Stephen Arnell

Cannes 2021: this year’s most talked about films

Cannes 2021: this year's most talked about films
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‘I actually know the moment I became known. It was at the Cannes Film Festival, when they showed 'The Virgin Spring.' I walked into that theatre as one person, and I walked out as another.'

- The late Max von Sydow

After last year’s pandemic washout, 2021’s Cannes Film Festival is a bumper event, with a wealth of backlogged movies on offer for film-starved cineastes. This backlog may well be the reason for the appearance in multiple films at the festival from actors Charlotte Rampling (two), Tilda Swinton (three) and in particular Léa Seydoux, who has no less than four movies premiering in Cannes.

Here’s my personal selection of films playing at this year’s festival – both in and out of competition:

Val (2021) Amazon Prime Video from August 6

Playing out of competition, this documentary portrait of notoriously ‘difficult’ actor Val Kilmer (Heat, Tombstone, The Doors) promises to be a fascinating watch.

Collated from thousands of hours of Kilmer’s own home movies (onset and otherwise) by directors Ting Poo and Leo Scot, the movie aims to give us a rounded picture of the actor – warts and all.

Kilmer, who is currently in recovery from throat cancer, was especially keen to get the film made, even admitting that 'I have behaved poorly'. Something of an understatement, if you believe the rumours about his onset antics – especially during 1996’s Island of Dr Moreau.

The making of the notorious flop is chronicled in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014).

Val’s soundalike son Jack narrates much of the film, as Kilmer’s tracheostomy sadly makes it 'difficult to talk and be understood'.

I first came across Kilmer when I watched him in his atypical comedy Top Secret! (1984) in which he displayed some fine comic chops. I was also intrigued that the actor married Joanne Whalley, who I was briefly besotted with as a youth in ITV’s adaptation of Stan Barstow’s A Kind of Loving two years previously. Whalley starred with then husband Kilmer in 1989’s underrated neo-noir Kill Me Again.

Annette (2021) – MUBI UK cinema release – 3rd September

I suspect that the musical Annette (which was the opening film at the festival) will be something of a Marmite experience for cinema goers.

Leo Carax’s (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf) picture stars Adam Driver as edgy comedian Henry, married to internationally renowned soprano Ann (Marion Cotillard); their newly born daughter Annette (a puppet, yes, really) begins to evidence strange abilities.

Sung in an operatic fashion to a score by co-screenwriters Sparks (of This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us fame), Annette could be seen by some as a form of trial by ordeal. Director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) profiles the Maels in his new documentary The Sparks Brothers, which, with Annette, constitutes a career renaissance for the pair.

Sparks appeared as themselves in the 1977 amusement park disaster movie Rollercoaster, playing their hits as a bomber plans to detonate the Magic Mountain ride. Speaking to Mojo magazine, the duo said that performing in Rollercoaster was the biggest regret of their long career.

Everything Went Well/ Tout s'est bien passé (2021)

François Ozon (Swimming Pool) delves deep into human drama with his interpretation of long-time collaborator the late Emmanuèle Bernheim’s novel about euthanasia.

When her 85-year-old father André (André Dussollier) suffers a massive stroke, his daughter Emmanuelle (Sophie Marceau) must decide whether to accede to his request and help him end his life.

If you enjoyed The Father (2021) and movies in the vein of Blackbird (2019) The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (2007), The Sea Inside (2004) and the earlier Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981), Everything Went Well may be the motion picture for you.

Charlotte Rampling, who starred in Ozon’s Swimming Pool (2003) and Under the Sand (2000), also features in the picture – as well as in another Cannes entrant, Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta.

Deception (2021)

The very busy Léa Seydoux stars in Arnaud Desplechin’s (My Golden Days) adaptation of the Philip Roth book.

An adulterous couple discuss their generally empty lives and loveless marriages, which make Pinter’s Betrayal (1983) look like Notting Hill in comparison (1999).

Roth’s novels don’t tend to work well when transferred to the big screen – witness the poor critical reception given to Goodbye, Columbus; Portnoy's Complaint; The Human Stain, The Humbling and American Pastoral. But maybe Deception will surprise us.

The French Dispatch (2021) UK cinema release 22nd October (TBC)

Likely to be more whimsy from Wes Anderson, whose variable career encompasses both the sublime (Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and wilfully meandering (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom).

As to which camp The French Dispatch falls into is yet to be seen, although the Telegraph has already called it 'a relentless hoot.'

Three stories of American journalists in a fictional French city during the student protests of May 1968 provide the backdrop for the picture, which boasts an all-star cast, including Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.

The supporting cast includes Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman, Liev Schreiber, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Anjelica Huston, Jason Schwartzman, and Saoirse Ronan.

Bergman Island (2021) MUBI cinema release TBA

Anyone expecting a Nordic take on Love Island will be disappointed by Bergman Island.

A screenwriting couple (Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps) take a working holiday seeking inspiration on the Swedish director’s home, the island of Fårö, where he filmed Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Persona (1966), Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968), The Passion of Anna (1969), and Scenes from a Marriage (1973).

Humour apparently leavens the prospect of a deep dive into Bergman-esque depression, as the pair lose their grip on reality. If Bergman Island tickles your fancy, you may want to look out for HBO’s upcoming remake of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, which looks to be another happy-go-lucky experience.

Back in 1971, Elliott Gould (Friends’ Jack Geller) starred in Bergman’s drama The Touch, which has since been enjoying a critical re-evaluation, I’ll take the BFI’s word for it for the time being though.

Benedetta (2021) – MUBI UK cinema release TBA

Ever the provocateur, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Black Book) returns to the fray with his adaptation of historian Judith C Brown’s 1982 Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.

The true story follows Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) a 17th-century abbess in Counter Reformation Italy who is stripped of her title and imprisoned for life due to her erotic visions and lesbian relationship with colleague Sister Bartolemea (Daphne Patakia).

Charlotte Rampling plays the Abbess brought in to discover the truth of the matter. Possibly one for fans of Black Narcissus (1947), The Devils (1971), Dark Habits (1983) and The Name of the Rose (1986).

Mothering Sunday (2021)

With Olivia Coleman, Colin Firth and Glenda Jackson in the cast, you know that you’re in for some solid thesping.

Based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name, Mothering Sunday concerns orphaned maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young – The Stand) who is conducting an affair with affianced son of the manse Paul (Josh O'Connor – Prince Charles in The Crown). There are shades of Swift’s own Waterland (published in 1983, filmed in 1992) as well as possibly The Go-Between (1971) and Atonement (2007).

Memoria (2021)

Cannes favourite, Thai arthouse director Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) assembled an international cast for his first English language picture, which includes Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Daniel Giménez Cacho and Juan Pablo Urrego.

Swinton stars as Scottish orchid farmer Jessica. Whilst visiting her poorly sister in Bogota, Jessica falls in with a young musician and a French archaeologist, who is engaged on a tunnelling project in the Andes.

Swinton keeps hearing strange sounds during the night which cause her to question her sanity. Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Titane (2021) Acquired by Altitude, Film4 for UK cinema release TBA

Looks like we’re in David Cronenberg Crash territory with Julia Ducournau’s Titane, the follow-up to her 2016 debut, the disturbing body-horror movie Raw.

As with Raw, the chances are that you may require a strong stomach to get through the picture.  Plot details are sparse, but they appear to involve a crimewave and a father reuniting with his long-lost son. The excellent Vincent Lindon (La Haine) stars as the father.