Highlights of the Cannes Film Festival 2023
A selection of highlights from the 76th Cannes Film Festival, held in 2023.
The 76th annual Cannes Film Festival was once again a mix of celebrity drama and international cinema. Headlines were dominated by the red carpet return of Johnny Depp, the disappointing fifth instalment of the Indiana Jones franchise, and Helen Mirren’s blue hair. But the French Riviera also reminded us that cinema can still communicate love, loss, and anger. It breaks language and cultural barriers to help us understand our past and our present. From courtroom dramas, to love stories set against a backdrop of Italian graverobbers and teenagers desperate to have sex in Malia, stories come in many forms.
Here are 12 of our ones to watch from 2023’s Cannes Film Festival.
Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall won the Palme d’Or, making it only the third film directed by a woman to do so. It stars Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann) as a writer trying to prove her innocence after her husband (Samuel Theis) dies suspiciously. Triet often blends parts of her real life into her fiction, making it hard for people to know what is fact and what isn’t.
Written by Triet (Age of Panic) and Arthur Harari, Anatomy of a Fall explores Sandra’s isolation, the breakdown of their marriage, and the ego of a successful writer. Much of their tale is told via courtroom drama, blurring reality and the unreliable narrator.
Part true crime legal thriller and part family drama, Anatomy of a Fall was described by critics as a thrilling tale of perception, truth, and ambition. This deceptively simple story uses a tragic death to explore the implosion of a normal family. A UK release date is yet to be announced.
The Zone of Interest is Jonathan Glazer’s first film in a decade (since 2013’s Under the Skin) and loosely based on Martin Amis’s stomach-churning 2014 novel of the same name. This holocaust drama has been described as the most chilling movie of the year, earning Glazer the Grand Prix award.
It centres on an Auschwitz commandant (Christian Friedel) and his wife (Sandra Hüller), who are striving to build a good life for their small family in a pavilion with a garden not far from the camp. The family continue their day-to-day life, embracing the banality of domesticity and ignoring the horrors happening next door.
The Zone of Interest has been praised for not making the leads sympathetic and for its accurate portrayal of the Nazi regime. The commandant and his wife know exactly what horrors are going on, but they’ve dissociated from it. No UK release date has currently been announced.
Todd Haynes tries to recreate the success of Carol (2015) with the Highsmithian May December. Juliane Moore stars as Gracie Atherton-Yoo, a controlling and neurotic woman with a much younger second husband (Charles Melton) in this polarising melodrama about celebrity scandal and exploitation
Gracie appears to live the perfect life in the prosperous California neighbourhood of Calabasas but there’s something sinister lurking beneath the façade. Her marriage was once a sex scandal that fascinated and disgusted America because she seduced her husband when he was only 13 and she was married and in her thirties.
Grace’s life is set to be adapted for a sensitive indie movie and she will be played by a respected actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman). After years of re-enactments and TV movies, could the Juliard-trained Elizabeth finally do justice to Joe and Gracie’s love story?
Compared to David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (2014), May December has been described as deeply uncomfortable as well as deliciously campy. Portman and Moore have already garnered talk of award nominations, but it’s the star-making turn from Riverdale star Melton that is delighting critics at the festival.
Sky Cinema has acquired the UK distribution rights but there is no official release date yet.
Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz makes his English-language feature debut with this tale of Tudor monarchs. Adapted by the screenwriters Jessica and Henrietta Ashworth from Elizabeth Fremantle’s novel of the same name, Jude Law stars as Henry VIII alongside Alicia Vikander’s Catherine Parr.
Although Jude Law’s transformation took up the headlines, it’s Vikander’s performance as his final queen and a social reformer that is gaining praise. Firebrand reclaims Parr’s achievements (she was a published author and an advocate for the education of women) and finally gives a voice to the woman usually known for being the only queen to survive her marriage to Henry VIII.
Firebrand may not be 100% factual and has been criticised for missing out on key details of the era, but it’s a fantastic showcase for Vikander and Law’s talents. The usual dapper Jude Law transforms into a grotesque and mercurial king whilst Vikander is restrained and confident as a queen well aware of what happened to her predecessors. Firebrand has yet to receive a UK release date.
British cinematographer-turned-director Molly Manning Walker’s debut feature, How to Have Sex, follows three teenage girls on a holiday of a lifetime in the party town of Malia in Crete, trying to let their hair down and not think about the exam results which their parents could text them at any moment.
Despite comparisons to Aftersun (2022), How to Have Sex is a perfect depiction of what it feels like to be 16. The female trio (Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Enva Lewis) are desperately looking for their identities, which are hidden under the brash facades, teen anxieties, and self-consciousness.
Mia McKenna-Bruce has been universally praised as a young girl battling her inner turmoil as she tries to lose her virginity in the sunshine. How to Have Sex is a witty portrayal of what happens when the fun stops and teenage girls learn life lessons the hard way.
The film earned Walker the Un Certain Regard award, which recognises young talent and innovative works. There is no current UK release date.
One of the biggest attractions at this year’s Cannes was Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flowers Moon. Co-written by the director with Eric Roth, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, it tells the horrific true story of the Osage Indian murders that took place in Oklahoma in the 1920s.
De Niro plays manipulative rancher William Hale, while DiCaprio stars as a brainless waster who arrives in Fairfax after serving as a wartime army cook, and soon falls for an Osage woman called Mollie (Lily Gladstone) after chauffeuring her.
