Cinematic trends at this year’s early-summer film festival in Cannes included but were not limited to: men in positions of absolute power corrupting it absolutely, characters papering over their ethical missteps with the help of some extreme mental compartmentalization, May-December relationships that gave us the ick while also making us laugh, young people gyrating on each other, Sandra Hüller, stories within stories within stories, Leonardo DiCaprio talking to Robert De Niro, general depravity, and the Weeknd telling Lily-Rose Depp to “suffocate on my cock.” Never boring, sometimes French, often provocative, and always unpredictable, here are our two Cannes correspondents on the festival movies you’ll want to watch out for in 2023:
I knew we were in for a particularly delectable treat from Todd Haynes when, about ten minutes into his latest film, May December, a housewife named Gracie (Julianne Moore) opens her fridge midway through the neighborhood barbecue she’s hosting with her much-younger husband Joe (Charles Melton). The camera zooms in on her slowly, with focused intensity, implying something dramatic is about to happen. The 1980s-soap-opera piano score surges, conveying panic and despair. “I don’t think we have enough hot dogs,” says Moore. The sequence is patently ridiculous and fun, and it’s just one example of the tonal high-wire act that Haynes manages to sustain. It’s a masterpiece of wit and high camp of the juicy, tabloid variety — destabilizing, bizarre. It follows Hollywood actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), who’s shadowing Gracie and Joe to help her prep for an indie film about their Mary Kay Letourneau–inspired relationship, which began in a pet shop when Joe was in seventh grade and has since warped the lives of everyone involved. The movie overflows with delicious dialogue, framing devices that evoke everything from Hitchcock to Persona (one scene, shot in front of a department-store mirror, sees two Moores flanking Portman for the duration of their conversation), knotty ethical questions that go unanswered, and hearty monologues for its leads. Portman and Melton are especially impressive, with the latter, previously of Riverdale fame, more than pulling his weight alongside his legendary co-stars — in one scene, he has a weed-induced nervous breakdown on a roof next to his son that might put him in the Oscar conversation next year. —Rachel Handler
Netflix acquired the North American distribution rights to May December at Cannes. A release date has not yet been announced.
Wim Wenders’s whole career has been built on the elusive search for now. “There’s so many good things,” Peter Falk, the wise and worldly former angel of Wings of Desire, used to say. He was eager to tell the celestial phantoms above Berlin “just how good it is to be here — to touch something.” In his latest, Wenders finally achieves the simplicity and presence he and his characters have been seeking all these years. The film follows Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), a quiet, middle-age man who wakes up every dawn, rolls up his bed, spritzes his plants, puts on his Tokyo Toilets jumpsuit, and drives around the city, quietly and meticulously cleaning its public bathrooms. Somebody notes that it’s pointless to be so thorough, since it’ll all get dirty again. “How can you put so much into a job like this?” He doesn’t reply. The film is always on the verge of explaining itself, but thankfully never does. Instead, Wenders shoots the seesawing depths of Yakusho’s face and captures the elegant and diverse architecture of Tokyo’s public bathrooms. The key to depicting simplicity, it turns out, is to embody simplicity. By the time it was over, I wanted to put on a Tokyo Toilets jumpsuit myself. —Bilge Ebiri
Perfect Days won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Best Actor Award for Kōji Yakusho at Cannes. A release date has not yet been announced.
Zone of Interest is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever had the privilege of watching, and one that I plan to go back to over and over again, pulling apart its intricate machinery to figure out how it accomplishes its devastating work. Jonathan Glazer makes movies slowly and rarely, only one every ten years or so, and his thoughtful, delicate hand is most apparent in his latest, which is based only in name and general theme on Martin Amis’s 2014 novel. Based on years of careful research, the film follows real-life couple Hedwig and Rudolf Höss, the latter of whom was an Auschwitz commandant who lived directly next to the concentration camp with his family. Glazer films them from afar, with three remote cameras and an objective lens, like little dolls going through the motions of their day-to-day lives — planting, swimming with their kids, making dinner, throwing parties — while just over the wall, we hear the screams of the prisoners as the Nazis march them toward the gas chambers or shoot them execution-style. Not much “happens” in the film — Glazer abandons much of the plot that propels Amis’s novel — but that’s the point. The horror is in the banality of it all, the recognizable normalcy, the way the sun still shines and the plants still grow and the kids still play while just over the wall unfolds one of the most deplorable crimes committed against humanity. —R.H.
Zone of Interest won the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes. A release date has not yet been announced.
Close Your Eyes
Although it was overshadowed somewhat by a scandal involving his treatment by the festival selection committee, 82-year-old Spanish director Victor Erice’s first feature in 31 years (and his fourth overall) is a stirring tale of memory, identity, and friendship, and it feels deeply, almost alarmingly personal. It opens with tantalizing images from an abandoned film called The Farewell Gaze (which bears some similarities to a real-life movie Erice never got to finish) and then follows the efforts of its long-retired director to find out what happened to his actor, who walked off set and disappeared one day. Erice’s film proceeds in stylistically distinct movements — from a lush opening, to a somber inquiry, to a gentle seaside idyll, to a final act that turns out to be an exploration of cinema as memory. But of what value is this memory, and others? This film was clearly made by a man who has been unable to direct the movies he’s wanted to for decades. You feel his frustration and regret in every frame, but you also sense a sort of acceptance. He seems to be asking, in mesmerizing and unbearably touching fashion, what really makes a life. —B.E.
