Cannes 2018: Spike Lee, Cate Blanchett and the Festival's Best Films Challenge the Status Quo

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Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival

It was a strange year at the Cannes Film Festival. The red-carpet selfie, long a reward for being expected to wear tuxedos or Peugeot-length gowns to the premiere of obscure foreign films, was forbidden. (Rebels did it anyway.) Eighty-two notable women -- including Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart -- marched on that same red carpet to protest gender inequality. During the festival’s closing awards ceremony, actress Asia Argento delivered a searing speech about Harvey Weinstein and others in the industry whom she said "need to be held accountable for their conduct against women." Netflix, meanwhile, made news by refusing to come to Cannes at all.

There were only two American films in competition -- David Robert Mitchell’s surreal and pleased-with-itself Under the Silver Lake (to be released June 22) and Spike Lee’s excellent BlacKkKlansman (August 10). But a handful of others also premiered or were featured at Cannes, including Ron Howard’s entertaining Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25) and Ramin Bahrani’s Fahrenheit 451, a lazy and nearly unwatchable HBO adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian 1953 novel about an ostensibly futuristic America where facts don’t matter. The Directors’ Fortnight, which is held alongside the Cannes Film Festival, also featured two American films: Debra Granik’s quietly absorbing and perfectly acted Leave No Trace (June 29), starring Ben Foster as a father who tries to raise his daughter off the grid, and Mandy, a relentlessly loud and gory revenge thriller in which an angry Nicolas Cage hunts down members of a sadistic cult and a biker gang of half-human monsters.

Below are six of the best films I saw at Cannes:

 

Girl

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival

Teenager Victor Polster delivered arguably the festival’s finest acting performance as a young transgender ballerina trying to make it as a dancer while also waiting to undergo gender reassignment surgery. A tender, affecting film, Girl earned 27-year-old Belgian director Lukas Dhont the festival’s Camera d’Or prize for best first feature. (This year’s Cannes lineup was heavy on LGBT films, including the sweet Kenyan lesbian love story Rafiki and the less sweet Knife + Heart, about a French lesbian producer of 1970s gay male porn who sees her young actors targeted by a masked serial killer.)

The Angel

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival

Cannes had a weak spot for serial killers this year. In Angel, a stylish film based on the notorious Argentinian thief and murderer Carlos Eduardo Robledo Puch, baby-faced teenager Lorenzo Ferro plays Carlitos, perhaps the most likeable bad boy you’ll ever meet. Set in the early 1970s, the free-spirited Carlitos meanders through the homes of wealthy strangers, sometimes stopping to put a record on and dancing before taking their stuff. His criminal life kicks into overdrive when he teams up with a classmate and the boy’s criminally inclined father. Before long, Carlitos is killing people he doesn’t have to. Director Luis Ortega could have made a more honest film had he acknowledged that his protagonist was deeply troubled, but that would have taken the fun out of it.

BlacKkKlansman

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival / Focus Features

Spike Lee’s latest stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who in the early 1970s infiltrates -- with the help of his white partner, played by Adam Driver -- a Colorado branch of the Klu Klux Klan. Part comedy, part blistering social commentary, the film is Lee’s best in more than a decade and earned him Canne’s Grand Prix, the festival’s second-most prestigious prize. (The first -- the Palme d’Or -- went to the Japanese film Shoplifters.)

Leto

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov is under house arrest in Russia, so he couldn’t come to the festival premiere of his dreamy, unrestrained love letter to the young singers and artists of the 1980s Leningrad rock scene. Leto is both a rollicking good time and a political statement about protest art. Vladimir Putin will probably hate it.

Woman at War

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival / Magnolia Pictures

This delightful, feel-good film about an Icelandic choir director who secretly moonlights as an environmental activist hell-bent on sabotaging her country’s power grid is the best film I saw at Cannes. Talented director Benedikt Erlingsson adroitly breaks the fourth wall by including four musicians and three Ukrainian singers who appear regularly to help narrate his quirky and exquisite film, which will consistently leave you smiling.

Climax

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival

The winner of the Directors’ Fortnight top prize and the subject of much Cannes buzz, this descent into the hell of the world’s worst group acid trip isn’t for everyone. Directed by the consistently triggering Gaspar Noe, Climax begins as a dance troupe parties together on a snowy night. The first half of the film features glorious and essentially indescribable dance scenes. The second half features a descent into drug-fueled violence, sex and psychosis. So if you’re into that…

 

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