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Cannes: New Films From Todd Haynes, Sofia Coppola Expected; Will Brad Pitt Return to the Croisette?

Variety logo Variety 3/22/2017 Elsa Keslassy
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Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” with Jake Gyllenhaal, and John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” with Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning are strongly tipped to world premiere as official selections of the 70th edition of Cannes Film Festival.

Although Netflix has acquired films from Cannes in the past (including 2016 Camera d’Or winner “Divines”), “Okja” could be the first project produced by the company to bow in Cannes. “Okja” also attracted the support of Brad Pitt’s Plan B as a producer. Korean stylist Joon-ho’s film “Mother” premiered in Cannes in 2009.

In terms of pedigree and timing, “The Beguiled” couldn’t be better situated. Coppola is a Cannes vet after premiering “The Bling Ring” in 2013 and “Marie Antoinette” in 2006, and Focus plans to release the Civil War-set film June 23 in the U.S. A re-adaptation of Thomas Cullen’s novel (which Don Siegel directed with Clint Eastwood in 1971), the drama stars Colin Farrell as a wounded soldier whose presence bewitches several women, played by Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kirsten Dunst.

Besides “Okja,” speculation is swirling around another Netflix-backed Pitt project, “War Machine,” directed by David Michôd, whose “The Rover” played Cannes in 2016.

Watch the teaser for Brad Pitt’s ‘War Machine’:

With an estimated budget of $60 million, “War Machine” could prove to be one of the priciest movies in the mix — especially since insiders have insisted that such high-profile summer tentpoles as Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant,” and fifth-in-franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” will all be bypassing the Croisette.

The same goes for Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic “Valerian,” for which publicity efforts  will begin immediately following the festival. Besson remains wary of Cannes since his film “The Big Blue” world premiered on opening night and was panned by critics in 1988 — which just goes to show how potential blockbusters often have more to lose than to gain from a high-profile Cannes premiere. Although “The Big Blue” went on to have a successful commercial career, Besson is not willing to repeat the experiment with “Valerian,” which is the most expensive European film ever made.

A pair of Paramount movies have been discussed, although neither Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” nor Clooney’s “Suburbicon” (which was co-written by the Coen brothers) is said to be complete. Although Payne agreed to premiere a not-quite-finished version of 2013’s “Nebraska” in Cannes, he’s said to still be deep in post on his latest, which puts certain special-effects demands on the director, who cast Damon as a man who decides to shrink himself. “Suburbicon,” on the other hand, could conceivably be ready in time.

Also a possibility is David Robert Mitchell’s neo-noir “Under the Silver Lake,” which stars Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough, and will be released by A24.

While speculations have been slowly emerging about top contenders, the French film industry is unusually tight-lipped this year in advance of the April 13 official announcement.

That may have something to do with the publication of Thierry Frémaux’s just-released book, “Selection Officielle,” a collection of diary entries from his years at the top of Cannes. In the book, Frémaux reveals how intense lobbying from French producers and distributors can be counter-productive to their cause. Pair that with the absence of most Cannes-branded directors who don’t have movies ready this year, and the intense pressure on Frémaux to deliver a strong selection for the festival’s 70th anniversary, and one can understand why cards are being kept close to the vest.

That said, Variety has still managed to suss out the titles of many of the international films most likely to factor in this year’s selection.

Isabelle Huppert, whose “Elle” debuted in competition last year, could have as many as three movies in the fest this year: Huppert stars in Michael Haneke’s “Happy End,” Hong Sang-soo’s “Claire’s Camera,” and Serge Bozon’s “Madame Hyde” — all titles with a strong chance of being chosen.

French movies are often the hardest to predict, considering they’re the last ones to be screened for Cannes’ selection committee, though best bets include “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius’ “Redoubtable,” about the love affair between Jean-Luc Godard and actress Anne Wiazemsky; Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts,” which is also a self-reflexive director-in-love opus, this one starring Marion Cotillard and Louis Garrel; and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” director Abdellatif Kechiche’s latest romance, “Mektoub Is Mektoub.” Also in French, Belgian director Michaël Roskam (“Bullhead”) might have “Racer and the Jailbird” done in time. The Brussels-set gang movie reunites him with star Matthias Schoenaerts and former Kechiche muse Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Roman Polanski’s French-language psychological thriller “Based on a True Story,” co-written by Olivier Assayas (“Personal Shopper”) and starring Eva Green, is said to be ready and a likely contender.

If U.S. pics prove to be in short supply, making up the difference will be a handful of international directors working in English. Among them, Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos follows up Cannes-selected “The Lobster” with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” starring Farrell and Kidman. Following “Force Majeure,” Swedish director Ruben Östlund switches to English for his bilingual satire “The Square,” featuring Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West. Paolo Virzi’s “The Leisure Seeker” with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland is being presented to the committee in the few days, while Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour (“Wadjda”) is putting finishing touches on “Mary Shelley,” in which Elle Fanning plays the proto-feminist “Frankenstein” scribe.

