Cannes Film Festival 2023: 10 of the best movies, from Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest to Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon
- Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio reunited for the first time on-screen since 1993 in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon
- Meanwhile, The Zone of Interest won the Grand Jury prize, while Perfect Days rightly saw Koji Yakusho pick up the award for Best Actor
The 76th Cannes Film Festival started with Johnny Depp on the comeback trail and ended with the Palme d’Or going to Justine Triet, for legal drama Anatomy of a Fall.
In between, there were mixed emotions for the return of Indiana Jones, scathing reviews for HBO drama The Idol and a tender, almost certain swansong for Ken Loach with The Old Oak.
It was, by any measure, a stimulating two weeks of cinema, with a rich selection not just in main competition, but across the whole festival.
Here, then, is our top 10 of Cannes 2023.
1. The Zone of Interest
In a festival of comebacks, Jonathan Glazer’s was surely the most anticipated and he did not disappoint.
His first film since 2013’s Under The Skin, this loose take on Martin Amis’ 2014 novel was a deeply unsettling look at Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), the Nazi commandant who designed Auschwitz.
Set in Höss’ home, with the notorious concentration camp just visible over the garden wall, Glazer’s film uses astonishing sound design and a disturbing soul-penetrating score from Mica Levi to convey the unimaginable horrors that are unfolding against this picture of domesticity.
It ultimately won the Grand Jury prize but should have been crowned with the Palme d’Or.
2. Fallen Leaves
Finland’s king of deadpan, Aki Kaurismäki, had previously said he had given up on filmmaking after making his 2017 feature The Other Side of Hope. So his return was warmly appreciated by all, especially given the smiles it brought to faces.
Set against the backdrop of the current conflict in Ukraine, Kaurismäki’s tale of two lonely souls (Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen) who find love in Helsinki was everything he does best.
There is even a nod to Kaurismäki’s old pal Jim Jarmusch, which provided one of the biggest laughs I heard at the festival. Awarded the Jury prize; perhaps deserved more.
3. The Book of Solutions
There were several films about the agony and ecstasy of the filmmaking process at this year’s Cannes – from the sublime The Sweet East to the more ridiculous Cobweb and A Brighter Tomorrow. But none quite captured the mania as Michel Gondry’s return to filmmaking, the hot ticket of Director’s Fortnight.
Inspired by his meltdown during the making of 2013’s Mood Indigo, this exuberant comedy saw Pierre Niney play a frantic, egotistical director who kidnaps his own film when the backers express disquiet at the current version.
It might not touch his landmark Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the sheer invention and energy felt like the Gondry of old.
4. How to Have Sex
Winning the Un Certain Regard prize, British director Molly Manning Walker’s debut had the whole Croisette talking.
The story of three young British girls who go on a debauched island holiday, looking to cut loose and land some casual hookups, it is a startling look at consent in the post-MeToo era.
Mia McKenna-Bruce leads the line as Tara, who will surely remember this holiday for all the wrong reasons.
The jury, led by actor John C. Reilly, called it “shocking, real, honest, insightful and true”.
For Walker, who previously worked as a cinematographer on Scrapper, which won the Grand Jury prize in the World Dramatic section at Sundance in January, it caps a remarkable year.
5. Killers of the Flower Moon
Screening out of competition, Martin Scorsese’s heavyweight drama about murders in the oil-rich Osage Native American community in 1920s Oklahoma was exactly what you would hope for from the master filmmaker.
A beautifully measured tale that gets more horrifying the more you plough into it, the film brought Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio together for the first time on screen in 30 years, since 1993’s This Boy’s Life.
But the real revelation was Lily Gladstone, who played Mollie, wife to DiCaprio’s Ernest. Her tearful reaction at the premiere’s nine-minute standing ovation showed just how meaningful this experience was to her.
6. Tiger Stripes
This Malaysian-made debut from Amanda Nell Eu, a graduate of the London Film School, took the top prize at the Critics’ Week sidebar.
A coming-of-age story about a young girl (Zafreen Zairizal) whose body begins to morph beyond merely puberty, there was nothing else like this on the Croisette.
The influences range from Apichatpong Weerasethakul to Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps, although its real root was Malaysian folklore. The low-budget practical effects added to the film’s real sense of strangeness.
7. Perfect Days
Wim Wenders arrived with two films. Playing early in the festival out of competition was his latest foray into non-fiction filmmaking, Anselm, his 3D documentary about artist Anselm Kiefer. But it was his competition entry Perfect Days that enchanted most.
Starring Japanese screen icon Koji Yakusho as a conscientious toilet cleaner, it was arguably Wenders’ best narrative feature in years.
A life-affirming, nurturing film about finding joy in the simple things in life – music, photography, nature – Yakusho’s near-silent performance was such a pleasure to behold. Quite rightly, the jury gave him the Best Actor recognition.
8. Inshallah A Boy
Appearing in Critics’ Week, this was the first film from Jordan to ever be programmed by the Cannes Film Festival.
Debut co-writer and director Amjad Al Rasheed conjured a provocative look at women’s rights, with this story of a newly widowed mother-of-one Nawal (Mouna Hawa) who, under Jordanian law, is set to lose her property to her late husband’s brother.
Inspired by events that really happened to a relative of the director, Al Rasheed carved out an intense feminist drama that recalled Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation in its rigorous look at the law and the individual.
It was a great year for Morocco at the festival, with three films in the official selection and Tangier-born Maryam Touzani, the director of The Blue Caftan, in the main jury.
Written and directed by Kamal Lazraq, Hounds played in Un Certain Regard and was this writer’s personal favourite.
Starring newcomers Abdellatif Masstouri and Ayoub Elaid, this atmospheric dive into the Casablanca underbelly told of a desperate night as a father and son set out to dispose of a body after a botched kidnapping. A black-as-night tale.
There was a lot of excellent entries from across Asia this Cannes, from Wang Bing’s two documentaries Man in Black and Youth (Spring) to Hirokazu Koreeda’s Monster, which took Best Screenplay for writer Yuji Sakamoto. The arrival of a new name is always exciting, though.
Enter Kim Chang-hoon, whose film Hopeless, playing in Un Certain Regard, told the story of a 17-year-old (played by Hong Xa-bin) left floundering in a violent world, both at home with an abusive stepfather and on the streets, as he gets sucked into a gang of loan sharks.
On this evidence, South Korean cinema looks to be in safe hands.
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