The Cannes Film Festival is the world’s most prestigious, and serves as a launchpad for some of the most important films of the year, from Hollywood blockbusters to masterpieces from filmmakers all over the globe. This year’s Cannes, which concluded on May 27, is no exception.
It’s impossible to see every film at Cannes, of course, but what I saw was mostly great. Here’s a list of films worth watching for, culled from the sample I saw at the festival — a feast of riches from around the world.
About Dry Grasses
In a remote village in the Eastern Anatolian steppes, Samet (Deni̇z Celi̇loğlu) teaches art to schoolchildren, pursues a girlfriend and a transfer to a better locale, and is shocked to find that he and his fellow teacher Kenan (Musab Eki̇ci̇) are the target of accusations from several girls in their classes. The story unfolds over a languid but engrossing 197 minutes, with the eminent director Nuri Bilge Ceylan exploring Samet’s misery and unlikeability with a wry and even generous eye. It’s a gorgeous film, in Ceylan’s typical naturalistic style, and one that follows the novelistic impulse, complete with a self-absorbed antihero at its center.
How to watch it: About Dry Grasses is awaiting a US release date.
In the very near future, climate change and environmental degradation have left the world terrified of a roving cloud of highly acidic rain. But this threat is in the background for much of Just Philippot’s thriller Acid, in which a teenager and her divorced parents find themselves thrown together in a race to survive. It’s climate-change fiction, and thus it’s bleak; this is the kind of thriller without a heartwarming moment, instead reminding us that a future in which humanity is slowly exterminated by an unfeeling outside force isn’t one given to generating heartfelt Hollywood moments of connection and solace. In Acid’s future world, you can’t hide, and you sure can’t run, either.
How to watch it: Acid is awaiting a US release date.
Anatomy of a Fall
Justine Triet’s courtroom drama stars the great Sandra Huller as a writer whose son discovers his father lying on the ground outside their chalet near Grenoble with blood seeping from a head wound. What happened here? That’s the question, and the film slowly peels apart its layers, exploring how truths and facts become fictions in the retellings, whether they’re told in a courtroom or in a novel. Nothing is as objective and straightforward as our enlightened modern legal systems like to pretend, and our cultural prejudices about gender, emotion, and memory are all part of the story we tell. Anatomy of a Fall turns that fact into a scintillating, provocative thriller.
How to watch it: Anatomy of a Fall will be released in the US this year by Neon.
Wes Anderson’s style (recently an internet fixation) is on full display in Asteroid City, which is ostensibly a background look at the production of a play about a group of people who accidentally end up stranded in a remote desert city around 1955. In actuality, it’s a movie about grief and the ways we try to process it: through anger, through acting, through magical thinking. But it’s also a movie about space, both outer and inner, and how and why artists keep trying to explore it. Anderson isn’t for everyone — frankly, he’s not for me — but this is a movie for the Wes-heads, and Jeff Goldblum’s role alone makes it worth watching.
How to watch it: Asteroid City opens in theaters on June 16.
The Breaking Ice
The Breaking Ice sneaks up on you, a drama about three young people — a finance worker (Liu Haoran), a tour guide (Zhou Dongyu), and a local who works in his family’s restaurant (Qu Chuxiao) — who find themselves spending a weekend together in a Chinese village near the North Korean border. As they roam and see the sights, they discover they have more in common than they expected. Anthony Chen crafts a meditation on trauma and depression, the kind that comes from deferred dreams, lost love, and an evaporated passion for life. The film borders on the sentimental, but never grows too cloying, in large part due to its light touch and charming performances.
How to watch it: The Breaking Ice is awaiting a US release date.
Close Your Eyes
Fifty years ago, the venerable and venerated director Victor Erice made his debut, The Spirit of the Beehive, perhaps the greatest Spanish film in history. Close Your Eyes certainly feels like his way of bidding goodbye to the medium. It’s the story of Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo), a filmmaker whose last production was abruptly halted when his friend and lead actor suddenly disappeared without a trace. Now, after years of living in a sleepy seaside village, he has set off on a quest to figure out what happened, and the result is a moving mediation on existence, memory, and cinema’s potential to preserve them both.
