Cannes Critics’ Week lineup includes Sundance hit ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

The slate for next month’s Cannes Film Festival is just about complete: the Official Selection was announced on Thursday, Ari Folman’s “The Congress” was announced as the opening film for the Directors’ Fortnight section on Friday, and the rest of the fortnight lineup will be revealed tomorrow. Today, meanwhile, came the announcement of the films selected for the Critics’ Week sidebar — a parallel independent strand focusing on new filmmakers.

Due to that very focus, of course, the lineup tends to remain something of a closed book even after it’s revealed: more than any other section in Cannes, this is the place for on-the-ground discovery. One film from this year’s Critics’ Week selection, however, is already a known quantity to us: David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” one of the biggest critical hits of the Sundance fest in January, is the section’s only American film.

The distinctly Malick-esque “Saints,” a romantic crime drama starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, always seemed likely to show up somewhere in Cannes: I had it pegged alongside Grand Jury Prize winner “Fruitvale Station” as one of the films most likely to nab the “Sundance slot” in Un Certain Regard. “Fruitvale Station” duly got it, so it’s no surprise now to see Lowery’s film in Critics’ Week, which has been kind in the past to Sundance successes: “Take Shelter” won the section’s top prize two years ago.

“Saints” will not, however, be in the running for the award, screening instead in a non-competitive Special Screening slot — Critics’ Week director Charles Tesson says this is to give the film a more generous spotlight, though it’s likely because the film doesn’t fit their usual remit of debut or sophomore features. (It’s Lowery’s third film.) 

Either way, it lends a significant extra shot of prestige to a film  that will be looking to capitalize on the critical raves when it hits theaters later this summer; a prizewinner at Sundance for Bradford Young’s remarkable cinematography, it could well rack up further accolades. In my own review out of Sundance, I described it as an “imposing” and “grimly graceful” effort, and mine was one of the more reserved endorsements.

The opening film of Critics’ Week, meanwhile, is also an out-of-competition selection: “Suzanne,” the second feature by female French director Katell Quillévéré, whose debut, the disquieting coming-of-age story “Love Like Poison,” I named one of 2010’s best films. The new film, a family drama about the relationship between two young women and their widowed father, now rockets up my Cannes must-see list. (Rounding out the Special Screenings is Yann Gonzalez’s “Meeting After Midnight.”) 

Of the seven films in competition, meanwhile, five are debuts: Agustin Toscano and Ezquiel Raduski’s “Los duenos,” from Argentina; Ritesh Batra’s “Lunchbox,” from India; David Perrault’s “Our Cities Are Dead This Evening,” from France; Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s “Salvo,” from Italy; and Paul Wright’s “or Those In Peril,” from the UK. (The last of these is the only British film to have shown up in a Cannes lineup so far, though I’m expecting one in Directors’ Fortnight tomorrow.)

The sophomore selections, meanwhile, are Yury Bykov’s “The Major,” from Russia, and Sebastien Pilote’s “Le Demantelement,” from France. Portuguese director Miguel Gomes — who happened to direct my favorite ilm of 2012, “Tabu,” is an inspired choice to head the feature film jury; French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love will preside over the shorts. The closing film has yet to be announced.

If you’re wondering what kind of future majors might be in these ranks, remember that these are just of the films to have emerged from Critics’ Week (now in its 52nd year) this century alone: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s “Amores Perros,” Justin Kurzel’s “The Snowtown Murders,” Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and Lucia Puenzo’s “XXY.”