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It took about 30 seconds for Cannes director Thierry Frémaux to finish announcing the lineup for the 68th film festival for the griping to begin.
Why, asked the first journalist of Frémaux and his team, didn’t they pick any British films this year?
Complaining about what’s not going to Cannes is as much a part of the festival as celebrating the movies that make it. Every year there’s a new opportunity for head-scratching exasperation and the spinning of conspiracy theories. Because Cannes never gives a reason for why they turn down a film — they typically won’t even confirm if a movie has been submitted for consideration — there is endless room for wild speculation, punditry and outrage.
So let’s begin.
Arguably the biggest Cannes snub this year was Icon, Stephen Frears‘ biopic of Lance Armstrong starring Ben Foster as the now-disgraced cycling champion. The combination of Frears, a former Cannes jury president, with the Tour de France setting of Armstrong’s story made it look like a shoo-in. The project is reportedly finished, suggesting that either Cannes turned it down or the festival schedule didn’t fit into StudioCanal’s release plans for the film. But Frémaux told THR on Thursday that the film wasn’t finished yet.
Midnight Special, a Warner Bros. film starring Joel Edgerton, Cannes best actress winner Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver, was also widely tipped to make its debut at Cannes. The film’s director, Jeff Nichols, is a Cannes veteran who took his last two features — Mud and Take Shelter — to the Croisette, making this year’s snub all the more surprising. Like Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, director Cary Fukunaga’s story of African child soldiers featuring Idris Elba, which also failed to make the Cannes cut, Midnight Special will likely turn up at one of the fall festivals.
Less surprising was the dearth of high-profile studio films in the festival lineup, with the notable exceptions of Warner Bros.’ Mad Max: Fury Road and Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out. There had been speculation that such films as Warners’ Black Mass, which stars Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch; Relativity’s Jane Got a Gun with Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor; or Disney’s Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson, would make the trek to the Croisette. But for various reasons, none of those films were truly viable contenders.
Black Mass is still in post-production and doesn’t open in the U.S. or Europe until September. Studios prefer not to incur the major expense of taking a film to Cannes so far ahead of its release, given that it provides little bang for the marketing buck. And though Disney will release Tomorrowland on May 15, two days after the festival kicks off, they never had any intention of taking the Brad Bird film to Cannes, instead focusing their efforts on their other title, Inside Out. In all of these cases, as with Jane Got a Gun, the prestige of a festival bow for any production or distribution company has to be weighed against the considerable cost of bringing talent over for the trip.
Though it was deemed an extreme long shot, there was hope that the France-set, Angelina Jolie-helmed By the Sea would be making the trip to Cannes. Alas, Jolie, who stars alongside real-life husband Brad Pitt, will not be making the trip back to the festival (the actress is a Cannes favorite, having played Frenchwoman Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, which premiered at the festival). Universal has not yet dated the drama, but it is expected to open in late 2015. Another long shot that won’t be part of the 68th Cannes lineup is Robert Zemeckis‘ The Walk about French icon Philippe Petit‘s death-defying tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 (that film opens in October and will likely bow at either Venice or Toronto, or both).
While the Brits may have good reason to gripe about Cannes’ selection — Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston was another notable snub — at least the country has a couple of films in the official lineup. Amy, the hotly-anticipated Amy Winehouse documentary from Asif Kapadia, got a Midnight Screenings spot and two competition titles: The Lobster and MacBeth, have a strong British pedigree, despite being directed by, respectively, a Greek (Yorgos Lanthimos) and an Australian (Justin Kurzel). The Lobster, by virtue of its production set-up, is officially classified by the Cannes selection committee as both British and, by virtue of its director, Greek. MacBeth is down solely as an Australian movie.
Instead, save your sympathy for the filmmakers of Russia, Germany, Africa, Spain and South America, who together have a total of zero films in Cannes competition this year. The 2015 selection of 17 competition titles is heavily titled towards Europe and the U.S., with four films each from the U.S. and France, three from Italy, one Greek/U.K. Production and one Hungarian (Lazlo Nemus‘ Son of Saul). The only remaining three competition titles are all from Asia — one each from China, Japan and Taiwan.
Among the international art house titles expected to attend Cannes, the most surprising omissions including Love in Khon Kaen from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or just five years ago with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and last made the trip to the Croisette in 2012 for a special screening of Mekong Hotel. But for Asia, the biggest Cannes snub has to be for Japanese director Naomi Kawase and her latest feature Sweet Red Bean Paste. Kawase has had four films in competition in Cannes, including just last year with Still the Water. She was also a member of the competition jury in 2013. If any director could be considered a sure thing for Cannes, it’s her.
Less surprising are the snubs for two new French films: Love from aging enfant terrible Gaspar Noé and Bang Gang, the feature film debut from director Eva Husson. Both have been gathering substantial buzz ahead of Cannes, but with a strong French contingent — including Maïwenn‘s Mon Roi and Dheepan from Jacques Audiard, a competition slot was never likely.
Still, for those who relish the tradition of the Cannes scandal, both will be missed. Noé, who sent Cannes audiences storming out of theaters with the brutal Irreversible in 2002, can always be counted on to offend. And without Bang Gang, which is said to feature boundary-pushing scenes of teen sex, Cannes-goers wanting to be shocked will have to look elsewhere.
Or maybe not. Cannes’ official lineup announcement is never the final word. Fremaux has promised a few more titles yet to come before the festival kicks off, offering the possibility that today’s snub may become tomorrow’s celebration.
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London Film Festival