This western has been almost universally praised for sensitively handling the macabre tale of serial killings and the almost erasure of Native Americans in the US. This classic western handles the classic topics of the struggle for power and land alongside love, lies, and loyalty in that classic Scorsese style.
Gladstone became one of the most talked about stars of the festival, plating a Native American woman who becomes unexpectedly wealthy after oil is found. Expect Gladstone and Killers of the Flower Moon to dominate awards conversation later this year. Killers of the Flower Moon will be released exclusively in cinema on 6 October 2023 before streaming globally on Apple TV+ from 20 October.
Alice Rohrwacher’s romantic drama La Chimera has awkwardly been praised as the best Indiana Jones film showing at the festival—after Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny itself received negative reviews after debuting on La Croisette.
The Crown’s Josh O’Connor stars as a linen-clad Englishman with a mystical talent for sensing where to find ancient graves filled with artefacts. On the surface, La Chimera is about a shady group of tomb-raising archaeologists led by a poetically melancholic Brit. The film soon reveals itself as a much deeper tale about death, nature and the way our present entwines with our history.
La Chimera was met with acclaim, especially for the ever-charming O’Connor, whose star is only rising. The Tuscan-set folktale, which also stars Isabella Rossellini, has been praised for its lyrical writing and haunting plot. La Chimera will be released on 6 December 2023.
Ken Loach makes an impassioned plea for compassion in The Old Oak, a film the 86-year-old declares could be his last. Set in Durham, the eponymous pub becomes the front line of a turf war between local patrons and Syrian refugees.
Syrian Yara (newcomer Ebla Mari) and her family form a bond with the owner and barman of the Old Oak, TJ (I, Daniel Blake’s Dave Turner). Setting up a free kitchen in the pub’s function room, the unlikely pair find a common bond in bringing their struggling communities together.
Although critics have noted the lack of subtlety in The Old Oak, it has praised the gentle allegories and effective storytelling. Loach has been lauded for depicting the sceptical and sometimes bigoted locals without turning them into caricatures.
The Old Oak will be released in the UK on 29 September 2023.
Cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ directorial debut is a fractured fairytale about a teenage girl on an odyssey. The Sweet East stars Never Rarely Sometime’s Talia Ryder in a star-making performance as Lilian, a high school senior who impulsively runs away wilts on a school trip to Washington, D.C.
Lillian soon gets in with a group of anarcho-punks, ditching her old life and changing her name. On her odyssey across the Eastern seaboard, she meets everyone from Neo-Nazis to Islamic extremist and liberal artists. Some of the characters she meets include an academic moonlighting as a white supremacist (Red Rocket’s Simon Rex); a heartthrob worshipped by teens (Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi), and a gun-wielding Pizzagate truther (comedian Andy Milonakis).
Williams and writer Nick Pinkerton use exaggerated characterisations to poke fun at both sides of a fractured America. Some have criticised The Sweet East for being surface-level in its criticism of the US whilst others have praised the unapologetically original writing. A UK release date is yet to be announced.
Wim Wenders’s Perfect Day is a bittersweet character study set in Tokyo. This philosophical film about nothing won’t be for everyone but it’s a charming, Zen-like contemplation about the meaning of life.
Hirayama (Koji Yakusho, who won ‘Best Actor’ award at the festival) is a middle-aged toilet cleaner, who drives around serenely between jobs listening to classic rock music on cassette tapes. It may seem like he has a solitary life, but he’s entirely happy in his existence.
Sometimes he’s joined by his younger, erratic assistant (a goofy Tokio Emoto), sometimes he listens to clients, but mostly it’s just him and his books and music. This movie is likely to be too precious for some but the childlike playfulness may encourage others to seek beauty in the mundane. Perfect Days doesn’t have a UK release date yet.
Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero centres on nutritional guru Miss Novak (Stoker’s Mia Wasikowska) who starts a new class in an international boarding school. This class teaches kids about ‘conscious eating’ which soon leads them to join a cult-like secret society where no one eats anything at all. It somehow leads to the members leading miraculously long, cancer-free lives.
This drama feels relevant in a Goop world where people are fascinated with celebrity diets and the wealthy are considered more credible than doctors. Whist Club Zero is a cautionary black tale about pseudoscience, it’s failed to live up to expectations.
Club Zero sadly failed to make much of a splash at Cannes, with many finding this boarding school drama one-note and starved of ideas. The characters have been described as underwritten and the concept lacking in development. Club Zero has yet to receive a UK release date.
Rodrigo Moreno brought Cannes this surreal heist-triller about two colleagues who collude to rob the bank they work at. Described as the slowest heist movie in history, The Delinquents is an abstract and surreal depiction of the cost of freedom.
Morán (Daniel Eliás) is a middle-aged employee at a dated Buenos Aires bank. He was once a young man with dreams who woke up to discover 50 years have passed and he’s achieved none of his goals. He’s now invisible to his colleagues, which means no one notices when he takes wads of American money out of his vault and stuffs it into his backpack.
During dinner with his co-worker Román (Esteban Bigliardi), Morán explains how much he’s stolen. He regrets his decision and wants to hand himself in, but not before offering his colleagues a split of the money if he hides it during his prison stay. Almost universally praised, The Delinquents is a philosophical take on a bank robbery dramedy.
A UK release date is yet to be announced.