Cannes Film Festival 2019: Palme d’Or race has 19 strong entries – who’s ahead?

Nineteen films are in contention for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which runs from May 14 to May 25. The history of a filmmaker at this festival can offer wisdom as to who could be out front to win the coveted Palme d’Or. Seven of the entries are by filmmakers that have been honored during past closing ceremonies. Newcomers to Cannes could end up being big winners with three filmmakers making their first appearance on the Croisette and another four having their films shown for the first time in competition. The jury will be headed by four-time Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, who claimed the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2006 for “Babel.”

Below is a breakdown of the 19 films competing this year and the history of their helmers at the festival.

Pedro Almodóvar (“Pain and Glory”)
The acclaimed Spanish director is back at Cannes with his latest centering on a filmmaker looking back on the decisions he’s made in life as everything descends into chaos around him. This marks Almodóvar’s sixth filim to compete here. His first film that screened was “All About My Mother” in 1999, for which he took home the Best Director prize. He next competed in 2006 with “Volver,” which won him the award for Best Screenplay. The film also took home the Best Actress prize for the female ensemble of Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo and Chus Lampreave. Other films of his in competition have been “Broken Embraces” in 2009, “The Skin I Live In” in 2011 and “Julieta” in 2016.

Marco Bellocchio (“The Traitor”)
The Italian auteur is back for the first time in ten years. His new film tells the real life tale of Tommaso Buscetta, who became the first informant on the Sicilian mafia in the 1980’s. Bellocchio first came to Cannes in 1980 with “A Leap in the Dark” which won the prizes for both Best Actor (Michel Piccoli) and Best Actress (Anouk Aimée). Another  six of his films competed without winning anything: “Henry IV” in 1984, “The Prince of Homburg” in 1997, “The Nanny” in 1999, “My Mother’s Smile” in 2002 and “Vincere” in 2009. His 2006 film “The Wedding Director” also screened in the Un Certain Regard selections.

Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”)
A young man and his family, who are all unemployed, become obsessed with another family. This takes a very dark turn when an incident leads the first to become wrapped up mayhem. After making several films in English, Bong returns to his native South Korea for this outing. His only previous work that played in competition was 2017’s “Okja.” Prior to that he screened two films in Un Certain Regard: “Tokyo!” in 1998 (with Leos Carax and Michel Gondry) and “Madeo” in 2009.

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (“Young Ahmed”)
The Belgian brothers have now been regulars on the French Riviera for 20 years, screening their eighth film in competition with all but one picking up a prize. This one centers on an adolescent boy who plots to kill his teacher after being radicalized through an extremist interpretation of the Quran. The duo have already won the Golden Palm twice (one of eight directors/directing teams to do so): “Rosetta” in 1999 and “L’enfant” in 2005. In 2002, “The Son” claimed the Best Actor prize for Olivier Gourmet. 2008 saw “The Silence of Lorna” take home Best Screenplay. In 2011 they received the Grand Prix for “The Kid with a Bike” (tied with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) and in 2016, their film, “The Unknown Girl,” won the Best Actress prize for Emilie Dequenne (tied with Severine Caneele for “L’Humanité”). The only film of theirs that went home empty handed was “Two Days, One Night” in 2014.

Yi’nan Dao (“The Wild Goose Lake”)
The Chinese director will be in competition for the first time, though he did screen his film “Night Train” in Un Certain Regard in 2007. This effort follows the leader of biker gang who encounters a woman seeking to get her freedom back by any means necessary.

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Arnaud Desplechin (“Oh Mercy!”)
Two cops are confronted on Christmas Day by the brutal murder of an old woman and signs seem to point to the woman’s neighbors, who seem to be both alcoholics and drug addicts, as possible suspects. The French filmmaker returns to the festival’s main competition for the sixth time. He was previously at the festival in 1992 with “La sentinelle,” 1996 with “My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument,” 2000 with “Esther Kahn,” 2008 with “A Christmas Tale” and 2013 with “Jimmy P.” He also was in Un Certain Regard in 2003 with “Playing ‘In the Company of Men.'” He has never won a prize at Cannes.

Mati Diop (“Atlantiques”)
This French filmmaker of Senegalese descent becomes the first black woman to ever have a film screened in competition at Cannes. The film tells the story of a young woman from the Senegalese capital of Dakar whose fast-paced lifestyle is upended when her lover suddenly disappears. The film, based on her 2009 documentary “Atlantique,” marks her first narrative feature film.

Xavier Dolan (“Matthias & Maxime”)
The French-Canadian wunderkind is only 30-years-old but has already become a mainstay at Cannes with his third feature in competition. He first came to the festival in 2009 with his debut film, “I Killed My Mother” which screened in the Director’s Fortnight. He then competed in Un Certain Regard in 2010 with “Heartbeats” and in 2012 with “Laurence Anyways.”  He then moved to the main competition in 2014 with “Mommy” which tied for the Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language.” He returned with “It’s Only the End of the World” in 2016 which claimed the Grand Prix. His latest centers on two friends who are attempting to come to terms with the feelings that they have for each other.

Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles (“Bacurau”)
The pair of filmmakers hailing from Brazil mark the only entry that’s geographically from Latin America. It centers around a documentary filmmaker that is filming a village in the heartland of Brazil for an upcoming project. When the oldest woman in the village passes away, strange things begin to happen and the secrets the villagers are harboring come to the surface. This is Filho’s second appearance at Cannes after he competed in 2016 with “Aquarius.” Dornelles, who served as the production designer for “Aquarius,” is making his first appearance at the festival.

