One of the most fascinating features about the Cannes Film Festival is its ability to draw attention months before the actual, annual 12-day event gets rolling on the scenic French Riviera. This year, the Festival – which will run from May 8 to 19 – will unfold in a climate that is politically charged with the Me Too movement and cry for racial diversity on the big screen, given the phenomenal success of Black Panther.
Added to this, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the violent 1968 civil unrest – involving workers and students -- that paralysed France, and stopped the Festival. Legends like Francois Truffaut and Godard sneaked into Cannes and forced the Festival to draw its curtains. They averred that a celebration of cinema was not in order when the nation was burning.
I am not sure how all these would be factored into the selections by the Festival's top men like Thierry Fremaux and Christian Jeune. Three weeks before Cannes begins, the titles, at least most of them, will be announced in Paris. I remember a Paris-based Indian journalist who writes for The Statesman asking Fremaux last year why there were no entries from the country for the second consecutive year. Fremaux had no clear answer, but I hope that India will be lucky the third time round, this May.
I would personally think that one of the hottest movies from India that is in the reckoning will be Nandita Das's Manto – a biopic of sorts of the radical Pakistani thinker and writer, Saadat Hasan Manto – who wrote most fearlessly what he saw. Obviously, he invited the wrath of many, also those in power, and he was tried on six occasions for obscenity. Das promoted Manto at Cannes last year, and she told me that 70 per cent of her work was complete. One hopes that Das, who had served twice on the Cannes jury, would get Manto in.
The other possible Indian inclusions are Ivan Ayr's Soni, which explores the country's lopsided gender politics seen through the eyes of a Delhi policewoman. The film is produced by Kartikeya Singh, whose The Fourth Direction/Chauthi Koot, helmed by Gurvinder Singh, was part of the Cannes canvas in 2015.
Some of the other Indian titles buzzing now are the fantasy epic, Tumbad, set against the turbulent days of the British Raj in the 1930s and the 1940s. Tamil auteur Vetrimaaran – whose Visaaranai, based on police brutality on hapless migrant workers in Andhra Pradesh, premiered at Venice a few years ago – may be at Cannes with his Dhanush starrer, Vada Chennai, a spin around the city. This movie is supposed to have a run time of nearly five hours, and may, like Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur, be shown in two parts at the Directors' Fortnight, a Festival sidebar.
Outside India, the films that most critics at Cannes will await are: The Wild Pear Tree by Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Loro by Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, Peterloo by British director Mike Leigh, Everybody Knows by Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, The Death and Life of John F Donovan by Canada’s Xavier Dolan, Ash Is Purest White by China’s Jia Zhangke, Sunset by Hungary’s László Nemes, The Favourite by Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos, Donbass by Ukraine’s Sergei Loznitsa, Where Life Is Born by Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas, The Sisters Brothers by France’s Jacques Audiard, and Vision by Japan’s Naomi Kawase as well as Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda.
Other possibilities include Stéphane Brizé’s At War, which reunites the director with Vincent Lindon who stars as a union leader fighting a factory closure, Olivier Assays' Non-Fiction, set against the backdrop of the literary world; and Guillaume Nicloux’s To The Ends Of The Earth.
And who knows we may see the extraordinarily talented Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani, in Girls of the Sun (after recently watching her along with Irrfan Khan in The Song of Scorpions) as the commander of a Kurdish female battalion fighting extremists.
And then there can be Claire Burger’s C’est Ça L’Amour, her first solo feature after co-directorial debut Party Girl which opened for A Certain Regard in 2014 and won the Caméra d’Or, Philippe Faucon’s star-crossed migrant love story Amin, Yann Gonzales’s Knife + Heart, starring Vanessa Paradis as a gay-porn producer in the 1970s Paris, and Mia Hansen-Love’s Maya starring Roman Kalinka as a war reporter who is taken hostage while on an assignment in Syria.
Finally, all of us regulars at Cannes will be waiting with bated breath to see if Europe's enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier from Denmark will arrive at the Riviera with his The House that Jack Built, starring Matt Dillon, Riley Keough, Ed Speleers and Uma Thurman. Seven years ago, Von Trier was declared persona non-grata by the Festival after his joke about Hitler at a Press conference. He was asked to leave Cannes. Fremaux reportedly wants him back now.
I can go on and on, and end up picking close to 2000 titles – all which will be vying for a berth at Cannes, undoubtedly the queen of festivals, a number that Fremaux and Jeune along with their team would now be watching, trying to cull out 50-odd movies out of this huge basket of arrivals.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran, author, commentator and movie critic, has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )