The lineup for the Cannes Film Festival won’t be officially unveiled until April 18, but early indications suggest that Elton John biopic “Rocketman,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and Kristen Stewart thriller “Against All Enemies” will all make their world premieres on the Croisette in May.
If Cannes director Thierry Frémaux is able to snag those three films, the French festival will already be looking at a starrier and potentially more glamorous edition than last year, when a combination of factors — a royal wedding, an industry-led embargo on Netflix movies, and the perception that fall festivals serve as better launchpads for Oscar hopefuls — led to a relatively low-profile Cannes competition slate. The program itself wasn’t bad, but light on English-language fare and established directors, meaning that for the majority of American press, there literally wasn’t much to write home about.
Three months later, the Venice Film Festival reaped the benefit, dramatically upstaging Cannes with a lineup that included “A Star Is Born,” “Roma,” “The Favourite,” “First Man” and new work from such previously Cannes-blessed auteurs as Mike Leigh, Jacques Audiard, Olivier Assayas, the Coen brothers, and Carlos Reygadas. A second year like that could be damaging to Cannes’ ability to command first dibs, which means Frémaux is highly motivated to prove that his festival hasn’t lost its mojo (it helps that Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” which premiered at Cannes, went on to Oscar glory).
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Right now, the frontrunner for opening night appears to be “The Truth,” a French-language film from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Shoplifters”), which would mark a triumphant return for the 2018 Palme d’Or winner. The film, which stars French icons Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve, is racing to get finished in time for the coveted slot.
Frémaux wants Dexter Fletcher’s “Rocketman,” although placement and timing will depend on John’s busy farewell tour schedule. Rumor has it Frémaux was such an admirer of Australian director Benedict Andrews’ “Against All Enemies,” which focuses on how the F.B.I. kept an eye on Jean Seberg (played by Stewart) when she stood up for civil rights during her time in Los Angeles, that he lobbied the studio to forgo a fall release and launch at Cannes.
A handful of Palme winners are also expected, which would potentially make for a dynamic competition slate. A quarter-century after “Pulp Fiction” took the fest’s top prize, Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which is set in 1969 Los Angeles around the time of the Charles Manson murders and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie, is reportedly holding out for a competition slot. American director James Gray (who has competed four times before) has a Pitt movie of his own — an ambitious sci-fi picture called “Ad Astra” — due out in May, though the Disney-Fox merger may determine whether the in-flux studio would send the film.
After a string of poorly received star-squandering doodles, Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) allegedly wants to return to the Croisette with his German-language World War II drama “Radegund,” about an Austrian conscientious objector who refuses to serve alongside the Nazis. In the works for several years, the film stars August Diehl and features some of the final performances by Bruno Ganz and Michael Nyqvist, both now deceased.
Two-time Palme winner Ken Loach (“I, Daniel Blake”) will likely be invited to screen “Sorry We Missed You,” another contemporary portrait of working-class strife, this one about a man who tries to provide for his family amid the economic downturn by becoming a delivery driver. Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“Rosetta”) have also won twice before and appear poised to return with their latest, “Ahmed,” which grapples with religious fundamentalism in modern Europe.
The ongoing feud between the French industry and Netflix seriously crimps Cannes’ style, meaning that Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”; Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat”; David Michod’s “The King”; and the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” must all look to other festivals to launch later in the year.
That said, other directors with competition experience who appear positioned to return include Jim Jarmusch, reteaming with Adam Driver on the highly secretive zombie movie “The Dead Don’t Die”; South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (“Okja”), whose “Parasite” is ready to go and reportedly competition-bound; local auteur Arnaud Desplechin, retelling a true-crime story from his hometown in “Oh Mercy”; and Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman (“Divine Intervention”), whose “It Must Be Heaven” marks his first feature in a decade.
Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who swore off Cannes after the press was unkind to him there, found the Toronto film fest to be equally unforgiving with “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.” Dolan now hopes to return to Cannes, and has evidently submitted his latest, “Matthias & Maxime,” for consideration. Fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan (whose “Exotica” lost to “Pulp Fiction” in 1994) is also keen to return, submitting “Guest of Honour” for consideration.
Italy’s Marco Bellocchio, who first competed for the Palme in 1980, could be back with “Traitor” if he finishes post-production in time. One of the few directors to have been coming longer is France’s Claude LeLouch (“A Man and a Woman”), who will likely weigh whether to bring his latest, “Les plus belles années d’une vie” (with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée), against what slot Cannes offers.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” winner Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno” —the first half of a two-part portrait of a Franco-Tunisian youth’s amorous pursuits — wasn’t ready in time for Cannes 2017, debuting at Venice instead. Notoriously slow with editing, Kechiche appears to have finally finished his followup, “Mektoub, My Love: Canto Due,” which would likely catch Frémaux’s eye.
