The Best Of Cannes Broke Through the Bleakness

The film festival was full of doomed protagonists, graphic murders, and children driven to crime. But a handful were hopeful, too.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by MGM, NEON, and Loaded Films

Anyone who came to Cannes in the hope of finding the next Parasite gold Drive My Car is probably leaving disappointed. The 2022 edition hasn’t seen any films send critics on cartwheels down the Croisette, and many of the most anticipated titles either proved divisive or underwhelming. (Claire Denis, what happened?) But of course, this is still Cannes, a two-week service at the church of cinema, where the standard of quality is higher than anywhere else. Of the dozens of films we’ve screened over our time in France, these are our favorites.

From George Miller, the brilliantly kooky mind behind Mad Max: Fury Road and Babe 2: Pig in the City, comes this maximalist fairytale within a fairytale within a fairytale (about fairytales). Tilda Swinton stars as “narratologist” Dr. Alithea Binnie, a scholar who lectures on storytelling and its evolution throughout the ages. One day, she comes into contact with a being she’d previously thought functioned solely as metaphor: A Djinn, popped out of an ancient bottle and played with wit and intelligence by Idris Elba. The Djinn needs Alithea to make three wishes so he can go free; Alithea knows better. As the two debate, banter, and tell each other stories about their lives, they start to fall in love. If it sounds like it’s all a bit much — well, yes. But it’s George Miller, and he’s so earnest and pure-intentioned here that he’s able to cast a convincing spell. —Rachel Handler

One of the illuminating parts about international film festivals is seeing how the same social issues that beset the United States pop up in different ways across the globe. take NMR., the latest coal-black social study from Romanian author Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days), about a xenophobic backlash that stymies a local bakery’s plan to hire three South Asian workers. Some of this drama is unique to Romania: The village is already divided between Romanian and Hungarian speakers, and everyone is very proud of having gotten rid of the gypsies. But there’s no look-at-those-ex-Commies smugness here. An American viewer can imagine these same events playing out Stateside with surprisingly little change. Its standout scene, in which spineless compromise and firm principle both prove completely useless against bullshit from Facebook, is the last half-decade of global politics in microcosm. —Nate Jones

“Body is Reality” in David Cronenberg’s latest, which he wrote more than 20 years ago but revived recently after an eight-year hiatus from filmmaking. It’s difficult to sum up in a sentence or two, but let’s try: It’s the near future, and surgery is the new sex — that is, people are slicing into each other as a recreational sport because they can no longer feel pain or get infections . Many of them, to their great baffle, are also growing new organs; one of them, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortenson), is taking them out in public as a performance art project with his partner, Caprice (Lea Seydoux). When the “bureaucratic insects” from the National Organ Registry (Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar) become fascinated by Tenser — whom Stewart has described as an artistic avatar for Cronenberg — things start getting even blurrier and weirder. felonies is beautiful, funny, fucked up, and full of shots of somebody slicing open their abdomen — in other words, Classic Cronenberg. —HR

Kelly Reichardt has given us a Pacific Northwest Uncut Gems — Michelle Williams’ put-upon ceramic artist has a gallery show in a few days, but before she can put her sculptures in the kiln, other people’s bullshit keeps getting in the way! This is a light roast of a world where even adults on the precipice of middle age seem like overgrown children, and it features the best animal acting of the entire festival from a wounded pigeon, as well as Cannes’s best onscreen credit: “Flute by Andre Benjamin.” —N.J.

This gut punch of a movie comes from Chie Hayakawa, a first-time Japanese filmmaker who expanded the feature from her 2018 short with the same title. The film takes place in an alternate version of Japan where, faced with a rapidly aging population that’s “draining financial resources,” the government decides to offer everyone over the age of 75 the option to be euthanized, free of charge. Through the eyes of three characters — a 78-year-old hotel maid who’s just lost her job, a young and callous Plan 75 registrar, and a woman who has to stop caring for the elderly because it doesn’t pay well enough and transfer to Plan 75 instead — we see just how harmful this concept is, not just to those whom it directly affects but to society at large. Hayakawa was moved to write the film after Tokyo’s 2016 Sagamihara stabbings, where a young man killed 19 people at a care home for disabled people and said he was trying to “ease the burden” on their families: “I was enraged and thought, if Japan were to accelerate down this path of intolerance, what would it look like?” —HR

