Cannes: Critics' Week Director Says Selection "About Picking a Director Who's on His Way to Becoming a Major Talent"

La Semaine de la critique
Charles Tesson

In his fifth year as the sidebar's director, Charles Tesson explains that the highly selective section devoted first or second features aims to pick "young auteurs who we think will build a major body of work.”

The Cannes Critics’ Week is a bit like the NCAA for international auteurs: it gives them the chance to make a name for themselves, but eventually they get whisked away to the pros.

This year, there are no less than eight Critics’ Week alumni — including Jacques Audiard, Denis Villeneuve and Justin Kurzel — with films playing in the Official Selection of the Cannes festival, with four alums having films in competition. And let’s not forget Oscar winners like Bernardo Bertolucci or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, both of whom broke onto the scene by premiering films in the prestigious sidebar, now in its 54th year.

With a program that includes 11 first or second features, of which seven compete for a main prize handed out by a jury (headed up this year by Israeli actress-director Ronit Elkabetz), the Critics’ Week is highly selective but also extremely open to burgeoning talent. “Unlike the other sections of Cannes, our mission is to discover new filmmakers,” says Charles Tesson, who’s serving his fifth year as fest director. “We like to gamble on young auteurs who we think will build a major body of work.”

This year’s selection is no exception, with eight budding directors making their debut on the Croisette. They include the American Trey Edward Shults, whose family drama Krisha walked away with the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW this March. “It’s really surprising, what we call a cinematic UFO, and it features an incredible lead performance by Krisha Fairchild,” Tesson remarks. “Some viewers may be irritated while others will adore it — not unlike last year’s prize winner, The Tribe.”

Another U.S. production, though one shot entirely abroad, will premiere with writer-director Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea, which tells the tale of two African immigrants scraping by in southern Italy. An Italian-American who splits his time between Rome and New York, Carpignano won the Critics’ Week short film prize in 2014 for his movie, A Ciambra, and his first feature was produced by Hollywood veterans like Chris Columbus and Justin Nappi (All is Lost), with WME handling domestic sales.

“It’s a powerful depiction of Africa coming face-to-face with Europe, with opposing points-of-view between the two main characters: one who’s willing to do anything to support his family and a younger one who’s much more rebellious,” says Tesson.

Cannes' Critics’ Week has been particularly focused on Latin American filmmakers in the past, with not only Inarritu debuting Amores Perros in the sidebar, but Guillermo Del Toro premiering his first feature, Cronos, back in 1993. This year, Argentine director Santiago Mitre will screen his second film, Paulina, which Tesson describes as “the story of a woman who refuses at all costs to let go of her convictions, in the manner of Roberto Rossellini’s classic, Europe 51.” The other Latino film, La tierra y la sombra from the Colombian Cesar Acevedo, is a “visually arresting tragedy about one man’s attachment to his land,” commented Tesson.

As in past editions, there will be no shortage of French movies this year, with writer-director Elie Wajeman opening up the sidebar with his second feature, The Anarchists, starring Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Palme d’Or winner Adele Exarchopoulos, and actor-director Louis Garrel unveiling his debut, Les Deux Amis, which co-stars Golshifteh Faranahi (About Elly) and Vincent Macaigne (Eden).

Alongside closing night film La Vie en grand by Intouchables cinematographer Mathieu Vadepied and French competition title Ni le ciel, ni la terre from newcomer Clement Cogitore, Tesson sees the four Gallic features as belonging to a similar trend of movies about “infiltration, vengeance and betrayal, with an auteur’s way of approaching popular forms of genre — much like in the work of James Gray.”

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“Choosing first and especially second films is always a challenge,” concludes Tesson, who will be on hand in Cannes to introduce each new feature of his selection. “Because it’s not just about movies that are good, and sometimes we choose films that aren't perfect. It’s about picking a director who’s on his way to becoming a major talent. And that’s the hardest thing to find.”

The International Critics’ Week sidebar runs May 12-22.  

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