6 To Keep An Eye On
"Like Father, Like Son"
Synopsis: A driven and ambitious businessman find his certainties in life crumbling when he discovers that his 6-year-old son was in fact switched in the hospital at birth.
What You Need To Know: Director Hirokazu Koreeda can be a little hit-and-miss, but when he hits, he really hits, often right in the heart/solar plexus ("After Life," "Still Walking," "Nobody Knows"). And when it comes to familial relationships, his aim is almost alway true, including his last time at bat "I Wish," which we were also big fans of. With his best work following in the tradition of Japanese master Ozu, and with the logline here setting up an intriguing moral dilemma and laying ground for an interesting exploration of nature vs nurture, we think this could be right in Koreeda's sweet spot, and will be bringing our hankies along, to avoid the blubbering messiness of our encounter with "Still Walking." Seriously.
"As I Lay Dying"
Synopsis: Based on the 1930s William Faulkner novel, the story follows the various members of Addie Bundren's family in the immediate aftermath of her death, while they, for different reasons, attempt to honor her wish to be buried in the nearby town of Jefferson.
What You Need To Know: With James Franco clearly slacking off to an unforgivably lazy pace of late, Cannes is the first festival for a while to boast only one of his films. But as if in order to make up for that, Franco pulls triple duty as writer, director and star of this hugely ambitious period movie, based on a novel which boasts 15 different narrators in a stream-of-consciousness style. While his cast is not the stellar line up of heavy hitters Franco originally envisaged, it's a solid group, with some surprising but possibly inspired choices like Danny McBride, Logan Marshall Green and Tim Blake Nelson along for the ride. One can't accuse Franco of lacking either talent or work ethic, but what has been missing of late is a sense of focus and investment in his work -- we're hopeful that this film will change that perception. Further pictures here.
Synopsis: A drama centered on two brothers, the younger of which is asked by his older convict sibling to go back into the underworld to help out his family.
What You Need To Know: Well, it's a remake of the 2008 French thriller "Les Liens Du Sang" (which starred Guillaume Canet, who directs here) but outside of that, it's really the names that have us high on this one. Co-writer? James Gray. The cast? Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana. James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Noah Emmerich, Lili Taylor. All in a '70s-set thriller based in New York City? There's not much else we really need to say about this. The fact that it's not in competition may cause some slight pause, but even if this is just a well-executed, grimy, B-flick delivered by top-shelf talent, that'll be enough for us.
"A Touch of Sin"
Synopsis: Plot specifics are still vague, but this is an overlapping narrative with four strands that illuminate the social issues thrown up by China's emergence as an economic superpower.
What You Need To Know: Chinese social realist director Zhang Ke Jia is not particularly well-known internationally outside the festival circuit ("Still Life" won at Venice in 2006, but is still the best-known of his ten features). And certainly, his sometimes frustratingly opaque, meandering style can try the patience and make it hard to wholeheartedly recommend. But the circumstances of this film, his first, as it were "studio" film, suggests that perhaps some concessions to accessibility had to be made, and for once, aside from the politics of co-producing with a state-run company, we think stylistically that could be a good thing. Zhang's sincerity is never in question, and his social engagement credentials are beyond reproach -- if he harnesses those impulses in service of a strong narrative he could very well be the director to give us a true glimpse into modern China, which, to Western cinemagoers, largely remains an enigma. How far his state-financed production partners will allow him to go, of course remains an open question.
Synopsis: An aging out-of-work actress agrees to sell her likeness to a studio for them to do with what they will. But her decision has unforeseen consequences.
What You Need To Know: "Waltz with Bashir" director Ari Folman's next project is certainly a tantalising prospect, especially as regards how his aesthetic will translate not just to partial live-action, but to a story that's not as incendiary or personal as 'Bashir.' It's a gamble, and one that's been many years in the making, but it could very well pay off big. However we were surprised with the film's placement as the opener for the Director's Fortnight as opposed to in the Official Selection, especially considering 'Bashir' was in contention for the Palme d'Or back in the day. For now, we'll chalk it up to the selectors being a little sniffy about the film's genre elements, and not let it dampen our enthusiasm too much.
"Venus In Fur"
Synopsis: An adaptation of the David Ives Broadway play in which an actress attempts to convince a director that she is perfect for a particular role, despite being, initially, the polar opposite of what he is looking for.
What You Need To Know: It only ever seemed like an outside bet that Roman Polanski's latest would be ready in time for Cannes, but here it is, with a competition slot too. Our expectations are high of course, but tempered by the staginess and insubstantiality of his last adaptation "Carnage," and also the relative anonymity of Polanski behind the camera there. But we are ever hopeful of a return to form and he will certainly be familiar with the milieu as a director himself, with the script as the co-screenwriter with the play's author and with the cast, seeing as it comprises his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and the seemingly ubiquitous Mathieu Amalric (see also "Jimmy P" below). We hope there will be more room for Polanski's own flair this time out.
In addition to these titles, there are a bunch more we're intrigued by and definitely intend to make time for during the festival, including "Jimmy P," the Arnaud Desplechin film starring Mathieu Amalric and Benicio del Toro, which climbs quietly higher on our radar with every new thing we hear about it. Francois Ozon's "Young & Beautiful" ("Jeune & Jolie") has the kind of offputting logline of being a tale of a "17-year-old girl told over four seasons in four songs," but his sardonic and sometimes creepy sensibility may undercut the potential for sappiness, even if The Playlist is divided over his most recent "In the House."
Paolo Sorrentino has some ground to make up after "This Must Be The Place," though we didn't pan it quite as comprehensively as some, but "The Great Beauty" ("La Grande Bellezza"), with its themes of lost youth and misspent passion and its Rome setting, may well be the film to do it. Johnnie To is a genre master, so we always look forward to films from him and "Blind Detective," which is about an, er, policeman who is, er, partially sigh... oh dammit, its about a blind detective, is no exception. Especially considering how much we enjoyed his last police procedural "Drug War." And hopping over from Hong Kong to Japan, Takashi Miike's "Shield of Straw" competition slot would have us more excited if we hadn't absolutely loathed his last film "Lesson of the Evil," which we saw in Rome. Elsewhere, J.C. Chandor, director of the unfairly overlooked "Margin Call," returns to Cannes with "All is Lost," a survival-at-sea story starring Robert Redford, which is such a leap into a far-off genre for the filmmaker that it could either, yes, sink or swim.
And finally there are two documentaries we're particularly keeping an eye out for: Stephen Frears' "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight," which is about Ali's struggles with the U.S. government following his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, and James Toback's "Seduced and Abandoned," which he shot at Cannes last year with Alec Baldwin and promises an inside-baseball look at the wheeling and dealing that goes on on the Croisette, away from the glamour and the spotlights.
Finally, both "Fruitvale Station" and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" are films we're definitely going to be catching up with, but both were Sundance movies (we already reviewed and raved about 'Saints' here), both already have firm U.S. releases and both showed up on our Most Anticipated Indie List earlier in the week, so we didn't feel the need to include them here.