How to watch it: Close Your Eyes is awaiting a US release date.
Strange things are afoot at an exclusive prep school, where a new teacher (Mia Wasikowska) has been hired to teach a course on “conscious eating” to a group of teens. But as the students fall under her sway, the “conscious” eating rapidly turns disordered and things get extremely culty. Jessica Hausner’s mannered, deadpan film buries body horror inside a satirical facade, using smart ideas about disordered eating — that it’s frequently a response to lack of control rather than about body size — to tell a story about grasping for transcendence in a frightening, confusing world. A few gross-out moments and its generally off-putting demeanor make it not for everyone, but it shouldn’t be ignored.
How to watch it: Club Zero is awaiting a US release date.
How to Have Sex
The title of Molly Manning Walker’s debut film is bleakly ironic. How to Have Sex starts out as a freewheeling party movie about three English girls on holiday in Crete, but it takes a gutting turn when a fun encounter with a cute guy becomes something much darker. The blurry lines of consent, and the way that “good guys” manipulate them, is the subject of How to Have Sex. But it avoids simple didacticism with Walker’s kinetic direction and appealing performances, particularly from lead Mia McKenna-Bruce, whose pain is easily shared. How to Have Sex is all too authentic and believable, and it’s a terrifically assured first feature from Walker, too.
How to watch it: How To Have Sex will be released in the US by Mubi.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (review)
Harrison Ford’s famously adventuring archaeologist returns for a fifth and almost certainly final installment — Ford turns 81 this summer, after all. A pleasantly goofy plot anchored by Ford and his wisecracking goddaughter (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) explores aging, the passage of time, and regret, in a film that feels like an at least sideways commentary on Hollywood’s age of IP recycling. There have been better Indiana Jones movies, but it’s good to see one more romping send-off for the character.
How to watch it: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens in theaters on June 30.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Ernest Burkhardt (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from war in the 1920s to an Oklahoma farm owned by his uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), a kingpin of a sort. Burkhardt marries Mollie (an exceptional Lily Gladstone) and lives among the Osage, who have been made fabulously wealthy by the discovery of oil on the lands the US government shoved them onto years earlier. But then Osage people start dying, one by one, and nobody seems to be able to figure out why. For Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese adapts David Grann’s stunning work of historical nonfiction with his own particular touch: This is in part a movie about how the bootstrapping American ethic lends itself to organized crime among the enterprising, and in part an uneasily self-reflective questioning of turning people’s real-life trauma into entertainment. It’s magnificent.
How to watch it: Killers of the Flower Moon opens in theaters on October 6.
Todd Haynes tells you early on that May December is camp, but the kind that conceals a queasy heart. He loosely bases the story on the infamous case of Mary Kay Letourneau; here, Julianne Moore plays Gracie Atherton, who went to jail after having sex with 12-year-old Joe Yoo at the pet store where she works, then had his children and married him. Now, 20 years on, they’re still married, but their life together — marked by Gracie’s insistence that she never really did anything wrong — takes a strange turn when an actress (Natalie Portman) who’s going to play Gracie in a movie visits to do research and gets interested in Joe (Charles Melton). It’s sort of a movie about guilt, sort of about conscience, sort of about exploitation, but Haynes’s wrapping it in camp trappings reminds us that this is the stuff of tabloids, and the lightness of touch makes it entertaining and uncomfortable all at once.
How to watch it: May December will be released in the US by Netflix.
You can’t really guess where Monster is going. Ultimately a story about a Japanese pre-teen who feels disconnected from the world around him, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s lyrical film comes at the tale from different directions, building out a world where the child’s mother, teacher, school principal, and friends are all oblivious to some degree. Kore-eda is a master of directing children’s performances, so it’s no wonder that Monster is at its best when there are no adults onscreen, the children living in their own world of fantasy and adventure and emotion. Yet the world of adults — the language they use, the unthinking labels they apply — seep into children’s consciousness; Monster asks whether there’s ever an escape.
How to watch it: Monster is awaiting a US release date.
The Mother of All Lies
Asmae El Moudir grew up in Casablanca, in a house full of secrets, and she is not really sure why. For instance, why are there no photos of her in her parents’ house except one, and she’s pretty sure that’s not even her in the picture? The Mother of All Lies is El Moudir’s documentary attempt to make sense of her family’s web of falsehoods and myths, anchored by her grandmother. To get at the real stories, she constructs with her father a miniature puppet-sized replica of her childhood neighborhood and coaxes family members into telling the real tales, but the truth is not easy to hear.
How to watch it: The Mother of All Lies is awaiting a US release date.
The Nature of Love (Simple comme Sylvain)
Monia Chokri’s limpid and charming comedy plays like a rom-com, until it’s not. Sophia (Magalie Lépine Blondeau), a 40-ish philosophy professor, lives with her longtime partner Xavier (Francis-William Rhéaume) in Quebec. She loves him, but the spark has gone out. Then she meets Sylvain (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the handyman repairing their vacation home, and sparks fly. But The Nature of Love — sprinkled with Sophia’s lectures on various philosophers’ ideas about love — never quite promises a happily ever after. Instead, it leaves Sophia (and us) wondering about what love is, how it persists, and whether our search for it is simply an exercise in constant self-delusion.
How to watch it: The Nature of Love is awaiting a US release date.
Strange Way of Life
Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke star as two cowboys, Silva and Jake, in this hotly anticipated 31-minute short directed by Pedro Almodovar. They haven’t seen one another in decades, since the two months in which they were passionate lovers in Mexico. In the meantime, life has gone by; Jake is now a sheriff who is, coincidentally, trying to hunt down Silva’s son, who in turn murdered Jake’s sister-in-law. Silva turns up and sparks fly again. Strange Way of Life is not really a very good film; Hawke and Pascal deliver the mannered lines with discomfort, and there’s not much to grab onto. But the film was financed by fashion house Yves St. Laurent, and the cowboys wear the designs of designer Anthony Vaccarello, which helps to explain why it exists. They — the men and the clothes — are, at least, very nice to look at.
How to watch it: Strange Way of Life will be released in the US this year by Sony Pictures Classics.
Wang Bing’s extraordinary documentary, which runs over three and a half hours, captures the lives of migrant Chinese garment factory workers in their late teens and early 20s. They flirt, fight, eat, dream, and sew at a remarkable speed, turning out fast fashions and then negotiating rates with the factory owners, who put them up in barely livable conditions and demand long hours with little room for life. This is less a social-issue documentary and more about an extreme existential poignance, encapsulated in the title: These are young people in the prime years of their lives, but without the means or mobility to move forward, living years of monotony without a break. That doesn’t mean their lives can’t be rich, but it does call into question the rapacious appetite for cheaply made clothing and the system that enables it.
How to watch it: Youth (Spring) is awaiting a US release date.
The Zone of Interest (review)
The year’s most terrifying horror film comes from Jonathan Glazer — his first feature in 10 years, since the eviscerating Under the Skin. This film, loosely adapted from the late Martin Amis’s novel, is the story of a family living in blissful tranquility right outside the walls of Auschwitz, where the father is commandant. Glazer keeps the family’s home life in the frame, but it’s everything going on just beyond that wall that nauseates the audience, and the film never lets you forget it. It’s formally brilliant in its evocation of the mental distance the family has put between themselves and the atrocities, making the audience feel that discomfort and terror. The Zone of Interest is undoubtedly one of 2023’s best films, and instantly ranks among the greatest films about the Holocaust.
How to watch it: The Zone of Interest will be released in the US by A24.