The race for the Palme d'Or dominates every Cannes, but there's a wealth of independent filmmaking talent unveiling new work across the festival's various sidebars. Little White Lies picks five of the best.
Fruitvale Station (dir. Rynan Coogler)
Having picked up both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Fruitvale Station was one of the Un Certain Regard strand's buzz films. Ryan Coogler's debut feature sensitively dramatises the tragic murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III (charismatically portrayed by Chronicle's Michael B Jordan) on 1 January 2009. The victim of an atrocious act of police brutality, Grant's case became headline news when video footage of his shooting emerged online, sparking riots in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reconstructing the day's events leading up to Grant's death, showing him to be a unequivocally decent young man struggling to provide for his family in harsh financial times. It's a detailed and engaging film, with strong support from Melonie Diaz and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as Michael B Jordan's on-screen girlfriend and mother respectively.
The Congress (dir. Ari Folman)
Quite possibly the strangest film to screen in Cannes this year (and that really is saying something), The Congress is Israeli director Ari Folman’s intoxicating follow-up to the magnificent Waltz With Bashir, which was nominated for the Palme d'Or in 2008. The Directors' Fortnight curtain raiser begins as a live-action meta comedy of sorts, in which Robin Wright plays herself in an alternate reality. With her career circling the plughole, Wright signs a lucrative but highly controversial contract with the fictional Miramount Pictures, signing her image rights over to the studio and allowing them to use a scanned replica of her in commercially-minded franchise fodder. At this point the film flips from live action to animation and things get seriously weird. Twenty years later, almost the entire world's population has been scanned and now exists in cartoon form, and Wright's avatar has become the hottest property in the entertainment industry. By turns thought-provoking and completely bonkers, The Congress is an intoxicating satire that tackles celebrity obsession with a keen, observant wit.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery)
Critics' Weeks opened in style on Saturday evening with serene period drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as outlaw lovers separated after a violent shootout in Texas Hill County, editor-turned-writer/director David Lowery's impressive second feature is a romantic homage to Terrence Malick's '70s masterworks Badlands and Days of Heaven. The film unfolds with Bob writing letters to Ruth, before breaking out and making his way back home across statelines to be reunited with his adoring wife and the four-year-old daughter he has never met. Standing in his way is Ben Foster's local sheriff, who has eyes on Ruth and a score to settle with Bob, and will seemingly not rest until the latter is back behind bars. Beautifully-shot and immaculately crafted, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a classic piece of American filmmaking, a Bonnie and Clyde style story about the raw power of true love.
The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Barnard)
Clio Barnard cements her growing reputation as one of Britain's most intriguing directors with her hotly-anticipated follow-up to her critically-acclaimed breakthrough film The Arbor. Set on a council estate in Bradford, The Selfish Giant is a reworking of Oscar Wilde's short story of the same name, and follows Arbor (excellent newcomer Conner Chapman), a mischievous young lad who lives with his fretful mother and spiteful older brother. After being expelled from school Arbor and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas, another first-timer) decide to chance their arm at the scrap-dealing game, loaning a horse-and-cart from a local traveller named Kitten (Sean Gilder) and collecting any discarded bits of metal they can lay their hands on. Calling to mind Shane Meadows and the early films of Ken Loach, specifically Kes, The Selfish Giant is a gritty, bittersweet social realist drama that boasts superb performances from its two young leads. One of the highlights of the Director's Fortnight strand, it confirms Barnard as a major talent.
All Is Lost (dir. J.C. Chandor)
One of the surprise hits of this year's festival was writer/director J.C. Chandor's second feature All Is Lost, which played out of competition to widespread critical acclaim. An extraordinary survival drama set entirely at sea, the film stars a Hollywood veteran in the lead (and only) role, but is more notable for its staggering simplicity. Robert Redford stars as a weathered sailor fighting for his life somewhere in the Indian Ocean; after a stray container smashes into his yacht's hull, our unnamed protagonist manages to plug the hole before torrential wind and rain conspire to do their worst. There's no backstory and most remarkably no dialogue (unless you count the very occasional screamed expletive), just one man and his boat, enduring against the odds. Having previously directed the comparatively more verbose corporate thriller Margin Call, few would have expected such a seismic change of tack from Chandor. It's testament to raw creative vision and great storytelling that the result is so uniquely compelling.
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