PARIS — A duo of hotly anticipated arthouse genre movies, Danish helmer Jonas Alexander Arnby’s “When Animals Dream” and American filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows,” are among the seven films set to compete in Cannes’ Critics Week sidebar. The program, which runs May 15-23 and was selected by artistic topper Charles Tesson, is devoted to films by first- and second-time directors.
“When Animals Dream,” which marks Arnby’s feature debut, tells the tale of a teenage girl living in a small fishing town who discovers she’s a werewolf. Pitched as a mix between “Let the Right One In” and “Carrie” by sales agent Gaumont, “When Animals Dream” toplines Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen and Sonja Richter.
Tesson told Variety he saw the film as a “Protestant horror film with a feminist twist.” “The main character is a heroine a la Dardennes brothers who is routinely being humiliated by machos at work. When she transforms into a werewolf, she’s finally able to avenge herself and her ill mother.”
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Meanwhile, “It Follows,” starring Maika Monroe (“Labor Day”) and Keir Gilchrist, is described as a coming-of-age nightmare about “sex, love and the unseen horrors that follow us.”
Although the plot of the film remains under wraps, Tesson said it centers on a group of teenagers living in a suburb who are haunted by zombies and their fears about sexuality. “It’s subtle and plays with the atmosphere. There are zombies but it’s not a horror film in the vein of John Carpenter or Wes Craven movies,” revealed Tesson.
Mitchell’s acclaimed debut, “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” premiered at SXSW in 2010 and won a special jury prize before going on to screen at Critics’ Week.
“It’s the first time we have two horror films in competition and the reason behind this evolution is that these emerging filmmakers are able to mix arthouse and mainstream sensibilities,” Tesson told Variety. “They not only master the style, they also have something interesting to say, they have a very rich film culture and are able to bend genres in a very inventive way.”
Although Critics’ Week generally isn’t as horror-friendly as Directors’ Fortnight, it has revealed some highly promising genre directors in recent editions, notably Jeff Nichols with “Take Shelter,” winner of the sidebar’s Grand Prix in 2011, and Juan Antonio Bayona with “The Orphanage” in 2007.
After showcasing “Salvo” last year, Critics’ Week will again sample Italy’s new generation of filmmakers with Sebastiano Riso’s “Darker Than Midnight,” a drama about a 14-year-old who runs away from home and takes refuge in a park in Catania, where he starts living among the marginalized.
Latin America will be repped by Colombian first-timer Franco Lolli’s Cali-set family drama “Gente de bien.” The script, which he penned at Cannes’ Cinefondation Residence, centers on a 10-year-old boy who is abandoned by his mother and finds himself living with his father, a modest handyman who works for an upper-class household. Tesson said “Gente de bien” was reminiscent of “I Was Born, But…” by Yasujirō Ozu in its portrayal of a young boy discovering social inequality.
Lolli, who graduated from France’s prestigious school La Femis, had his second short, “Rodri” play in Directors’ Fortnight in 2012.
The competition roster also includes “Self Made,” the anticipated comeback of Israeli filmmaker Shira Geffen, whose “Jellyfish” premiered in Critics’ Week in 2007 and won the Camera d’Or for best first film in the entire festival. Filmed in Hebrew and Arabic, “Self Made” (previously titled “A Screw”) turns on two women — one Israeli, one Palestinian — who accidentally swap lives on the opposite side of the border without anyone noticing. Tesson said “‘Self Made’ had a soft burlesque tone and an offbeat humor; a bit like an Elia Suleiman film.” WestEnd Films is handling sales.
Ukranian helmer Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe” and French director Boris Lojkine’s “Hope” round out the competition. Set in the Sahara desert, “Hope” follows the journey of a young man from Cameroon who rescues a Nigerian woman and falls in love with her. The film, which was shot in French, English and Beninese, marks the fiction debut of Lojkine, who previously helmed two documentaries, “Les ames errantes” and “Ceux qui restent.”
“The Tribe” turns on a deaf-mute teenager who enters a specialized boarding school, where he becomes part of a wild organization. Slaboshpytskiy’s previous short, “Nuclear Waste,” won a prize in Locarno.
Set to receive special screenings are actress-turned-director Melanie Laurent’s “Breathe” and Israeli helmer Nadav Lapid’s “The Kindergarten Teacher,” which centers on an educator who discovers a child poet and takes him under her wing. “This film can be interpreted as parable of Israel, which today seems split between the business and military worlds with little room left for poetry,” said Tesson.
The film reps Lapid’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, “Policeman,” which won prizes at Locarno, Jerusalem and Stockholm, among other fests.
“Breathe,” described as a personal film for Laurent, depicts the destructive friendship between two teenage girls, played by up-and-coming thesps Lou de Laage and Josephine Japy. “This movie strikes a chord because it’s a humble, simple film that’s driven by truly genuine performances,” said Tesson.
Critics’ Week will kick off with “Making Love,” Haitian helmer Djinn Carrenard’s follow-up to his microbudgeted “Donoma.” The love-triangle drama turns on a young musician who is in a loveless relationship with a woman who wants to have a baby, and unexpectedly falls in love with his girlfriend’s sister, a young prison inmate, on leave for a week to spend Christmas with a 4-year-old daughter. Tesson said he had a “coup de coeur” for this film, which “illustrates the talent of France’s young generation of filmmakers” and “says something meaningful about the challenges that 30 year olds face today, coping with work, relationships, pressures from society.”
The sidebar will close with another French drama, scribe-turned-director Thomas Lilti’s “Hippocrate,” a drama set in a hospital that depicts the tense and complex relationship between two interns, an upper-class young student (Vincent Lacoste) who is the son of a doctor and a student of Algerian origins (Reda Kateb) who has a modest background. Lilti’s 2007 debut, “Les Yeux bandes,” earned warm reviews.
While there’s typically at least one Asian title in the Critics’ Week lineup, this year is an exception to the rule, bearing out the generally thin representation of films from the region throughout the festival.
The Directors’ Fortnight sidebar will be unveiled April 22.
2014 CANNES CRITICS’ WEEK LINEUP
“Making Love” (Djinn Carrenard) Second film. (France) Sales: Elle Driver
“Breathe” (Melanie Laurent) Second film. (France) Sales: Gaumont
“The Kindergarten Teacher” (Nadav Lapid) Second film. (Israel) Sales: Le Pacte
“Darker Than Midnight” (Sebastiano Riso) First film. (Italy) Sales: Rai Trade
“Gente de bien” (Franco Lolli) First film. (Colombia) Sales: Versatile
“Hope” (Boris Lojkine) Second film. (France) Sales: Pyramide
“It Follows” (David Robert Mitchell) Second film. Sales: Visit Films
“Self Made” (Shira Geffen) Second film. (Israel) Sales: WestEnd Films
“The Tribe” (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy) First film. (Ukraine) Sales: Alpha Violet
“When Animals Dream” (Jonas Alexander Arnby) First film. (Denmark) Sales: Gaumont
“Hippocrate” (Thomas Lilti) Second film. (France) Sales: Le Pacte