Two-time Jury Prize winner Andrea Arnold almost never leaves Cannes without a prize. For her first US-set film, the British director spent over a year street-casting and making solo road trips across America, eventually finding her 19-year-old protagonist Sacha Lane on a beach during Spring Break. “American Honey” follows a group of teenage magazine sellers, including Hollywood star Shia LaBeouf, as they zigzag across the country, selling subscriptions by day and partying hard at night. Given Arnold's track record of drawing huge performances from novices, Lane could well be this year's prodigy. And is that not a Palme d'Or tattooed on her back?
Photo: Diaphana Distribution
Like Arnold, France's Bruno Dumont is used to casting unknowns in his raw and uncompromising portrayals of humanity's savage side. Except this time he's mixing in some of the biggest names in French cinema – including Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – and ditching bleak social realism in favour of acid comedy. A mock thriller featuring buffoonish cops and a love story, “Ma Loute” will tell us just how far into comedy Dumont can push Binoche, and how his instinct to do less can be reconciled with Luchini's instinct to do more.
Photo: Roger Arpajou
France can't seem to get enough of Adèle Haenel these days, and the two-time Cesar Award winner was bound to feature in at least one of six French-speaking films in competition this year. Her appearance in “The Unknown Girl” by Belgium's double Palme d'Or winners the Dardennes brothers means France's rising star is now poised for an international breakthrough. She stars as a doctor racked by guilt after hearing of the death of a patient she turned away.
Photo: Les Films du Fleuve
Marion Cotillard's radiant smile is a fixture of the red carpet, but it's been a while since we last saw it beaming on the big screen. Expect more anguished looks in Nicole Garcia's “Mal de Pierres”, in which Cotillard plays yet another conflicted woman, torn between opposing desires. While Garcia's entry features one of the hottest line-ups, with roles for Louis Garrel and Alex Brendemuhl, it pales in comparison with the star-studded cast of Cotillard's second competition film “It's Only the End of the World”. Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan has gathered the jet set of French acting for his latest shot at the Palme d'Or, fielding the likes of Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel alongside Cotillard in the tale of a terminally ill writer who returns home after 12 years to tell his family about his impending death.
Photo: Son of Manual – MK2 – Téléfilm Canada
The French have come to love Kristen Stewart as much as Americans adore Cotillard, so it's only fitting they should both get two screenings at Cannes. Stewart last appeared at Cannes playing a personal assistant to Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas's “Clouds of Sils Maria” (which earned Stewart a César award, making her the first American actress to win one). Assayas has moved her to the lead role in “Personal Shopper”, a Paris-set, English-language ghost story that takes place in the fashion underworld. Stewart also stars alongside Jesse Eisenberg in Woody Allen’s opening-night “Café Society”.
Photo: Les films du losange
While Stewart is the new Hollywood darling of the French, Jeff Nichols is fast becoming their favourite director from Stateside. The prolific helmer has already landed one competition entry at a major festival this year with “Midnight Special”, which premiered in Berlin. Now Cannes will host Nichols' first historical drama “Loving”, about the landmark 1967 Loving vs Virginia civil rights case. Nichols fixture Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton star in both films, though viewers who felt a little overdosed with Shannon after “Midnight Special” will be glad to know Edgerton gets the lead role this time. Ruth Negga plays his wife in the story of an interracial couple who were jailed by the state of Virginia for getting married.
Photo: Big Beach - LLC
The nerdy, bespectacled NSA agent played by Adam Driver in “Midnight Special” was one of several characters who made Nichols' sci-fi outing verge on the downright silly (though Driver is hardly to blame). But Hollywood's rising star looks set for a fleshier role in “Paterson”, a small-scale, intimate story of a bus driver and poet directed by Cannes habitué Jim Jarmusch, whose Iggy Pop documentary “Gimme Danger” is also playing as one of the midnight screenings.
Photo: Mary Cybulski
There will be Hollywood stars galore hitting the red carpet this year, but mercifully Cannes organisers have included the customary handful of lower-profile entries – which means a chance to discover something new. That includes “Aquarius” by Brazil's Kleber Mendonça Filho, starring Sonia Braga as a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic locked in a legal battle with the company that wants to buy her family home.
Photo: Victor Jucá – CinemaScópio
Cannes regulars might remember Ha Jung-woo as the man who brought the Salle Lumière audience to their feet in 2011 after a furiously paced action scene from Na Hong-jin's “The Murderer”. This time he stars as a charming con man who hires a female pickpocket to seduce a wealthy Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) in “The Handmaiden”, a stylishly-looking period drama by fellow Korean Park Chan-wook (of “Old Boy” fame).
Photo: The Jokers – Bac Films
Sean Penn's global activism has kept him away from the director's chair for close to a decade. Now he seems to have merged the two in “The Last Face”, starring his former partner in life Charlize Theron as the director of an NGO stationed in a war-torn African country who falls in love with a doctor played by Javier Bardem. Roles for Jean Reno and Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Colour”) add to the stardust, guaranteeing Penn's work will at least be a red carpet hit.
Photo: Mars Films
It's taken Cannes fixture Isabelle Huppert to bring Paul Verhoeven back to the Croisette for his first competition entry since erotic thriller “Basic Instinct” back in 1992. One of this year's most intriguing offerings, “Elle” is the Dutch auteur's first feature in a decade and his very first in French. It stars Huppert as a ruthless business executive who plots her revenge after she is attacked by a masked man at her home.
Photo: SBS Distribution
While Huppert sleeps with a hammer on her pillow in “Elle”, soft-spoken teen Elle Fanning gets to wield a huge kitchen knife in “The Neon Demon”, the latest effort by Nicolas Winding Refn. The provocative Danish auteur was the darling of the festival in 2011 with “Drive”, only to become its favourite punching bag two years later for his divisive “Only God Forgives”. Refn has said he's fed up with making movies about violent men. So he's done one with violent women instead. It looks like another stylish and menacingly atmospheric piece, starring Fanning as an aspiring young model who finds out just how cutthroat – literally – the industry is.