Close Your Eyes will be released in Spain on September 29.
Pedro Almodóvar is back at Cannes with an erotically charged 31-minute gay cowboy movie based on a brief moment in Brokeback Mountain, when Heath Ledger’s character says to Jake Gyllenhaal’s, “What would two men do in the West, working on a ranch?” Almodóvar answers that question with a Technicolor western fantasy about two ex-lovers, a sheriff named Jake (Ethan Hawke) and a gunslinger named Silva (Pedro Pascal) who haven’t seen one another in 25 years but who just can’t seem to quit each other. The two have unfinished business, part of which they resolve by hopping into bed with one another, and part of which they resolve by pointing pistols at one another. But not before we get a flashback to their hot and heavy younger days, when they hired a few sex workers in Mexico before realizing all they really wanted to do was make out under a fountain of wine. The short is fizzy and funny and melodramatic, a perfect Almodóvar aperitif. —R.H.
Strange Way of Life released in Spanish theaters in May. Mubi is set to distribute the film in Italy and Latin America, Pathé will release it in the United Kingdom, and Sony Pictures Classics will distribute it elsewhere at dates yet to be announced.
Divided into three sections, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest retells the same tale from different perspectives. It begins with a mother who is terrified about her 11-year-old son’s recent erratic behavior and her pursuit of the teacher who is alleged to be mistreating her son. Then it follows the teacher’s perspective, as we see the surprising reasons for the way he himself has been acting. Then, we get to see the story from the point of view of the boy and his best friend at school. As the perspectives converge, a tale of queasy tenderness begins to emerge about the way friendship, love, shame, and rejection so often live on the same continuum. We see how the compassion of individuals — of a mother for her son, of a teacher toward his most vulnerable students, of a boy toward his best friend, amid the stirrings of what might even be called love — can become cruel, destructive forces when perceived in fragments sans context. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better film about the indisputable (and increasingly relevant) fact that we never really know what someone else is going through. —B.E.
Monster will be released in Japan on June 2.
Wes Anderson’s last few films didn’t quite hit me in the kishkes the way that, say, The Royal Tenenbaums did. I’d begun to think of his later work as technically beautiful and evocative at its best, impressive in its frame-by-frame and narrative complexity, but lacking that earlier, quieter, surprise-burst tenderness. Asteroid City has me believing in Anderson’s emotionality again. Part of it has to do with the way it’s constructed — as a play within a play within a TV production within a movie, which, oddly, gives it more room to breathe. Set during a science contest that accidentally intersects with an alien invasion in a tiny motel built near a meteor crater, featuring a massive cast of kids and adults that includes Scarlett Johansson, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Hanks, Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, and countless others, Asteroid City is bursting with ideas and unmanufactured feeling. It’s about death and grief and theater and lust, and about the very question of the universe itself, in a way that is neither irritatingly self-conscious nor distractingly whimsical (as some late Anderson can be). Anderson holds himself back in all the right ways and knows when to go for the gut punch. For me, the tears came at the same time as they did for our critic, Bilge Ebiri, when Schwartzman’s character, an actor playing a man mourning his recently dead wife, insists to the director (Adrien Brody) that he “doesn’t understand the play.” He hops out of character and runs into the actress (Margot Robbie) who was once meant to play his wife before her scene was cut. The two have a brief but wrenching conversation about the scene between them that might have been, illuminating something profound for him. As Bilge put it, “I cried like a baby.” —R.H.
Asteroid City will be released in select U.S. theaters on June 16 and will expand to wide release on June 23.
About Dry Grasses
There are beautiful photos throughout Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s drama of restlessness and inaction set in rural Turkey. They belong to Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu), an intellectual middle-school teacher who can capture the beauty of this place and its people in his art but is annoyed by what he sees as the backwardness and provincialism of his surroundings. Samet can’t wait to leave, and his conversations with those around him — the other teachers, the students, a foulmouthed veterinarian, a young unemployed man who’s trying to decide between a dead-end job and becoming a guerilla — all emphasize the dead-end nature of this place. Ceylan always makes personal movies: The intellectuals, wannabe artists, and educated workers who populate his work are often stand-ins for the director. And he delivers one of his most sincere, personally damning films to date — because his protagonist isn’t just tired of his surroundings, he’s contemptuous of them. His high regard for himself doesn’t allow him to see the beauty in front of him, and he lashes out in shatteringly cruel ways. As viewers, we hover between a state of relation and repulsion. —B.E.
About Dry Grasses will be released in France on July 12.
