him responsible for a bad stock tip. Julia Roberts also stars as the show’s tough-as-nails producer in a film that brings Foster back to Cannes 30 years after “Taxi Driver” unspooled in competition.

“Nice Guys” (Shane Black, U.S.). Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling co-star in this late-’70s-set L.A. buddy comedy between a pair of not-quite cops, who don’t hesitate to bend the rules while investigating a girl’s disappearance. Black was previously in Cannes with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which screened out of competition, while Gosling infamously debuted his “Lost River” there two years ago.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

“After the Storm” (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan). Fremaux reiterated that Kore-ada’s latest is a smaller film than last year’s “Our Little Sister,” focusing on a washed up writer trying to make amends with his elderly mother and ex-wife in order to reconnect with his young son.

“Apprentice” (Boo Junfeng, Singapore). Six years after his debut, “Sandcastle,” premiered in Critics’ Week, the director delivers this intense prison-set drama, about a young correctional officer who finds himself befriending — and possibly being positioned to replace — the resident executioner.

“Beyond the Mountains and Hills” (Eran Kolirin, Israel). The last time Kolirin screened one of his films in Un Certain Regard — with 2007 crowd-pleaser “The Band’s Visit” — he went home with the FIPRESCI prize.

“Captain Fantastic” (Matt Ross, U.S.). In the lone Sundance premiere to crack official selection, Viggo Mortensen plays an anti-establishment dad who raises his children in an American forest, until his wife’s death forces the family to engage with the capitalist society he abhors.

“Clash” (Mohamed Diab, Egypt). From the director of “Cairo 678,” this drama takes place entirely inside an overcrowded police truck packed with pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators after a massive protest following the events of July 3, 2013, as crowds celebrated the ouster of prexy Mohamed Morsi.

“The Dancer” (Stephanie Di Giusto, France). This 19th-century drama — and directorial debut — focuses on the life of American performer Loie Fuller, featuring two rising stars: French musician-turned-thesp Soko, who plays Fuller, and Lily Rose-Depp, who plays Isadora Duncan.

“The Disciple” (Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia). Last seen on the festival circuit in Venice, where his 2012 feature “Betrayal” bowed in competition, the Russian helmer studied physics before turning his attention to drama, dividing his attention between film, TV and theater.

“Dogs” (Bogdan Mirica, Romania). This debut feature concerns a city boy stuck trying to unload a patch of rural land inherited from his late grandfather, only to discover that the old man was once a local crime lord — which severely complicates his intention of selling the property, especially after a severed foot gives the local cop reason to retaliate on the gang.

“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki” (Juho Kuosmanen, Finland). Set in 1962 Helsinki, this black-and-white, comedy-laced drama follows the rise and fall of Finnish boxer Olli Maki, who fought the match of his life against the American world champion while obsessing about getting back with his girlfriend.

“Harmonium” (Fukada Koji, Japan). The director’s sixth feature follows the owner of a small workshop in a Japanese country village whose tranquil family life is turned upside down after he hires an old acquaintance and takes him under his wing.

“Inversion” (Behnam Behzadi, Iran). With Tehran’s air pollution at an all-time high, an obedient young woman must decide whether to leave the city with her ailing mother or challenge the decision and stay behind with a former sweetheart.

“The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis” (Andrea Testa, Argentina). Screening in Cannes by way of Buenos Aires’ Bafici festival, this ’70s-set adaptation of the Humberto Costantini novel concerns a man who must decide whether to help two people wanted by the military under Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship.

“Pericles the Black Man” (Stefano Mordini, Italy). Directed by Stefano Mordini (“Steel”), this noir — adapted from a cult Italian novel by Giuseppe Farrandino — stars Riccardo Scamarcio (“My Brother is an Only Child”) as a slave-like hit man who disengages from the shackles of the mob world after meeting a woman.

“Personal Affairs” (Maha Haj, Israel). Little is known about this debut from the female Israeli director is one of seven first features in the selection.

“The Red Turtle” (Michael Dudok de Wit, Netherlands). Studio Ghibli’s first international co-production is a creative collaboration between the Dutch-British director (an Oscar winner for his “Father and Daughter” short) and Isao Takahata. The multi-national film was scripted by “Bird People’s” Pascale Ferran.

“The Stopover” (Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin, France). The sophomore feature from the directors of “17 Girls” follows two girls who stop over in Cyprus for three days on their way home from Afghanistan.

“The Transfiguration” (Michael O’Shea, U.S.). Another directorial debut, this one from an American director, the indie film was described by Fremaux as “a New York vampire story.” “The Good Wife’s” Eric Ruffin plays the blood-sucker in question alongside Chloe Levine.

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

“Gimme Danger” (Jim Jarmusch).

“Train to Busan” (Yeon Sang-ho)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

“Le Cancre” (Paul Vecchiali, France).

“Exil” (Rithy Panh, France).

“A Chad Tragedy” (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad).

“The Last Beach” (Thanos Anastopoulos, Davide Del Degan, France).

“Last Days of Louis XIV” (Albert Serra, France).

(Justin Chang, John Hopewell, Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report)

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