Cannes Festival Lineup: This Year's Biggest Snubs and Surprises

Simon Mein

Mike Leigh's historic epic 'Peterloo,' Matthew McConaughey-starrer 'The Beach Bum' and Laszlo Nemes' 'Sunset' are among the buzz titles that failed to make Cannes' competition cut.

Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux promised this year's competition would be a surprise.

He wasn't kidding.

When Fremaux on Thursday announced the competition lineup for the 71st Cannes festival, some of the year's most hotly-anticipated films, which appeared on every prognosticator’s “going to Cannes” list, failed to make the cut.

Mike Leigh, who has competed five times in Cannes (and won the Palme d'Or for Secrets and Lies in 1996), was considered a shoo-in with his Amazon-backed historical epic Peterloo, about an early-19th-century massacre of unarmed protestors by the British cavalry. Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum featuring Matthew McConaughey as stoner Moondog in the title role and with a star-heavy cast including Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence and Snoop Dogg, was thought to be a lock. As was Sunset, the sophomore effort from Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes, whose debut, Son of Saul, was in the Cannes competition in 2015 and went on to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film. His new effort stars Juli Jakab as a women growing up in Budapest just before the first World War. And virtually everyone expected Lars von Trier to return to Cannes after a seven-year absence with The House That Jack Built, a dark psychological thriller starring Matt Dillon as an American serial killer.

But when Fremaux announced the lineup Thursday, there was no Leigh, no Korine. Also no Nemes and no von Trier.

It might be too early to call any of these omissions a snub: Fremaux was quick to say there could be some late additions to the Cannes lineup before the festival kicks off May 8 with the world premiere of Everybody Knows, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Fremaux in particular suggested Lars von Trier's film could still make the cut. Last year's eventual winner, The Square from Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, was a similar late edition, made after the official press conference.

And just because a film isn't going to Cannes doesn't mean it was rejected. Release strategies and post-production delays can mean certain buzz titles were never submitted or couldn't be finished in time. Cannes regular Xavier Dolan is apparently still editing his English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (he cut star Jessica Chastain out of the finished version but the movie still features Kit Harrington, Susan Sarandon, Jacob Tremblay, and Natalie Portman). Similarly, new films from Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), Claire Denis (High-Life), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favorite), Felix Van Groeningen (Beautiful Boy), Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria) and Jacques Audiard (The Sister Brothers), are all reportedly still in post and won't be taking part.

Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an Amazon title, was on Cannes’ list, according to Fremaux, but because of ongoing legal troubles, the long-delayed project, featuring Jonathan Pryce as the Man from La Mancha, and Adam Driver as a modern-day ad exec who substitutes for Sancho Panza, will not see cinema screens for some time yet.

A bigger surprise comes from Italy. Youth director Paolo Sorrentino was expected to get a Cannes invite to screen Loro in some form. His two-part drama, featuring his The Great Beauty star Toni Servillo in a story inspired by the career of Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, will premiere in Italy ahead of Cannes, but it's a surprise the film didn't even get an out-of-competition slot.

Another apparent snub was for Kursk, the submarine-disaster drama from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, which stars Colin Firth, Lea Seydoux, Max von Sydow and Toni Erdmann's Peter Simonischek. Perhaps the film, based on real-life events, was not considered high-brow enough for Cannes.

That, however, cannot be said for The Wild Pear Tree, the latest from Palme d'Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep). A new film from the Turkish auteur, who's had five titles in Cannes competition, would typically be a no-brainer for the Croisette.

Few American titles were expected to make the Cannes cut, and, aside from David Robert Mitchell’s L.A. neo-noir Under the Silver Lake, and Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, none did. Lee's movie, which stars John David Washington as the real-life Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado who successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, marks the director's return to Cannes after a 20-year absence.

A bigger surprise was the inclusion, in competition, of Three Faces, the new film from Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who has never been to Cannes before, preferring Berlin, where he won the Golden Bear for Taxi in 2015. Panahi is still under house arrest in Terran. Fremaux said the festival would formally invite Panahi to attend the world premiere of his film and asked the Iranian government “to allow him to leave ... and allow him to return.” 

Another Cannes competition title with a surprise political twist is Leto, the new film from Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov (The Student). Shortly before Serebrennikov finished work on the film, he was arrested by authorities on fraud charges related to a theater he ran in Moscow. On Thursday, the same day the Cannes lineup was announced, prosecutors requested that Serebrennikov’s house arrest be extended through July 19. A decision is to be made next week. If the court sides with the prosecutors, Serebrennikov won’t be making it to Cannes, which runs May 8-19.