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Variety Critics Reveal What They’re Excited About at Cannes

Variety‘s critics weigh in on what they’re looking forward to at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

PETER DEBRUGE’S MUST-SEES
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Like Filho’s nuanced 2012 debut “Neighboring Sounds,” which took place almost entirely in and around a single Brazilian apartment building, his followup is named for the residential complex where it unspools. Throw in a dash of sci-fi (leading lady Sonia Braga can time travel), and it’s the festival’s most enticing sophomore effort.

The BFG (Steven Spielberg)
The Roald Dahl children’s classic could hardly be in better hands. While we go to Cannes to be challenged by new visions, it remains the single best place in the world to celebrate the magic that made us fall in love with cinema in the first place.

Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
The “Taxi Driver” screenwriter soldiers on, fighting to make the sort of hard-hitting psychological dramas that Hollywood no longer supports. This gritty-looking adaptation of ex-con Edward Bunker’s novel was selected to close Directors’ Fortnight.

Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Isabelle Huppert is — and always will be — the queen of Cannes. Here, the mature French actress teams with perpetual 13-year-old Verhoeven in a revenge movie that promises to maximize their respective strengths.

Loving (Jeff Nichols)
Returning to Cannes four years after “Mud,” Nichols captures contemporary Americana like virtually no one else of his generation. In “Loving,” he turns back the clock to examine the knotty legacy of race in the U.S.

The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit)
One of three animated features in Cannes, this auteur effort is unique in that it represents the first co-production between Studio Ghibli and a European animator (Oscar winner de Wit).

Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Paris’ La Femis has perhaps the best track record of any film school in the world lately for helping talented female storytellers find their voices (“Mustang” and “Disorder” being prime examples). I can’t wait to sample Ducournau’s twisted-sounding debut, about a vegetarian who develops a taste for human flesh.

Risk (Laura Poitras)
Ever since Edouard Waintrop took over programming for Directors’ Fortnight, the section has consistently managed to steal attention away from the festival’s official selection. Chief among this year’s coups was landing Poitras’ latest documentary, a look at Julian Assange, which could potentially be as incendiary as her “Citizenfour.”

Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont)
After “Flanders” (one downbeat human drama too many from perpetual miserablist Dumont), I can’t blame Thierry Fremaux for banishing the director from competition — although Dumont surprised everyone by switching to comedy for his hilariously eccentric “Li’l Quinquin.” Back in official selection, his latest allegedly pushes the absurdism to Dada extremes.

Voyage à travers le cinéma français (Bertrand Tavernier)
For true cineastes, some of the festival’s finest jewels tend to be tucked away in Cannes Classics. Clocking in at 195 minutes, this guided tour of French cinema promises to rival “A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies.”

GUY LODGE’S MUST-SEES
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
Arnold’s feature record is immaculate: She scooped the Jury Prize on the Croisette for her debut feature, “Red Road,” and for her follow-up, “Fish Tank.” Cannes selectors unjustly passed on her daring, elemental interpretation of “Wuthering Heights,” but were evidently more taken with the Brit’s first U.S.-set project.

Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Filho’s eagerly awaited follow-up to “Neighboring Sounds” returns Brazilian star Sonia Braga to screens after a four-year absence, and should hopefully build on his first film’s fine-tuned social insight and sinuous technical grace.

Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
After the infamous exploits of “Showgirls” and “Basic Instinct,” veteran Dutch provocateur
Verhoeven regained arthouse respectability with 2006’s drama “Black Book.” But this rape-revenge thriller, headlined by the currently peerless Isabelle Huppert, will hopefully return him to the art-trash border that his best work treads so lithely.

My Life as a Zucchini (Claude Barras)
“Girlhood” director Céline Sciamma knows her way around a coming-of-age tale, so her involvement in the screenplay of French animator Barras’ debut feature — a stop-motion tale of a shy 9-year-old orphan adapting to foster-home life — is a most encouraging sign.

Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
Four years ago, critics agreed that Larrain had been robbed of a competition slot when his political satire “No” opened the Fortnight. Most expected this fact-based story of the eponymous poet’s communist history to show up in the top section — but the Fortnight again proved its mettle.

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
I was not wholly enamored of Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” but Kristen Stewart’s thoughtful, textured supporting turn in it was an unqualified stunner — so the prospect of her taking the lead, in what sounds a similarly themed character study, is an enticing one.

The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit)
Though de Witt has been working for nearly 40 years, this dialogue-free survival tale marks his feature filmmaking debut — and in a collaboration with Japanese toon titans Studio Ghibli to boot.

The Student (Kirill Serebrennikov)
Venices’ off-piste approach to competition programming paid off handsomely in 2012 with Russian helmer Serebrennikov’s revelatory romantic thriller “Betrayal”: Matching vertiginous technical athleticism to heady psychological intensity, it set up sky-high expectations for this adolescent study.

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
This father-daughter story was the surprise of the competition lineup: Cannes selectors aren’t traditionally generous either to German or female auteurs, and Ade has been low on the radar since wowing the Berlinale with “Everyone Else” seven years ago.

Two Lovers and a Bear (Kim Nguyen)
Montreal-based director Nguyen’s snowbound romantic drama — starring Dane DeHaan and “Orphan Black” sensation Tatiana Maslany — is an intriguing change of pace for the “War Witch” helmer.

JAY WEISSBERG’S MUST-SEES
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
Arnold consistently makes challenging films about young women that acknowledge the complexity of her characters’ emotions, and I’m intrigued to see what she does with this U.S.-set, possibly anarchic, drama.

Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Filho’s “Neighboring Sounds” was one of the best debuts of recent years. It sounds like “Aquarius” deals with similar themes, plus it looks like Sonia Braga will finally have another meaty role to show off her talent.

Clash (Mohamed Diab)
An exceptional cast and a hot-button political topic will generate plenty of coverage in the Arab world, but Diab’s finely drawn characterizations have the ability to connect with all audiences.

The Dancer (Stéphanie Di Giusto)
Finally, a biopic on Loie Fuller, one of the most influential dancers of all time. Her understanding of performance, light, color and movement remains revolutionary, and I’m excited to see what first-timer Di Giusto does with such an exceptional figure.

Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
It’s difficult to tell much about this film from the synopsis, but Mungiu crafts emotionally powerful stories about people on the cusp of fragility, and his latest promises something similar.

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
I’m always impressed by the range of Assayas. He brings out the best in Kristen Stewart, and I look forward to seeing what they do together again.

Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)
The word “uncompromising” comes to mind whenever I think of Puiu’s work; his ability to peer into darkness and find humanity along with horror remains second to none.

The Student (Kirill Serebrennikov)
The director’s “Betrayal” was psychologically dense and stunningly shot, with tour-de-force performances. “The Student” looks certain to push envelopes in equally stylish ways.

Sweet Dreams (Marco Bellocchio)
Bellocchio refuses to rest on his laurels, instead constantly challenging himself and audiences.

Tramontane (Vatche Boulghourjian)
The first Lebanese film ever in Critics’ Week looks to be a thought-provoking, original take on the country’s internecine struggles, less autobiographical than most, privileging countryside over cities.

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