Preview: The 2016 Cannes Film Festival Promises New Films From Some Of The World’s Best (And Surprises)

On Monday, I’m off to France to report on the Cannes Film Festival, the epicenter of the entertainment industry for the next two weeks, a glossy and glitzy celebration of cinema and the beautiful people who make it possible. This marks my first year covering the festival, so together we’ll learn how navigating this hectic endurance-trial of cinephilia (and baguette-and-cheese pairings, and yacht-party-crashing) is supposed to work. But before I start foregoing sleep and hook my veins up to an IV drip of pinot noir, there’s plenty of time to break down what to expect from the 69th Cannes Film Festival.

Hollywood on the Croisette

Every year, a handful of major Hollywood studio releases make their world premiere out of competition at Cannes in what’s more of a publicity stunt than everything, drumming up buzz in advance of a release that may be just a few days away. Last year, Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out peacefully coexisted on the Promenade along with foreign obscurities, the former running just one day prior to its thundering entry to American theaters. Likewise, though they’ll debut in neighborhood cineplexes later this month, Jodie Foster’s timely thriller Money Monster will bring George Clooney to the red carpet, and Shane Black’s ’70s-set crime comedy The Nice Guys will add Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s wattage to the paparazzi frenzy. With release dates in July, Steven Spielberg’s fantasy adventure The BFG will keep executives’ kids busy while they wheel and deal, and Woody Allen’s period piece Café Society will open the festival.

Stars Go Highbrow

Cannes would be nothing without its annual allotment of star power, and Hollywood’s finest respond in kind to the opportunity to sink their teeth into material a little meatier than the studios can usually muster. The result is a happy symbiosis between film art and its hype cycle, where the publicity machine turns its attentions to some of the strongest releases to run over the year to come. Adam Driver was thrust into the bona-fide-movie-star spotlight with his turn as the petulant Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, but he’ll return to his indie roots with a starring role in Paterson, the latest release from too-cool-for-school filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. Sean Penn gets behind the camera for his new feature The Last Face, training his lens on Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem in a love story between aid workers during a Third World crisis. Kristen Stewart reunites with her Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas for another inside look at the emotional turmoil under the polite veneer of society’s upper crust. Five years after winning the festival’s Best Director prize for Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn returns to Cannes with the stylized horror film The Neon Demon, and this time, he’s got Elle Fanning in tow.

World Heavyweights

Few film festivals boast the international diversity of the Cannes lineup, a veritable who’s-who of active and prominent filmmakers working around the globe. Martin Scorsese couldn’t finish up his religious epic Silence in time for Cannes’ starting pistol, and audiences curious about the Michael Fassbender/Alicia Vikander drama The Light Between Oceans will have to wait until its September debut to see what the whole deal is. But the snubs were few and far between this year. One of Iran’s all-time greatest directors, the masterful Asghar Farhadi will unveil his new drama The Salesman. (Next to nothing’s known about the project at present, and the anticipation for it regardless is a testament to the weight that Farhadi’s name holds among film types.) Quebecois upstart Xavier Dolan will premiere his sixth Cannes film at the ripe old age of 27, an emotional melodrama titled It’s Only the End of the World with such French screen idols as Marion Cotillard, Spectre‘s Lea Seydoux, and Gaspard Ulliel. Speaking of Cotillard, the directors of her heartrending tour-de-force Two Days and One Night are back; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne will pull back the curtain on The Unknown Girl. But wait, there’s more: South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (of Oldboy fame) is readying his costume drama The HandmaidenRoboCop director Paul Verhoeven is back at it again with the erotic thriller Elle, and British miserablist Ken Loach has I, Daniel Blake waiting in the wings.

Sidebar Surprises

All that listed in the section above, that’s just in the Competition slate. Cannes has expanded to include a few sidebar programs that run parallel to the main festival, highlighting lesser-known films and giving younger filmmakers a valuable platform in their career’s nascency. The Un Certain Regard section will host the Sundance breakout Captain Fantastic with Viggo Mortensen as a man reintegrating his family into society after years spent in an off-the-grid utopia, as well as Japanese talent Hirokazu Koreeda’s After the StormStarred Up director David McKenzie’s Chris Pine/Jeff Bridges-starring Hell Or High Water, and the intriguing vampire film The Transfiguration from Michael O’Shea. The midnight selections include a second contribution from Jarmusch in his Stooges documentary Gimme Danger, as well as the Mel Gibson thriller Blood Father and Train to Busan, the latest from South Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho. Chloë Sevigny’s got a short called “Kitty” in the International Critics’ Week section, among some lesser-known esoterica. Paul Schrader, Chilean lunatic Alejandro Jodorowsky, and highly decorated investigative journalist Laura Poitras will all premiere new work in the Directors’ Fortnight, too. (Dog Eat DogEndless Poetry, and Risk, respectively.)

The Unexpected

When I asked a Cannes vet what keeps him making the arduous transatlantic trek year after year, he told me, “Every year, I’m amazed by something I never saw coming.” Any film festival worth its salt can deliver a few curveballs that take audiences off their feet by redeeming a faded star or slipping director, or breaking a new talent entirely from the primordial soups of the parallel sections. And there’s a whole wondrous world of beautiful restored prints playing in the Cannes Classics section. (You’ve never seen William Friedkin’s nerve-shredding Sorcerer until you’ve seen it in the South of France, after all.) Much as I may dread the many hours spent on airplanes currently ahead of me, I can’t wait to report back on the triumphs and disappointments of the 69th Cannes Film Festival.