2021 Cannes Film Festival preview: All 24 films in crowded Palme d’Or race and how each director has performed in the past

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced last year’s in-person festivities and competition to be cancelled, the Cannes Film Festival will be returning in full force this year, running from July 6 until July 17. The top prize there is the coveted Palme d’Or, and this will be the first time it’s awarded since 2019 when Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” claimed it. That film would go on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, becoming the first to claim both prizes since “Marty” did it in 1955. This year’s jury will be headed by Oscar winner Spike Lee, who won the Grand Prix in 2018 for “BlacKkKlansman,” which went on to win him the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

The track record of a filmmaker at Cannes can sometimes offer tea leaves as to who might be in a good position to take the Palme. Eight of the entries this year come from filmmakers who have won prizes at previous closing ceremonies, although one of them won as an actor. Eight of this year’s directors are having their films screen in the main competition for the first time. The festival does boast an impressive number of films helmed by women, but only four of them are screening in competition.

Below is a breakdown of all 24 films that are in competition for the Palme d’Or and the history that each director has at the prestigious event.

Wes Anderson (“The French Dispatch”)

The latest from the whimsical writer/director is a realization of several stories that were printed in the final issue of the fictional “French Dispatch Magazine,” an American publication based in a small French town during the 20th century. Like several of his previous works, Anderson has assembled an all-star cast including Timothée ChalametElisabeth Moss, Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan and Willem Dafoe. While Anderson has been a celebrated filmmaker around the world, this is only his second film to play at Cannes in competition. His first was “Moonrise Kingdom” back in 2012.

Jacques Audiard (“Paris, 13th District”)

The latest from the French auteur centers on four people — three women and one man — whose relationships with each other go back and forth between friendship and romance. Audiard is one of the best examples of a Cannes regular among this year’s selections, making his fifth appearance in competition. His feature debut, “See How They Fall,” was screened in the International Critics’ Week in 1994. He made an even bigger splash with his next two films at the festival: “A Self-Made Hero,” which won Best Screenplay in 1996 (shared with Alain Le Henry) and “A Prophet,” which claimed the Grand Prix in 2009. In 2012 he competed with “Rust and Bone” and his 2015 film, “Dheepan,” took home the Palme d’Or.

Nabil Ayouch (“Casablanca Beats”)

Several young people living in the Sidi Moumen slum of Casablanca, Morocco, participate in a cultural project in which they are encouraged to express themselves using hip-hop. This marks the first time Ayouch, a Moroccan director who’s been making movies for almost 30 years, is having a film of his screen in competition. He’s had two previous films make the official selection: “Horses of God,” which was an Un Certain Regard selection in 2012 and “Much Loved,” which was part of the Director’s Fortnight in 2015.

Sean Baker (“Red Rocket”)

The latest from the American indie darling is about a has-been porn star that is forced to return to his small Texas hometown and finds that many of the locals do not want him back at all. Baker has made a name for himself in recent years with a string of critically lauded films including “Starlet,” “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project.” The last three of those films, in addition to garnering Willem Dafoe a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, screened in the Director’s Fortnight back in 2017.

Leos Carax (“Annette”)

The film set to open this year’s festival is about the two-year-old daughter of a stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife, who discovers she has a surprising gift. The musical stars Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, Oscar nominee Adam Driver and Golden Globe nominee Simon Helberg. Carax, who hails from France, was first at Cannes in 1999 when “Pola X” was part of the official competition. In 2008, he was part of the Un Certain Regard selection for “Tokyo!,” which was made alongside Bong Joon Ho and Michel Gondry. He returned to the official competition in 2012 with “Holy Motors.”

Catherine Corsini (“La Fracture”)

A huge demonstration at a hospital by the overworked staff and angry protestors happens at the same time that two women are on the verge of splitting up, causing them even greater stress. Competing on her home turf, Corsini first came to Cannes in 2001 when “La Répétition” was screened in competition. She returned in 2012 when “Three Worlds” made the Un Certain Regard selection.