This kaleidoscopic montage of David Bowie’s career is best enjoyed by sitting as close as possible to the largest screen you can find. Luckily, it’ll be playing in IMAX. Picking up in the early ’70s as Ziggy Stardust has just turned pop music on its head, Daydream remixes interviews and concert footage, visual art from Bowie’s archive, and snippets of his myriad influences to create an overwhelming visual symphony. Highlights include a glam cover of “Love Me Do” and a version of “Heroes” done in full arena-rock pomp. The notion of any “real” Bowie remains elusive throughout, but Brett Morgen’s film is a tribute to and illustration of his always move forward philosophy—while also leaving space for the times when Bowie, like any of us, was bullshitting. —N.J.

Nobody does character studies quite like Mia Hansen-Løve, whose latest follows Léa Seydoux as a single mother grappling with the cognitive decline of her father, raising her spunky young daughter, and falling in love with an old friend (who also happens to be married ). It’s a quiet, sexy little movie, full of lust, devastation, and sweetness. It’s also a showcase for Seydoux, who is stunning in a role that’s perhaps an exact 180-degree turn from the Cronenberg. In an interview with variety, Hansen-Løve acknowledged that it’s also deeply personal: “I wanted to process something that happened to me several times, where you come across the possibility to fall in love, just as you are grieving, and you’re drifting away from the pain .” —HR

We knew Park Chan-wook could do outrageous things. (See: old boy and The Handmaiden.) But it turns out he can also give us something a little more classical and restrained. In Decision to Leave, Park has produced his take on a Hitchcock romance: A cop looking into the death of a mountain climber begins to suspect the man’s wife. The more he investigates, the more he falls for her; the more he falls for her, the more he investigates. She seems to share his feelings, but is she sincere, or just using him? Deliciously twisty and full of Park’s signature visual wit (a shot from the POV of the dead man nearly made me stand up and cheer) Decision to Leave was the most enjoyable viewing experience I had all festival. —N.J.

Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness had all the buzz, but on a pure laughs-per-minute basis, there was no funnier comedy at Cannes than Funny Pages. Directed by Owen Kline — yes, the kid from Squid and the Whale, who is now a 30-year-old Safdie brothers collaborator — it’s a coming-of-age comedy about a budding cartoonist who drops out of high school to begin a career as an outsider artist, pissing off almost everybody in his life along the way. Raucous, scabrous, and suffused with oddball energy, Funny Pages feels like the kind of movie you’d be recommended by an in-the-know clerk at Kim’s Video. —N.J.

This heartbreaking little gem of a movie gives us Paul Mescal in his Sad Dad Era, solo parenting on a Turkish resort vacation with his 11-year-old daughter in the ’90s he slowly spirals into a depression. Written and directed by Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells in her feature directorial debut, the film also stars newcomer Frankie Corio, who is fantastic and effortless as Sophie, a girl trying to bridge the gap between herself and her father while also cajoling him into doing REM karaoke and letting her get a hair wrap. aftersun, which is filmed as a flashback and in part on camcorder footage, is a film about memory and childhood — its fuzziness, its wrenching quality, the way it can wake us up in the middle of the night 20 years later. It’s also a delightfully detail-perfect ’90s period piece, straight down to the wardrobe, all Adidas and billowing T-shirts and chunky wristwatches. —HR

Most of the films I saw at Cannes this year were unrelentingly bleak, full of doomed protagonists, graphic murders, and small children being forced by circumstances into ill-considered criminal schemes. In this light, a gentle movie like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s broker stands out. In Korea, two baby-nappers (one of them played by Parasite‘s Song Kang-ho) go on the road, accompanied by the biological mom, hoping to sell the infant into a loving home. The trio’s pursued by a pair of female cops, as well as goons hired by the wife of the baby’s late father. That sounds like the setup for a zany, Raising Arizona–style adventure, but if you’ve seen Shoplifters, which won the Palme in 2018, you know that’s not Kore-eda’s style. He prefers sweet dramas about makeshift families, so it may not be a surprise when this band of lowlifes acquires a second kid and slowly becomes its own functional domestic unit. broker may be too sappy for some, and at times it could be taken for pro-life agitprop, but I was warmed by its portrait of child-rearing as a communal responsibility. At the end of a stressful festival, it was exactly what I needed. —N.J.

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