For cinephiles, a number of returning auteurs are said to have new films ready, or else racing to the finish line, in anticipation of a possible Cannes berth. Two-time Palme d’Or winner Haneke could potentially face off against “Winter Sleep” director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose “Wild Pear Tree” (“Ahlat Agaci”) centers around a young author whose homecoming is overshadowed by family debts. Following the mixed reaction to his 2015 U.S.-based “Louder Than Bombs,” Joachim Trier hopes his Norway-set “Thelma” will be picked — though it’s just one of several compelling Scandinavian movies in the running.

Argentine director Lucrecia Martel is expected to return to Cannes (following 2008’s “The Headless Woman”) with “Zama,” a 17th-century period piece adapted from the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto — although the fact that it was co-produced by jury president Pedro Almodóvar means it couldn’t compete. Also from Latin America, “A Sort of Family,” a road movie/family drama from Cannes regular Diego Lerman (“Refugiado”), Santiago Mitre’s (“La Patota”) “The Summit” with Ricardo Darin.

Mexico’s Michel Franco (“Chronic”) is trying to finish the edit of “April’s Daughter” in time. And Bruno Dumont, who stepped up to competition with last year’s satirical “Slack Bay,” is potentially on track to bring “Jeannette,” a musical about the early years of Joan of Arc.

Other directors who could step up to higher-profile sections of the festival include Clio Barnard, the British helmer whose 2013 fable “The Selfish Giant” was a prizewinner in Directors’ Fortnight. Returning with “Dark River,” she could supply the competition a much-needed female director.

No one would be surprised to see Japanese director Naomi Kawase back in competition with her latest, “Hikari,” though only the French seem capable of appreciating her movies. Likewise, Directors’ Fortnight breakout Deniz Gamze Ergüven (“Mustang”) is racing to complete her L.A. riots movie “Kings,” starring Daniel Craig and Halle Berry. And buzz is good on Swedish director Lisa Langseth’s “Euphoria,” with Eva Green and Alicia Vikander.

Last seen in Un Certain Regard, Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó (“White Dog”) could bring “Superfluous Man,” while Australian director Warwick Thornton has submitted “Sweet Country.” Jonas Carpignano (“Mediterranea”) is to be in the running. Carpignano’s “A Ciambra” is an expansion of his 2014 short film of the same name, which previously won the Discovery Prize in Cannes.

Though Cannes newcomers can be the hardest to predict, expect Sundance breakout Geremy Jasper’s “Patti Cake$” to close the Directors’ Fortnight. Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” has been submitted. The Safdie brothers’ eligible “Good Time” features Robert Pattinson as a hapless bank robber. And Brit director Andrew Hulme’s under-the-radar “The Devil Outside” seems to keep popping up in pre-Cannes conversations.

Little is known about what documentaries could show up in Cannes, though what few are invited typically wind up in special screenings or sidebars (such as Cannes Classics, where the Carrie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds doc “Bright Lights” debuted last year). 2017 looks to be a slender year for animation as well, since DreamWorks Animation won’t be bringing “Captain Underpants,” and the festival seems unlikely for go for studio sequels “Cars 3” or “Despicable Me 3.” On the indie front, Vincent Van Gogh biopic “Loving Vincent” stands a chance, and commercial French-made toons “Mutafukaz” (sound it out) and “Big Bad Fox” (from “Ernest & Celestine” co-director Benjamin Renner) stand a slim chance of turning up in Directors’ Fortnight.

One trend you can count on, however, is a strong showing from the Middle East. Most intriguing, judging by loglines alone, is Egyptian director Amr Salama’s “Sheikh Jackson,” about an Islamist fundamentalist cleric with a thing for Michael Jackson. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Beauty and the Dogs” could land a slot.

Cannes has a great track record with African talent as well, and there are several Algerian movies under consideration, as well as a South Africa-set cop-killer drama called “Five Fingers from Marseilles” from director Michael Matthews. Meanwhile, things look relatively quiet in Romania. After landing three films in official selection last year, the country’s best bet this time around appears to be Daniel Sandu’s “One Step Behind the Seraphim.”

Clearly, not all of these films will make the cut. Those that are left out when Frémaux announces the lineup are sure to surface soon after, likely at the Venice or Toronto film festivals — which is where not-yet-done movies from such Cannes vets as Denis Villeneuve (who has “Blade Runner 2049” due out next fall), François Ozon (still finishing “Double Lover”) are most likely to premiere. Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” and Janus Metz Pedersen’s “Borg v. Mcenroe” with Shia LaBeouf will also probably open at a fall festival.

Fremaux has yet to choose an opening film for the festival and many French industry insiders have said Hazanavicius’s movie “Le Redoutable” was a frontrunner for this slot, although nothing has been decided at this point. “Le Redoutable” is repped in international markets by Wild Bunch and will be released in France by Studiocanal.

The Cannes Film Festival press conference for the official selection on April 13 will be followed by the press conference to announce the Directors’ Fortnight on April 25.

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