Julia Ducournau (“Titane”)

At an airport, a young man with a bruised face claims to be a child who disappeared a decade earlier. As the young man is reunited with his father, several horrific murders begin happening in the region. This is the first time the French director is having a film of hers screen as part of the official competition. In 2011, her short film “Junior” was part of the International Critics’ Week. In 2016, her first feature film, “Raw,” also screened as part of the International Critics’ Week and earned nominations for the Camera d’Or and the Queer Palm.

Bruno Dumont (“On a Half Clear Morning”)

The latest from Dumont shows how a freak car accident upends the life of a showbiz journalist (Léa Seydoux) who’s been trying to balance her career and her personal life. It’s the seventh time that Dumont has had a film screen at Cannes and his fifth in competition. His debut feature, “La Vie de Jésus,” was in the Director’s Fortnight in 1997 and received a special mention for the Camera d’Or. Both of his next two films to screen at the festival, “L’Humanité” in 1999 and “Flanders” in 2006, won the Grand Prix. He last competed for the Palme in 2016 with “Slack Bay.” Outside of the main competition, Dumont also had “Outside Satan” in 2011 and “Joan of Arc” in 1999 screen as part of the Un Certain Regard selection with the latter receiving a special mention.

Ildikó Enyedi (“The Story of My Wife”)

At a café, a sea captain makes a wager with a friend of his that he will marry the first woman who walks in the door of the establishment. This is the Hungarian filmmaker’s first time competing in the main race and also her first time back at the festival since 1989 when her first feature, “My 20th Century,” screened as an Un Certain Regard selection and won the Camera d’Or for the best debut feature film at the festival that year.

Asghar Farhadi (“A Hero”)

Despite the Iranian filmmaker being one of the most internationally respected directors currently working, the plot of this movie has been kept secret. There’s not even a cryptic one-sentence general summary, so we’ll have to wait and see when it premieres next month. Farhadi has had three films play at the festival in competition. In 2013, “The Past” was part of the main race and won the Best Actress prize for Bérénice Bejo. In 2016 “The Salesman” won the Best Screenplay prize for Farhadi and the Best Actor prize for Shahab Hosseini, before going on to collect the Oscar for Best International Feature. Most recently, “Everybody Knows,” which starred Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz opened the festival in 2018.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”)

The wife of a stage actor/director goes missing in this mystery. The young Japanese director is returning to Cannes for the second time as part of the main competition. He was last at the festival in 2018 with his romantic drama, “Asako I & II.”

Mia Hansen-Løve (“Bergman Island”)

When an American filmmaking couple (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) embark on a summer retreat to an island to write several screenplays, the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not begin to blur. Hansen-Løve’s first English-language film also stars Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. Her feature debut, “All is Forgiven,” was part of the Director’s Fortnight and nominated for the Camera d’Or in 2007. Two years later “Father of My Children” screened as part of the Un Certain Regard selection and won the Special Jury Prize.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (“Lingui”)

A 30-year-old Muslim woman finds out her 15-year-old daughter is pregnant and wishes to have an abortion. It forces them to confront an impossible situation as abortion is outlawed. Haroun, originally from Chad but now based in France, is making his fourth appearance at the festival. “Our Father” screened as part of the Director’s Fortnight in 2002. In 2010 “A Screaming Man” managed to pick up the Jury Prize. And he returned to the official competition again in 2013 with “Grigris.”

Juho Kuosmanen (“Compartment No. 6”)

Two strangers meet on a train bound for the Arctic Circle and begin an expedition that will transform how they view their lives. This is Kuosmanen’s first time as part of the official competition. Two of the Finnish filmmaker’s previous movies, “Roadmarkers” in 2008 and “The Painting Sellers” in 2010, were part of the Cinéfondation competition with the latter winning that slate’s top prize. He was last at Cannes in 2016 with “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” which was a part of the Un Certain Regard selection, winning the top prize for that section.

Justin Kurzel (“Nitram”)

This film examines the events in the life of the man (Caleb Landry Jones) who ended up committing the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania, killing 35 people and provoking Australia’s modern laws on gun control. The film also stars Essie DavisJudy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia. Kurzel (“True History of the Kelly Gang” and “Assassin’s Creed”) is making his third appearance in the festival’s lineup. His first feature, “Snowtown,” screened as part of the International Critics’ Week and was nominated for both the Camera d’Or and the Queer Palm. In 2015, his filmed adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” screened in competition.

