• Festivals

Cannes: Variety, Stars, Looming Questions Mark Festival’s 76th Edition

The 2023 iteration of the Cannes Film Festival truly had something for everyone. Superb new efforts from international auteurs existed alongside big-budget spectacle and premieres with huge movie stars.

Two honorary Palme d’Ors — the festival’s highest honor — were awarded to genuine lions of cinema whose populist works have helped define the last 40-plus years of movies: the first during an opening night ceremony for Michael Douglas, and the second during a surprise presentation to Harrison Ford, at the world premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.


In his first starring role in nearly three years, following a pair of shocking and highly contentious abuse and defamation lawsuits involving ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp made his return to Cannes for the festival’s opening night gala. Co-starring as Louis XV opposite writer-director Maïwenn in the historical drama Jeanne du Barry, Depp was warmly received by throngs of fans who lined the Croisette with handmade signs of support.

If Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons, was rather indisputably the buzziest title of the festival, the close runner-up might’ve been Pedro Almodóvar’s sophomore English-language effort, Strange Way of Life, a short film starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal. Initially slated to screen only once, jostling for the movie’s debut proved so intense and dramatic as to be almost worthy of its own big screen adaptation; more than 100 ticketed attendees were left on the outside looking in, while other enterprising cineastes somehow gained entry.

In the official competition section, a pair of buzzy American entries — Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, starring a huge ensemble cast fronted by Scarlett Johansson and Jason Schwartzman, and Todd HaynesMay December, starring Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Charles Melton — headlined a geographically and thematically diverse slate of 21 films. If there was a steady through-line to be found, it came in the form of a hearty roster of name-brand auteurs like Hirokazu Koreeda, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Catherine Breillat, Jonathan Glazer, Alice Rohrwacher, Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismäki, Nanni Moretti, Wang Bing and Ken Loach, among others. For a list of those competition winners, CLICK HERE.

Koreeda’s Monster was warmly received by critics and general audiences alike, while the sweet sentimentality of Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves — which topped Screen Daily’s aggregate critics grid with an average of 3.2 stars — might give him his best chance at international arthouse breakout in decades. Among some additional standouts on the Screen Daily grid were Wang’s Youth (Spring), Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses, and Tran Anh Hùng’s The Pot-Au-Feu, each with 2.8 stars, plus Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, with 2.9 stars.

While May December made headlines with a splashy $11 million sale to Netflix, distributor Neon made a bet on the aforementioned Wenders’ Perfect Days, a simple, well-calibrated drama about the life of a public restroom janitor (Kōji Yakusho) in Tokyo. Neon also purchased distribution rights to Pablo Berger’s animated movie Robot Dreams and one of the two films at the festival that had folks buzzing about actress Sandra Hüller (already somewhat well known for Toni Erdmann and Requiem) as its breakout star — Justine Triet’s well-received drama Anatomy of a Fall, about a woman facing trial for murder following her husband’s mysterious death.

The other film in which Hüller appears, opposite Christian Friedel, is Glazer’s heavily atmospheric The Zone of Interest, in which the mode of expression actually becomes its chief star. Adapted from Martin Amis’ 2014 novel of the same name, the methodically paced movie uses the building blocks of insinuation and allusion to tell the story of Rudolf Höss, commandant of the infamous Auschwitz prison camp during World War II, and his family. The film will enjoy theatrical exhibition via A24.

Focused on arthouse and artistically daring films, the 2023 Un Certain Regard selection included a colorful slate of 20 films, eight of which were also first features thus eligible to compete for the Caméra d’Or. At a special awards presentation at the Debussy Theatre on Friday, May 26, the section’s jury — chaired by American actor John C. Reilly, and including French director and screenwriter Alice Winocour, German actress Paula Beer, French-Cambodian director Davy Chou, and Belgian actress Émilie Dequenne — handed out six prizes.

Omen director Baloji was presented with the New Voice Prize, João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora’s Crowrã (The Buriti Flower) was honored with the Ensemble Prize, and Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia won the Freedom Prize. Kamal Lazraq’s Moroccan drama Hounds was awarded the Jury’s Prize, while The Mother of All Lies’ Asmae El Moudir was honored with the Directing Prize for her stunning documentary, which unpacks family, trauma and identity, exploring how we can’t fully measure the pain of silence until we speak our hardest truths.

Finally, the Un Certain Regard Prize was bequeathed to How to Have Sex, the feature film directorial debut of Scrapper cinematographer Molly Manning Walker. In an amusing and enchanting made-for-the-movies moment, the film’s producer took the stage and shared that Walker was five minutes away in a taxi, heading to the ceremony straight from the airport. Fed this real-time update, Reilly decided to sing a song to allow Walker enough time to have an in-person moment. Within 30 seconds of his conclusion, Walker burst through the Debussy doors, bounding onstage in shorts and a T-shirt to share her gratitude with a raucous, applauding audience.

A special screening presentation of Steve McQueen’s four-hour documentary Occupied City, about life in Amsterdam during Nazi occupation, struck a different type of nerve, dividing viewers and critics both with its narrative redundancy and seeming embrace of drawn parallels between World War II oppression and pandemic lockdowns. A24 will handle North American distribution, while New Regency will handle international release.

In the Cannes Classics section, documentaries about cinema like 100 Years of Warner Bros., Room 999, and Anita played alongside restored prints that included Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour Fou, Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, and Yasujirô Ozu’s The Munekata Sisters and Record of a Tenement Gentleman. There was also a new cut of the always controversial Caligula, which managed to work its way back into headlines nearly 45 years since its initial release by somehow failing to secure the approval of director Tinto Brass for its festival revival screening.

Naturally, parties were aplenty too — from beachside to hotel rooftops. At the legendary Hotel Du Cap, Queen Latifah hosted the amFAR Gala, which over the years has raised more than $245 million for HIV and AIDS research. Eva Longoria, Kate Beckinsale, Jenna Dewan, Robin Thicke and many other stars attended; Halsey, Adam Lambert and Aloe Blacc performed at the event.

At the Variety Golden Globe Awards event on Friday, May 19, actors Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, Tye Sheridan, Charles Melton and Shaunette Renée Wilson were each honored as breakthrough performers for their work. Presenter Cate Blanchett, though, may have made the most news, when she took off her high heels in support and honor of the women of Iran while introducing Ebrahimi and then, as she handed the Iranian-born Holy Spider actress a triangular-shaped award, exclaimed, “This is to stab everyone who stands in the way of women’s rights!”

The general vibe of the festival, talking to an array of longtime attendees and newbies alike, was one of an industry still somewhat in flux. The Croisette was unquestionably more packed, and venues more crowded, than in 2022. By that metric, Cannes was more than just “back to normal.”

But the omnipresence of this general feeling of uncertainty could be sensed in everything from the speculation and vagueness in conversations with representatives in the Marché du Film, or Cannes Marketplace — where new projects and all manner of international film commissions routinely compete for the attention of financiers — to a special screening of the aforementioned new documentary Room 999, in which 30 filmmakers, both established and emerging, were invited to hold forth about the state of cinema. If the exact diagnosis of film’s future, in the opinion of these experts in field, remains uncertain, their anxiety was palpable.

At least for 11 days at Cannes, though, the undisputed high church of cinema, that apprehensiveness existed only in the background — a complementary bass line to the main melody of ecstatic, internationally-inflected cinematic celebration.