Jessica Hausner (“Little Joe”)
One of four women competing this year, the Austrian director makes her fourth appearance at Cannes and her first in the main competition. She’s previously competed three times in Un Certain Regard: “Lovely Rita” in 2001, “Hotel” in 2004 and “Amour Fou” in 2014. This drama centers on a plant breeder whose newest creation seems to have previously unknown effects for anyone who comes in contact with its seeds and leads the breeder to question her very identity.

Jim Jarmusch (“The Dead Don’t Die”)
Jarmusch has been a staple at Cannes since his debut film, “Stranger Than Paradise,” screened out of competition in 1984 and took home the Camera d’Or for best first feature. The zombie comedy starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton and Selena Gomez will be this year’s opening film and marks the American’s eighth film in competition. He first competed in 1986 with “Down by Law” and again in 1989 with “Mystery Train,” which won a special prize for artistic contribution. In 1993, his short film “Coffee and Cigarettes III” won the Short Palme. In 1995 and 1999 he was in competition with “Dead Man” and “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” respectively. He directed a vignette for “Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet” which screened in Un Certain Regard in 2002. He won the Grand Prix in 2005 for “Broken Flowers” and has recently competed with “Only Lovers Left Alive” in 2013 and “Paterson” in 2016.

Ken Loach (“Sorry We Missed You”)
When it comes to Cannes veterans, no one can hold a candle to Loach, who is back with his 14th film in competition. The British filmmaker has won the Palme d’Or twice: “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” in 2006 and “I, Daniel Blake” in 2016. He first competed in 1981 with “Looks and Smiles.” His next two films would both win the Jury Prize: “Hidden Agenda” in 1990 and “Raining Stones” in 1993. In 1998, “My Name is Joe” took the Best Actor award for Peter Mullan and in 2002, “Sweet Sixteen” won the Best Screenplay prize for Paul Laverty. He claimed another Jury Prize in 2012 with “The Angel’s Share.” His other films that screened in competition without winning anything from the jury were “Land and Freedom” in 1995, “Bread and Roses” in 2000, “Looking for Eric” in 2009, “Route Irish” in 2010 and “Jimmy’s Hall” in 2014.

SEE Cannes Film Festival lineup 2019: Full list of films includes Malick, Almodovar and more, but women still underrepresented

Ladj Ly (“Les Misérables”)
This French filmmaker, originally from Mali, is marking his first appearance on the Croisette.  His film, based on a short he made of the same name, centers on Stéphane, who joins the Anti-Crime Squad in Montfermeil and is partnered with two men who display strange methods of doing their work and Stéphane begins to see the tensions between the gangs of the neighborhood. If Ly were to win the Palme for this effort, he would become the sixth person to win the prize for their debut feature. The previous directors to achieve this were Delbert Mann in 1955 (“Marty”), Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle in 1956 (“The Silent World”), Henri Colpi in 1961 (“The Long Absence” which tied with “Viridiana” by Luis Buñuel) and Steven Soderbergh in 1989 (“sex, lies, and videotape”).

Terrence Malick (“A Hidden Life”)
There’s a chance that Malick might actually show up to this year’s festival! The notoriously shy American filmmaker has actually been doing press for his more recent projects, so that is a distinct possibility. The once sporadic filmmaker returns with the real life story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian man who was a conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II. While this is only his third appearance at the festival, both of Malick’s previous entries have won major prizes. “Days of Heaven” claimed the Best Director honor in 1978 and “The Tree of Life” won the Palme d’Or in 2011.

Corneliu Porumboiu (“The Whistlers”)
The frontiers of Romanian cinema continued to be explored at the festival with Porumboiu’s first in competition entry. His latest tells the story of a police officer who travels to an island in Spain to learn El Silbo, a language communicated through whistling, in the hopes of exonerating a businessman that’s been arrested in Bucharest. While this is his first appearance in competition, Porumboiu has had his films screened at the festival before. In 2006, “12:08 East of Bucharest” played out of competition but won the Golden Camera. In 2009, he was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize for “Police, Adjective” and screened in that section again in 2015 with “The Treasure.”

Ira Sachs (“Frankie”)
After making films for almost 30 years, the American filmmaker will have his first film screened at Cannes. His latest is about three generations of a family on vacation in Portugal who have to deal with a life-changing event. It stars Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson.

Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”)
Sciamma, who has been a major voice in international queer cinema for some, will be screening her first film in competition. Her film, “Water Lillies,” screened in Un Certain Regard in 2007 and was nominated for the Camera d’Or. This film takes place in 18th century France and is about a painter commissioned to do a portrait of a reluctant young bride in advance of her wedding without the bride knowing about it. As the two women spend time together, the attraction and intimacy between them grows as well.

Elia Suleiman (“It Must Be Heaven”)
The Palestinian filmmaker is back in competition for the first time in 10 years. Suleiman has himself as the main character of this movie and sees him seeking an alternative homeland to his native Palestine, but a comedy of errors soon shows that no matter where he travels or how he assimilates to their culture, there will always be reminders of where he came from. Suleiman first competed at Cannes in 2002 with “Divine Intervention” which won the Jury Prize. He returned in 2009 with “The Time That Remains” and directed a segment of the film “7 Days in Havana,” which screen in Un Certain Regard in 2012.

Justine Triet (“Sibyl”)
The French filmmaker is marking her first appearance in competition at the festival. Her entry centers on the title character, a psychotherapist who is looking to return to writing, her first profession. As she lets go of most of her patients she’s contacted, out of the blue, by a young woman hoping to make an appointment with her. She agrees but what the woman reveals proceeds to make everything in Sibyl’s life go haywire.

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