Josh O'Connor in La Chimera Credit Simona Pampaollona

Source: Simona Pampaollona

Alice Rohrwacher’s ‘La Chimera’

With 19 films announced for Competition, and perhaps a couple more to come, the Cannes 2023 line-up looks particularly satisfying, especially if you’re (a) a woman, (b) a French woman, (c) British, or (d) Wim Wenders and Wang Bing, who, despite a strict-cut-back in the number of films in Official Selection post-pandemic, managed two films apiece.

Perhaps not so happy? The French film industry, relegated to a mere three films in Competition (by Justine Triet, Catherine Breillat and Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung), and the opening film out of Competition, Maiwenn’s Jeanne Du Barry. 

Headlines will always focus on the big-ticket items such as the all-star Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny or Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon (invited to compete, apparently, mais.. non) but, let’s face it, Competition is where delegate general Thierry Fremaux hopes to answer the question of ‘what is the Cinema?’. This year, with a more tectonic approach to programming, the answer should be interesting, with the new and the old rubbing shoulders. 

With six female directors in Competition – from Catherine Breillat as the elder stateswoman to Senegal’s Ramata-Toulaye Sy entering with her debut – it’s a long-awaited levelling-up and a record for representation. These are exciting voices: Triet, Alice Rohrwacher, Kaouther Ben-Hania and Jessica Hausner. They take their place between the sturdy, and perhaps more predictable, pillars of Cannes cinema that are Aki Kaurismaki, Nanni Moretti, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Wim Wenders, and, of course Ken Loach, un-retired at the age of 86, a two-time Palme d’Or winner and three times the holder of the jury and Fipresci prizes.

He’s part of a good year, too, to be British, or British-produced. Club Zero, Jessica Hausner’s film about the goings-on at an international school, was co-produced and shot in the UK. Karim Ainouz’s Firebrand is not the kind of film Cannes usually tends to favour – an English-language costume drama about Katherine Parr (Alicia Vikander), the final wife of Henry VIII (Jude Law). It’s a delight to see Jonathan Glazer finally premiere a film at Cannes – the Auschwitz-set The Zone Of Interest stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller, shot in Poland (on 360-degree sets, reportedly) and is adapted from the novel by Martin Amis.

Italy? Cannes has love for you this year too: Nanni Moretti, Alice Rohrwacher and Marco Bellocchio mark a strong showing. Asia? Hello again to Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-Eda and China’s Wang Bing, whose documentary filmmaking knows no time limits, but perhaps Cannes can corral him. The US is represented in Competition by Todd Haynes and Wes Anderson, neither particularly risky names. So within the mix of old and new – largely represented by women – you also have the known and the unknown quantities. Is this four-quadrant programming? 

There are, of course, holes in the web – and a lot of filmmakers who will say that their film ‘wasn’t ready’ or suggest it has already secured a berth in Venice so ‘turned Cannes down’. At least regarding Competition, Latin America seems to have gotten lost en route (repped only by Ainouz so far), and there’s a distinct gap where the filmmakers from Israel or Middle Eastern nations used to be. You can’t win them all, of course, as Fremaux knows, but he should gain a lot of friends here.

Un Certain Regard can break names and signal fresh waves of filmmaking from unsung regions – although Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy is a surprise in this section: surely Competition or at least Premiere? Premiere itself, the relatively new section, has a skinny four titles from Takeshi Kitano and Katell Quillévéré alongside Martin Provost and Victor Erice and is beginning to look like a one-way street. A Special Screenings section focuses on filmmakers and their personal essays, which is how Wenders, debuting a 3D portrait of the sculptor Anselm Kiefer, and Wang Bing, with a testament of the Cultural Revolution, managed to snag two titles in Official Selection – despite the fact that selection was tougher than ever, according to Fremaux, with over 2,000 films submitted and a cutback on numbers of titles to pre-Covid-19 times. 

Next week, we’ll see the sidebars Directors’ Fortnight and Critics Week unveil their selections, and Directors’ Fortnight has form in snatching some sweet French titles in particular from up the road. Meanwhile, or at least on paper, Fremaux’s feeling of cinema being ‘well served’ by the submissions seems to be truly reflected in the line-up. And with female directors doubled from last year, perhaps, maybe, we are slowly inching our way towards the point where this no longer needs to be a conversation. That will be the day.