Pedro Almodóvar’s presumably self-reflective “Pain & Glory” — centered on a film director — opens this week in Spain, where it’s receiving strong reviews. Cannes has hosted the international premiere of many of his previous films (most recently “Julieta”) and seems likely to follow suit with this one, which stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.
Romanians Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu, both previously featured in Un Certain Regard, are waiting to hear from Cannes. Although Puiu (“Aurura”) isn’t expected to deliver “Hora Staccato” until 2020, he has evidently finished another film, “Malmkrog,” shot mostly in French, which could play in Cannes. Meanwhile, Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers” is supposedly also among the titles Frémaux is considering.
Hailing from Down Under, “Macbeth” director Justin Kurzel resurrects notorious Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly (played by George Mackay) in “The True History of the Kelly Gang.” Brazilian helmer Kleber Mendonça Filho (“Aquarius”) tries his hand at genre filmmaking with “Nighthawk” (formerly “Bacurau”), a “The Most Dangerous Game”-like man-hunting thriller co-directed with Juliano Dornelles.
If these predictions seem light on female talent — an area in which Frémaux has been criticized quite a bit lately — rest assured that Cannes does have options in that department. The two most likely are Kelly Reichardt, nearing completion on “First Cow,” and Céline Sciamma, whose lesbian-themed period piece “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” looks like a competition contender.
On the French side, “Augustine” director Alice Winocour appears to have wrapped “Proxima,” about a female astronaut, while Justine Triet could potentially graduate from Critics’ Week (where her debut, “Victoria,” screened) to Un Certain Regard with “Sybil.”
Fellow French director Rebecca Zlotowski (“Grand Central”) put the post-production of her latest, “An Easy Girl,” on hold to shoot a TV series, but might race to finish the film if Frémaux sees promise in the version they submit. Actress-cum-director Valerie Donzelli, mercilessly ridiculed for her 2015 selection “Marguerite & Julien,” could be back with “Notre Dame.” Still French, yet more diverse in their backgrounds, Maïmouna Doucouré has a film called “Cuties” (or “Mignonnes” in French) under consideration, and Algeria-born Mounia Meddour’s “Papicha” takes place during the Algerian Civil War.
Mia Hansen-Løve is making her English-language debut with Mia Wasikowska starrer “Bergman Island,” though the film doesn’t sound like it will be done in time. Farther along are “Little Joe,” a sci-fi movie from “Lourdes” director Jessica Hausner, and “The Orphanage,” the latest by Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat, who won Directors’ Fortnight with “Wolf and Sheep.”
Actress Isabelle Huppert has a pair of projects being considered. The first, directed by former Sundance winner Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”), features the Oscar-nominated star in the title role of “Frankie.” The film, produced by Saïd Ben Saïd and Michel Merkt (collaborators on “Elle”), is finishing post-production in Paris with the hope of making deadline. Huppert also made a film called “Luz” with Hong Kong director Flora Lau (last seen in Cannes with “Bends”).
Other Asian options include Berlin film fest winner Diao Yinan (“Black Coal, Thin Ice”), who has spun a crime thriller about biker gangs in “The Wild Goose Lake.” Shanghai-born Lou Ye has competed three times before, potentially returning with “Saturday Fiction,” starring Gong Li as a spy who gets wind of plans to attack Pearl Harbor, and “Harmonium” director Kôji Fukada could potentially be back in Cannes with “A Girl Missing.”
From South America itself, Argentine “Weasels,” from Oscar winner Juan José Campanella (“The Secret of Their Eyes”), is in post-production, as is “4 x 4,” the first solo feature from countryman Mariano Cohn (“The Distinguished Citizen”), which was a work-in-progress standout at December’s Ventana Sur showcase.
The most promising of Mexico’s offerings is actor Gael García Bernal’s second feature as a director, “Chicuarotes,” a dark comedy set in the town of San Gregorio Atlapulco. Another Mexican option is David Zonana’s “Labor” (aka “Mano de obra”), produced by director — and Cannes regular — Michel Franco (“April’s Daughter”).
John Hopewell Nick Vivarelli, Patrick Frater, Leo Barraclough, and Richard Kuipers contributed to this report.
(Pictured: Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”)