Joachim Lafosse (“The Restless”)

Leila and Damien are a couple deeply in love, but they encounter serious obstacles when it comes to Damien’s bipolar disorder. This is the first time the Belgian director has been in the main competition. Previously his film “Private Lessons” was chosen as part of the Director’s Fortnight in 2008 and “Our Children” was chosen as part of the Un Certain Regard class of 2012.

Nadav Lapid (“Ahed’s Knee”)

A filmmaker in Israel puts himself in the middle of two battles: one against the threat of tyranny and the other against the death of a mother. The Israeli director has only been a part of the lineup at Cannes once before in 2006 when “Emile’s Girlfriend” was selected as part of the Cinéfondation competition.

Nanni Moretti (“Three Floors”)

This film examines three families that live in three different apartments in the same high-end community. The Italian filmmaker has the longest history with Cannes of all the people in this year’s official competition. He was first at the festival in 1978 with “Ecco Bombo” competing for the Palme. He wouldn’t return until 1994 with “Dear Diary” which won him the prize for Best Director. In 1998 he had “Aprile” as part of the official competition, and in 2001 he won the Palme d’Or for “The Son’s Room.” His last three films that have played at Cannes were all in the main competition: “The Caiman” in 2006, “We Have a Pope” in 2011, and “Mia Madre” in 2015.

François Ozon (“Everything Went Fine”)

After suffering a debilitating stroke, an old man asks his adult daughter to help end his life.  The widely well-regarded French director is marking his fifth film to play the festival. In 2003 “Swimming Pool” competed as part of the main competition, and he returned in 2005 with “Time to Leave” slated in Un Certain Regard. He was back in the main competition in 2013 with “Young and Beautiful” and again in 2015 with “Double Lover.”

Sean Penn (“Flag Day”)

In order to raise his daughter, a father lives two lives: one as an honest man and the other as a counterfeiter and a con artist. Penn’s been a favorite at this festival for a long time as both an actor and a director. He won the Best Actor prize in 1997 for “She’s So Lovely.” He made his first appearance as a director in 2001 with the Jack Nicholson-starring film, “The Pledge,” and his second in 2016 with “The Last Face.” Both of those were in the main competition.

Kirill Serebrennikov (“Petrov’s Flu”)

In post-Soviet Russia, a comic book artist suffering from the flu is taken for a long walk by a friend, and the artist finds himself drifting between reality and fantasy. Serebrennikov is returning for his third appearance at Cannes. He was first there with “The Student” competing in the Un Certain Regard race in 2016, and he followed that in 2018 with “Leto” as part of the main competition.

Joachim Trier (“The Worst Person in the World”)

A young woman attempts to navigate the rocky terrain of her love life, struggles to find a career path, and begins a journey of self-reflection. The Danish-Norwegian director is also celebrating his third film to be selected by the festival. In 2011 “Oslo, August 31st” was shown in the Un Certain Regard section and he returned in 2015 with “Louder Than Bombs” in the main competition.

Paul Verhoeven (“Benedetta”)

A nun (Charlotte Rampling) living in 17th century Italy is suffering from frightening religious and erotic visions. She’s helped by a female companion, and their relationship develops into a full-blown love affair. The infamous Dutch filmmaker behind such films as “Robocop,” “Starship Troopers” and “Showgirls” was first in the Cannes lineup in 1992 with “Basic Instinct” in competition. He wouldn’t be back with another film in the festival until 2016 when “Elle” was part of the main race.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Memoria”)

While en route to Colombia, a Scottish woman (Tilda Swinton) begins hearing bizarre sounds and soon starts to imagine what they might look like. The latest from the celebrated Thai filmmaker is yet another notch in his belt at Cannes. His film “Blissfully Yours” took home the top prize in the Un Certain Regard lineup in 2002, and his next film, “Tropical Malady” in 2004, won the Jury Prize in the main competition. He was part of the directing team of “State of the World” in 2007 alongside five other directors; that film was in the Director’s Fortnight that year. Then he took home the Palme d’Or in 2010 for “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and returned with “Cemetery of Splendor” in the Un Certain Regard lineup in 2015.

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