What to Watch for at Cannes

Posted May 7, 2018 6:09 p.m. EDT

Here are some films people will be talking about this year at Cannes:

‘Birds of Passage’

The opening film of Directors’ Fortnight is being advertised as “the origin story of the drug trade.” The filmmakers Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego of Colombia portray a family crime dynasty that faces a clash between tradition and the brutal demands of its illicit business. In 2015, Guerra mesmerized audiences with the trancelike Amazon River drama “Embrace of the Serpent,” and he is already at work on his next film with Robert Pattinson.


Spike Lee is in the competition for the first time since “Jungle Fever” in 1991. Lee’s Cannes comeback seems likely to fry the brain circuits of viewers: It’s the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police detective who went undercover in the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s with the help of a white fellow officer. John David Washington, who played a conflicted cop in the Sundance award-winner “Monsters and Men,” stars as Stallworth with Adam Driver as his partner.


Fans of Haruki Murakami will be curious about this adaptation of his short story “Barn Burning.” The director Lee Chang-dong of South Korea has spun a feature out of the tale’s chance encounters between a writer and a freewheeling couple (an arsonist and a model). Lee’s take may not follow all the particulars of the original, but Murakami’s text is in good hands: The filmmaker’s last feature, “Poetry,” won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Steven Yuen, a “Walking Dead” alumnus, plays the fire-starter.


The third feature from Nadine Labaki, a Lebanese director and actor, puts a new twist on the enduring theme of children finding their own place in the world. The story concerns a 12-year-old boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world. Labaki, who directed the warm and wise beauty parlor drama “Caramel,” again taps nonprofessional actors for much of her cast and uses a Middle Eastern fishing village for a setting.

The House That Jack Built’

Much like Terry Gilliam’s long-gestating “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” Lars Von Trier’s latest feature was nearly going to be famous for not showing at Cannes. The uncertainty arose because Von Trier had been banned from the festival for comments he made in 2011 about Hitler. His film will screen out of competition. Von Trier’s newest provocation evokes pure, twisted id: A serial killer (Matt Dillon) undertakes five murders as if they were art. Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz and Riley Keough also star.

The Image Book’

A few years ago at Cannes, Jean-Luc Godard drew wild applause midfilm for the 3D experiments of “Goodbye to Language.” The feat proved that a new film by the 87-year-old Godard remains an event, and after he missed the last edition, the 2018 lineup at last features his latest venture into the poetics of pure cinema. The film reportedly addresses the present and past of the Middle East, but as ever, the real draw is Godard.

Happy as Lazzaro’

Lazzaro, a good-hearted farm boy, befriends a nobleman named Tancredi in Alice Rohrwacher’s long-awaited feature after “The Wonders,” 2014 entry in the festival section Un Certain Regard. Strange adventures in modernity ensue after Tancredi enlists Lazzaro in a kidnapping scheme involving ... Tancredi. Rohrwacher’s feel for secluded communities and the wisdom of innocents looks to be on display in the story, which has a time-travel component that the director compares to the story of Rip Van Winkle.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night’

Bi Gan may not be as well known as his compatriot Jia Zhangke (who is also appearing in this year’s edition), but his prior feature, “Kaili Blues,” announced a spectacular new voice in Chinese cinema. In his next film, starring Sylvia Chang and Tang Wei, a man goes on a quest to track down a woman from his past. It’s film noir, but infused with dazzling color. At the news conference announcing this year’s lineup, the feature was described as a mix of David Lynch and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Three Faces’

Honored at festivals across the world, the director Jafar Panahi has remained confined in Iran and nominally banned from filmmaking. But that has not prevented him from directing yet another feature. Panahi chronicles three Iranian actresses from different generations, pre- and post-revolution, setting the action in the country’s mountains as opposed to the usual backdrop of Tehran (or rooms in Tehran). The Cannes festival is reportedly trying to secure permission for Panahi to attend.

Under the Silver Lake’

Andrew Garfield stars as a lost soul in what sounds like a classic trip into a Pynchon-esque California bizarro-world. Garfield’s character begins by trying to track down a beguiling woman who has disappeared, but who knows where it goes from there. Director David Robert Mitchell showed an indefatigable focus with his creepy twist on ghoulish stalker horror, “It Follows,” and the new film promises another destabilizing universe for audiences to enter.