"Foxcatcher" (dir. Bennett Miller)
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Synopsis: The true story of schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont, who backed the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and whose friendship with gold-medal-winning brothers Dave and Mark Schultz ended in tragedy.
What You Need To Know: It's not a huge year for purebred Hollywood studio movies at the festival, but the leading light is undoubtedly "Foxcatcher," which comes from Sony Pictures Classics and cinephile darling Megan Ellison (returning to the festival after backing 2012's "Lawless"). Delayed from a potential Oscar-season berth last year when the film wasn't done in time, it's the third feature film from "Capote" and "Moneyball" helmer Bennett Miller, and we're very eager to see if he can go three-for-three, not least as this has been something of a passion project for the director (who passed up the chance to direct "Catching Fire" in order to get this made). The true story it tells is somewhat remarkable, Miller's assembled a killer cast (including an almost unrecognizable, heavily-against-type Steve Carell as du Pont), and the leaked teaser trailer looked positively chilling. Between the track records of Miller and Ellison, this was one of our most anticipated films of the year in general, so damn right we'll be queueing from the wee hours for its Cannes premiere.
"Leviathan" (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Cast: Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov
Synopsis: A modern-day reworking of the Book of Job, set on a peninsula of the Barants Sea, about an ordinary man who comes into conflict with his town's corrupt mayor.
What You Need To Know: Russia's been dominating headlines this year, but all of that makes us all the more keen to see "Leviathan"—it's the latest from Andrey Zvyagintsev, who for the last decade has been establishing himself as perhaps the country's most exciting filmmakers, and one of its fiercest critics. 2003's "The Return," his debut film, won the Golden Lion in Venice, and follow-ups "The Banishment" and "Elena" both won awards in Cannes. His latest sounds like his most ambitious to date, promising to unwind "to a mythological scale concerning the human condition on earth entirely," with an expansive cast and running time, we're sure he won't be abandoning his ground-level, intimate drama. And if he can combine that with the broader canvas he seems to be working on, this could be one of the most serious threats for the Palme d'Or, especially given its topicality. If not, we're just pumped to see something new from the director, whose last film, "Elena," was something of a favorite round these parts.
"Amour Fou" (dir. Jessica Hausner)
Cast: Christina Freidel, Birte Schoink, Stephan Grossman, Peter Jordan, Sebastian Hulk
Synopsis: The story of the romance between famed German writer Heinrich von Kleist and his great love, Henriette Vogel, which ended in a murder-suicide pact in Berlin in the early 19th century.
What You Need To Know: She's been a hugely promising director for quite a while, but Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner really cemented her place on cinephile's watchlists with 2009's "Lourdes," a compassionate and inquisitive film about a religious pilgrimage. It's taken a while for her to follow it up, but she's in Cannes for the first time since "Hotel" in 2004, premiering her latest, "Amour Fou," in the Un Certain Regard section (surprising many who thought she was sure to get a main competition slot this time around). Going back in time, it's a period drama about a famously tragic German literary romance, and early footage suggests something a little akin to "Bright Star," though shot in the bright, digital manner of Catherine Breillat's recent fairy tale pictures. Hausner's not to everyone's tastes, but she's very much to ours, and the material seems like it's full to the brim with potential. All being well, this should be one of the hot tickets in Un Certain Regard.
"The Salvation" (dir. Kristian Levring)
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Douglas Henshall
Synopsis: A peaceful Danish settler in America guns down the men who killed his family, only to be betrayed by the local townspeople when the murderer's brother comes looking for his own vengeance.