Justine Triet’s murder mystery has a hell of a lot more on its mind than whodunit, though it’s a compelling question on its own. Sandra Hüller is incredible as Sandra, a successful German novelist who writes autofiction while her wannabe-writer husband Samuel resentfully homeschools their blind, precocious 11-year-old son (Milo Machado Graner, who also gives a staggeringly good performance). One afternoon, after flirting openly with a female student who’s come to their French chalet to interview her and infuriating Samuel, Sandra takes a nap (or does she?), then wakes up to her husband dead in the snow. Did he jump, or did she kill him? The courtroom drama is good enough to hold our attention as it resolves to answer this question, but even more fascinating are the questions Triet asks about truth, art, and about what goes on in marriages behind closed doors. Is it possible to really know a person or to understand someone else’s relationship? Is fiction more “truthful” than reality? Should we all learn French in case we find ourselves on trial in France and the total weight of justice rests on the French jury’s ability to understand our defense? —R.H.
Anatomy of a Fall will be released in France on August 23.
The Breaking Ice
The Chinese border town of Yanji, on the boundary with North Korea, is not a particularly happening place — it seems to be covered much of the year in ice — but in Anthony Chen’s romantic drama, it feels like the most magical land on earth. The film centers on three individuals: Nana (Zhou Dongyu) is a young tour guide who has fled her former life as a figure skater; Haofeng (Liu Haoran) is in town for a wedding but appears to be in the midst of a mental-health crisis; Han Xiao (Qu Chuxiao) is a local who’s in love with Nana and has dreams of leaving. There’s not much of a plot to speak of: Three people find each other, and their brief time together prods each in a new life direction. But Chen makes fine use of the frozen, otherworldly surroundings to create a mood of romantic melancholy and possibility. The movie feels like a dream of love you once had and long to return to. —B.E.
The Breaking Ice does not yet have a release date.
Alice Rohrwacher’s third movie about the way Italy’s past bleeds into its present (after The Wonders and Happy As Lazzaro), La Chimera is particularly magical and melancholy. This time around, our mysterious male protagonist is Arthur (a very good Josh O’Connor), an Englishman who’s desperately trying to find two things at all times: (1) ancient Etruscan artifacts and (2) his long-lost love, Beniamina. The former he accomplishes by robbing tombs at night with his band of Goonies-esque cohorts, and at the latter, he continues to fail. When he isn’t selling his stolen wares to a faceless, ruthless dealer named Spartaco, Arthur spends much of the film moodily mooning all over Italy, dreaming of Beniamina’s face. If only he could get out of his own way long enough to notice Italia (Carol Duarte), a tone-deaf eccentric taking voice lessons from Beniamina’s delusional, delightful, Grey Gardens–esque mother, played by the always incredible Isabella Rossellini. Like all of Rohrwacher’s movies, La Chimera casts a peculiar, bittersweet spell and then punches you right in the gut with its ending. —R.H.
La Chimera will be released in the United States by Neon.
It would be tempting to say that Killers of the Flower Moon is Martin Scorsese’s attempt at a western, and you can sometimes sense him luxuriating in the open spaces and lawless frenzy of an Oklahoma boomtown in the early years of the 20th century. But in adapting David Grann’s acclaimed 2017 nonfiction history of the Osage murders of the 1920s and the subsequent FBI investigation, Scorsese and screenwriter Eric Roth have shifted the scope of the story. Instead of the procedural, they focus on the relationship between Mollie Brown (Lily Gladstone), a member of a large and wealthy Osage family, and Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a WWI veteran who arrives in town to work for his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), a local godfather type. For all its extravagant run time (three hours and 26 minutes!), its big-swing history lessons, and its tale of an Old West giving way to the regimentation of a modern police force, Killers of the Flower Moon turns out to be that simplest and slipperiest of things: the story of a marriage. And a twisted, tragic one at that. —B.E.
Killers of the Flower Moon will release in select U.S. theaters on October 6 and expand to wide release on October 20.
How to Have Sex
In Molly Manning Walker’s debut feature, three high-school girls hop on a plane to Greece to have the “best holiday ever,” raving on the beach and chugging fishbowls full of bright-blue liquor until they puke. For anyone who’s ever been a teenage girl or read the news or seen an indie movie, this is already a relatively ominous, even predictable setup. But Walker eschews any easy scaremongering or moralizing in this movie in favor of something more nuanced, careful, and real. How to Have Sex follows a trio of best friends: Tara (Mia McKenna Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis). Tara, our effervescent protagonist, is desperate to have sex for the first time on the trip; Skye is jealous and pushy; Em is just trying to make out with a woman before she heads off to school to become a vet. Their complicated friendship dynamics, and the young men they encounter in Greece who alternately flirt with and manipulate and mock and even hurt them, are rendered with almost uncomfortable verisimilitude — so much so that when Tara finds herself reeling after a sexual assault, we feel every shade of her pain, shame, and disbelief. —R.H.
How to Have Sex will be distributed by Mubi. A release date has yet to be announced.
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