At 70, Cannes' Official Selection Welcomes a New Era

by Ana Maria Bahiana April 13, 2017
Scenes from films at the 70th Cannes Film Festival

From top left: Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled; Julianne Moore in Wonderstruck; Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here; Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourgh in Ismael's Ghosts; and Lilly Collins in Okja.


The 70th Cannes Film Festival has all the elements to become, quietly and efficiently, a landmark - and not just because it marks a Platinum Jubilee. The festival’s official selection, announced today in Paris, presents some important signs of change in the overall scope of the most respected international film competition:

  • Women, in front and behind the cameras, abound. From Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, starring an almost all-female cast led by Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning (and Colin Farrell as the solitary and ill-fated male lead) to the Un Certain Regard section, with five titles directed by women, plus three women directors in the main competition, the female gaze and presence is strong. Considering all sections, 12 of the 49 films in the official selection were directed by women. On top of that, a significant amount of works by acclaimed (and Croisette veterans) male filmmakers have women-centered or women-dominant stories: Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, starring Tilda Swinton and Lilly Collins; Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, led by his muse Julianne Moore; Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological thriller The Killing of a Scared Deer, with Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone (and Lanthimos’ go-to guy, Colin Farrell);  Arnaud Desplechins’ Ismael Ghosts- the festival’s opening film – has a female-strong cast led by Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourgh; and both Michael Haneke (Happy End) and Hong Sangsoo (Claire’s Camera) chose Isabelle Huppert as their lead.
  • Strong presence of some unusual guests: TV, streaming, virtual reality. Amazon had already made some inroads on the Croisette, but this year the doors flung open: Amazon has produced Wonderstruck and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix. Netflix, shunned in the past for its streaming-only business model, has changed its ways, embracing a theatrical window – and now getting two of its titles in the competition: Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, starring Adam Sandler and Emma Thompson. In a definite first in the festival history, two TV series will premiere at the Palais, out of competition: David Lynch’s revisited Twin Peaks, and season 2 of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake. Lynch’s and Campion’s names certainly had clout in this major step, and Fremaux was adamant that, unlike “our friends in Berlin” (and many other festivals, like Sundance, Toronto and SXSW) Cannes was not considering a permanent TV sidebar. But, he added, “television series (…) are using the classical art of filmmaking and of cinematic narration.” Virtual Reality has been inching its way into Cannes – not the festival, but the market. This year, however, the cutting-edge development is front and center with an out of competition showing of Alejandro Iñarritu’s Carne y arena.
  • Absence of usual suspects. No titles form countries that usually have a strong showing: India, China, Spain, Romania, Belgium and Italy.
  • No big Hollywood movies. In recent years, the festival seemed wide open – dependent, even – on big studio fare to heat up the Croisette. Not this year. There isn’t a single Hollywood film in the mix – main curators Pierre Lescure and Thierry Fremaux took Cannes back to its roots as a haven for independent, auteur-driven international pieces.

The 70th Cannes Film Festival will run from 17 to 28 of May. Selections for Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight will be announced later this month.