What You Need To Know: The spaghetti Western is now a familiar sub-genre, but "The Salvation" might be the first... let's call it Frikadeller Western, giving a Danish spin on the most American of genres. Helmed by former Dogme signatory Kristian Levring ("The King Is Alive"), and co-written by Susanne Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen, it's takes a seemingly familiar tale of bloody pioneer revenge and gives it a European spin. And key to the film's appeal is Cannes darling Mads Mikkelsen, who takes the lead role at something of a peak of his career: he won Best Actor at the festival two years ago thanks to "The Hunt" (on which Levring was a producer), and continues to do some of the best work of his career on excellent U.S. TV show "Hannibal." The casting beyond him is somewhat eclectic—Eva Green! Jonathan Pryce! Uh, Eric Cantona!—but there's enough here to make this sound like a potentially fun antidote to heavier affairs (assuming that this is more of a pure genre proposition, as its midnight slot, and trailer, seems to suggest).
"Breathe" (dir. Mélanie Laurent)
Cast: Lou De Laage, Josephine Japy, Isabelle Carre, Claire Keim
Synopsis: The abusive friendship between two teenagers turns deadly.
What You Need To Know: Speaking of international French stars stepping behind the camera, Mélanie Laurent seems to be determined to prove that she can do everything. After shining in "Inglourious Basterds" and "Beginners," launching a musical career and even being the only good thing in "Now You See Me," the actress is back in Cannes with her second directorial feature, "Breathe." Based on the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme, it seems to have some echoes of a more genre-y take on last year's Cannes sensation "Blue Is The Warmest Color," with a cast of bright young Gallic things starring. Laurent's first film "The Adopted" was a pretty impressive debut, given that the actress is only 31 now, and this looks to be a personal endeavor for her (one, presumably, funded by her Hollywood paychecks). The film is playing Critics' Week, not the most high-profile selection, which might not bode well, but if we're lucky, and if Laurent continues to direct as well as she acts, it could yet turn out to be one of the festival's hidden gems.
Other Anticipated Titles
But you know, this is Cannes, and it’s the Big Show, so there are plenty of other titles across all the various sections that we’re definitely going to be keeping an eye on. Ned Benson’s Un Certain Regard entry “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy is one such film because though we’ve already reviewed (and raved about) the ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ versions that screened at TIFF, this one is a wholly new cut which incorporates both perspectives into one two-hour film, so we’re curious to see if it lives up the standard of its precursors. Of the red carpet-friendly gala premieres we confess that we’re more looking forward to “How to Train Your Dragon 2” than the glitzy opener “Grace of Monaco,” though of course we’ll be covering the Nicole Kidman/Grace Kelly biopic too. Back In Competition, Mike Leigh’s “Mr Turner” is one we’ve been pretty high on since it was announced—we’re fans of the director’s previous period biopic “Topsy Turvy” and hope for something similarly engaging here. And to bracket together the two Brits in competition who are endlessly bracketed together anyway, Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” looks to be a trademark intelligently political story from the Cannes-friendly director, though it doesn’t really look to be treading any particularly new ground. Naomi Kawase’s “Still the Water” her self-confessed “masterpiece” also plays In Competition, and while we’ve found some of her previous work to be ambiguous to the point of opacity, we know we’re in store at least for something scenic.
Over in the Critics Week, our pick of the lot is probably David Robert Mitchell’s horror “It Follows” as we liked his underrated feature debut “The Myth of The American Sleepover.” Korean action thriller “The Target” will hopefully scratch a genre itch while on the Croisette, if not then fellow Korean “A Hard Day” might, or editor-turned-director Andrew Hulme’s debut “Snow in Paradise” from the Un Certain Regard section. The Director’s Fortnight will close with “Pride,” featuring a starry Brit ensemble cast headed by Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine, while “Jauja” from Lisandro Alonso has us interested because of the Argentine director’s previous work and also because of star Viggo Mortensen. Veteran John Boorman’s first film in eight years, “Queen and Country,” will play in the Directors' Fortnight as well, as will Frederick Wiseman’s “National Gallery,” and perhaps most enticingly from that sidebar, the new animation from Studio Ghibli, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” Look out for our coverage of all of these and more over the next couple of weeks—we’re off to stock up on Visine and caffeine pills. — Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang