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Cannes Lineup Predictions: Will Women Directors Gain Ground?

Cannes kicks off nine days earlier this year, on May 8, but the official lineup announcement remains under wraps until April 12, which means the guessing games are already underway. Jake Gyllenhaal (“The Sisters Brothers”), Riley Keough (with three films in the mix), and Juliette Binoche are all expected to walk the red carpet, while directors Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), David Robert Mitchell (“Under the Silver Lake”), and Harmony Korine (“The Beach Bum”) are well positioned to screen in competition for the first time.

Half a century after the historic 1968 edition when Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and a generation of politically engaged French youth brought Cannes to a halt amid nationwide demonstrations, Europe’s most glamorous film festival once again finds itself at a crossroads. From the international success of “Wonder Woman,” which debuted five days after the festival last year, to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the world is a much different place than it was in May 2017. Will Cannes delegate general Thierry Frémaux get with the program and include more female directors?

WISHFUL THINKING

Prime candidates would be Nicole Kidman starrer “Destroyer,” from “Girlfight” helmer Karyn Kusama, and “The Nightingale,” Australian director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her hit horror debut “The Babadook” — this one about an Irish convict in 1820s Tasmania whose husband and baby are murdered, motivating her to enlist a young Aboriginal tracker on a mission of revenge. Another relatively fresh voice is Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczynska (“The Lure”), whose new film “The Fugue” centers on a woman struggling to be a mother and wife after losing her memory.

And then there are Cannes regulars Naomi Kawase, whose “Vision” will almost surely be invited, and French director Claire Denis, poised to land her first competition berth in 30 years (since 1988’s “Chocolat”) for her ambitious, English-language sci-fi drama “High Life” with Robert Pattinson. Coincidentally, both films star busy French actress Juliette Binoche, who has yet another shot at competition, reteaming with “The Clouds of Sils Maria” director Olivier Assayas for “Non Fiction,” set in the French publishing world.

Political considerations aside, the red carpet craves stars, which bodes well for a handful of high-profile English-language movies, including “The Sisters Brothers,” a violent cat-and-mouse Western featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as the prey and Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the bloodthirsty siblings fast on his trail, directed by Palme d’Or winner Jacques Audiard (“Dheepan”).

Hollywood studios can be shy about premiering fall films on the Croisette (it’s costly, and can do considerable damage if the critics are harsh), although word has it that “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle is on a tight editing schedule to finish his Neil Armstrong biopic, “First Man,” for Universal. Both the director (whose “Whiplash” screened in Directors’ Fortnight) and star Ryan Gosling have solid history with Cannes — though the fall festivals have a better track record of launching potential Oscar contenders. (One reason that

Virtually everyone expects Lars von Trier (banned for an insensitive remark made at the “Melancholia” press conference in 2011, but publicly forgiven by Frémaux) to return to the fold with “The House That Jack Built,” a dark psychological thriller starring Matt Dillon as an American serial killer who got away with murder for a dozen years. (Fellow Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s English-language submarine-disaster drama “Kursk” has also been touted, boasting a hefty international cast that includes Colin Firth, Léa Seydoux, Max von Sydow, Peter Simonischek, and the late “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star Michael Nyqvist.)

While technically not a theatrical film — and a remote prospect at best — HBO has a juicy contender in Ramin Bahrani’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which stars Michael B. Jordan as Ray Bradbury’s book-burning fireman (there is precedent for such a selection, with Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” competing in 2013). High-profile titles that won’t be done in time — and therefore won’t be going — include Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favorite,” Felix Van Groeningen’s “Beautiful Boy,” and David Lowery’s “Old Man and the Gun.”

Following the announcement that Blanchett would head this year’s jury, speculation swirled that “Ocean’s Eight” (Warner Bros.’ female-driven “Ocean’s Eleven” spinoff, in which she co-stars) could debut in Cannes, though reliable sources insist it won’t. That still leaves another Blanchett picture, Richard Linklater’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” assuming the director (who was last in Cannes with 2006’s “Fast Food Nation”) doesn’t mind screening out of competition, when other festivals could offer a more advantageous slot.

BEST BETS

Since Frémaux tends to crowd the competition with returning auteurs, no-brainer predictions include “The Wild Pear Tree,” the latest from Palme winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Winter Sleep”), and “Sunset,” the sophomore effort from “Son of Saul” director László Nemes, set in Budapest in 1913, as a young seamstress looks for her long-lost brother in the space just before the first World War. (Another Oscar winner, “Ida” director Pawel Pawlikowski, is perceived as a solid candidate for competition with his 1950s-set romance “Cold War.”)

English director Mike Leigh (who has competed five times) may as well have an open invitation, making his Amazon-backed historical epic “Peterloo,” about an early-19th-century massacre of unarmed protestors by the British cavalry, pretty much a sure thing. Russian director Sergei Loznitsa (whose “A Gentle Creature” bowed in competition last year) is racing to finish editing his latest, “Donbass,” while theater director Kirill Serebrennikov (“The Student”) could be represented by “Leto,” despite being currently under house arrest for fraud charges.

Though he has limited history with Cannes, “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón could land in competition with “Roma,” his first Spanish-language film since “Y Tu Mamá También,” this one a far more expensive/expansive affair, set in Mexico City during the early ’70s and reported to prominently feature the Corpus Christi Massacre — a national tragedy less well-known abroad.

Many assume that Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who vowed to bypass Cannes with his next film, will change his mind and take “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” there after all. The film, said to be in the final stages of editing, stars Kit Harrington, Susan Sarandon, Jacob Tremblay, and Natalie Portman, but not Jessica Chastain, who was cut from the film. In 2016, Dolan shared the Grand Prix with Swiss film legend Jean-Luc Godard, who reportedly has another one of his experimental documentaries, “Le livre d’image,” ready to go.

From Italy, “Youth” director Paolo Sorrentino will likely screen “Loro,” which reunites him with “The Great Beauty” star Toni Servillo, although the film will be split into two parts. “Gomorrah” director Matteo Garrone is rumored to have completed revenge tale “Dogman,” said to be a return to the gritty crime genre that earned him a Grand Prix in 2008 — and a shoo-in for competition. (A veteran of the “Gomorrah” TV series, director Stefano Sollima could be invited with “Sicario 2: Soldado,” which is said to be doing gangbusters in test screenings.)

Hot off his Oscar nomination for “Call Me by Your Name,” Italian helmer Luca Guadagnino could make his Cannes debut with Dakota Johnson starrer “Suspiria,” a 2½-hour reimagining of the cult Dario Argento thriller, which Amazon Studios plans to release in the fall. Also from Amazon, Terry Gilliam’s long-delayed “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” features Jonathan Pryce as the Man from La Mancha, and Adam Driver as a modern-day ad exec who substitutes for Sancho Panza.

Asia will also certainly have a significant presence at the festival. In addition to Kawase, Japanese regular Hirokazu Kore-eda (last in Cannes with “After the Storm” in 2016) will likely be invited to screen “Shoplifting,” while Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong (“Poetry”) has completed the Haruki Murakami adaptation “Burning” and is waiting for Frémaux’s call. Representing China, some are tracking Jia Zhangke’s “Ash Is Purest White,” although it wasn’t scheduled to wrap until this summer. Koji Fukada (“Harmonium”) has apparently finished “The Man from the Sea,” a film shot and set in Indonesia about the aftermath of the tsunami.

French distributor MK2 recently acquired Japanese animator Mamoru Hosoda’s animated “Mirai,” which could be a clue that it’s in the running as well (GKids will release in the U.S.), and don’t be surprised to see either Frémaux or Edouard Waintrop (head of Directors’ Fortnight) carve a spot for French cutout-animation legend Michel Ocelot’s latest, “Dilili in Paris.”

A LA CARTE

In addition to Audiard and Denis, this year finds several directors working in foreign languages. Terrence Malick’s German-language “Radegund” concerns a conscientious objector who risks his life by refusing to fight for the Nazis in World War II, while Iranian Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”) tries his hand at Spanish in “Everybody Knows,” produced by Pedro Almódovar and starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

Overall, this is expected to be a strong year for Latin American cinema in Cannes. Mexican director Carlos Reygadas (who has screened in competition three times) will likely bring his latest, “Where Life is Born,” a complex look at contemporary relationships in which he co-stars opposite real-life partner Natalia Lopez. From Argentina, Pablo Trapero (“The Clan”) will likely be invited to premiere his latest true-crime thriller “The Quietude,” starring Edgar Ramírez and Bérénice Bejo.

Colombian director Ciro Guerra (last seen in Directors Fortnight with “Embrace of the Serpent”) is expected to present “Birds of Passage,” co-directed by actress Cristina Gallego, and said to be an epic look at how the local marijuana boom shaped the fates and fortunes of an indigenous family in the 1970s. Another possible contender is Brazilian filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro’s “Overgod,” a thought-provoking erotic gospel film following a 40-year-old notary and devoted Evangelical Christian. Look out as well for first-time Brazilian director Joe Penna’s “Arctic,” which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a man stranded near the North Pole.

Beyond Cannes veterans Assayas and Audiard, other returning France-based auteurs potentially in the mix include Stéphane Brizé, reunited with “The Measure of a Man” star (and Cannes best actor winner) Vincent Lindon for “Un Autre Monde”; Pierre Schoeller (“The Minister”) with “One Nation, One King,” a starry, large-canvas drama set against the French Revolution, and provocateur Gaspar Noé, whose ’90s-set “Psyché” concerns a group of urban dancers who get mysteriously drugged while rehearsing in a closed-down boarding school and succumb to madness. The film recently wrapped shooting in Paris and is deep in editing.

SIDEBARS AND SUCH

Few countries boast a better track record of supporting female filmmakers than France. In addition to Denis, Eva Husson could appear with “Girls of the Sun,” featuring Golshifteh Farahani as a female Kurdish fighter; Mia Hansen-Løve, whose “Maya” focuses on an immigrant reporter who was released after months of captivity in Syria in 2012, only to return to Goa after trying in vain to build his life in Paris; Catherine Corsini with Christine Angot adaptation “An Impossible Love”; and possibly first-timer Vanessa Filho, whose feature debut “Gueule d’Ange” stars Marion Cotillard as a single mother who abandons her 8-year-old daughter after meeting someone in a nightclub.

Several timely movies from the Middle East are being buzzed about for Cannes, most notably Nadine Labaki’s “Cafarnaúm,” the Lebanese actress-turned-director’s much anticipated follow-up to “Where Do We Go Now?” which played at in Cannes in 2011. Labaki’s film has previously been described as a political and contemporary fable about a child who rebels against the life he’s been imposed.

Meanwhile, the latest film from Israeli auteur Amos Gitai, Mathieu Amalric starrer “Tramway to Jerusalem,” could also turn up at the festival. The film takes place on along a tramline that connects several of the city’s neighborhoods, bringing together a mosaic of people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

From Egypt, Abu Bakr Shawky’s “Yomeddine,” an adventure-filled drama about a Coptic leper and his orphaned apprentice’s search for their families, has been submitted. The same goes for “Weldi,” the latest from Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia (whose “Hedi” won a Silver Bear in Berlin two years ago), which was produced by Belgian brothers (and two-time Palme d’Or winners) Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Also from Belgium, director Joachim Lafosse is hoping to finally be tapped for competition with his aptly titled new movie, “Keep Going,” based on the novel by Laurent Mauvignier.

Nick Vivarelli, Patrick Frater, Richard Kuipers, and Maggie Lee contributed to this report.

(Pictured: Robert Pattinson in “High Life.”)

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