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Cannes film festival 2024 New films to watch out for in 2024

RITA DI SANTO casts an eye over the winners - and the overlooked films - from this year’s festival

THE jury stunned, but did not displease the festival audience here on Saturday night, with the awards for the 77th Cannes Film Festival. It’s not that the winners were unpopular, but that they were unexpected. 

Everyone predicted the Palme D’Or would go to Mohammad Rasoulof’s The Seed Of The Sacred Fig, the story of an investigating judge in Tehran who grapples with paranoia as nationwide political protests intensify and his gun mysteriously disappears, but instead the film won only the Special Award. 

Everyone expected legendary US actress Demi Moore to pick up Best Actress for her searing performance in The Substance, the story of an ageing Hollywood actress-turned-aerobics-workout-host who gets fired from a TV network for being deemed too old. In a rage of desperation, she calls a tip she’s been handed anonymously and gets hooked up with a sinister sci-fi body-enhancement programme known as The Substance. 

A feminist horror movie censuring Hollywood’s obsession with youth, the film won Best screenplay and Best Actress Award went, instead, to the female ensemble of Jaques Audiard’s Emilia Perez. It’s a modern melodrama that jazzes through an ethical maze, sometimes awkwardly so. Coming from a French filmmaker some aspects of the story are original, but why would a French director go to Mexico? The film feels inauthentic, but transgender Spanish star Gascon gives a star performance, and the acting award is well deserved.

The Grand Jury Award for the young female filmmaker Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light was a total surprise. The first Indian film to feature in the festival’s main competition for a staggering 30 years, Kapadia’s powerful fiction debut follows three women struggling to find their place in modern Mumbai, representing three generations. They work in the hospital, day, and night, in a city of skylights, product of globalisation, where all relations are flimsy, and the monsoon rains looks never ending. 

A beautiful, sensitive story, which gently exposes the entrenched problems of the caste system and the fragile position of women in a patriarchal society. A compelling homage to women workers fighting for their independence. 

The Palme D’Or winner was the biggest surprise of the night, going to American independent film Anora. Sean Baker’s comedy centres on exotic dancer Anora, who marries Ivan, the son of a Russian oligarch couple, and how she tries to fend off their attempt to impose an annulment. The son swiftly flees and Anora is left to fight for the marriage she still half-believes is grounded in real love. 

Despite the very serious, very emotional stakes of what's going on in this marriage between these two youngsters, there's humour coming from every line, every incident and every twist and turn. The film looks terrific, ia very well written, and a touching moment of human connection leaving us with the message that the rich are vulgar and stupid, and a sex worker has more manners and qualities than them.

It was an interesting year. However, many titles where overlooked for awards, among them Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis and British director Andrea Arnold’s Bird, her fourth movie in competition at Cannes. 

Bird is a study of the rural working class through the eyes of 12-year-old Bailey who lives with her father and brother in a squat in North Kent. Bailey escapes the chaos of her domestic situation: a father getting married and scheming to deal hallucinogens drawn from the sweat of imported toads, and a brother preparing to run away with his pregnant, 14-year-old girlfriend. She roams the Kent flats, where she meets Bird, a stranger looking for his family, who offers her a glimpse of another way of living. 

Bird fits into the filmmaker’s playground: the social chronicle, the coming-of-age story, the kid who has to cope with absent or failing parents, and abandoned by the system. The film has an impeccable Brit-rock soundtrack that perfectly connects with the story. Arnold draws wonderful performances from a stunning cast of newcomers and investigates the lives of her characters with tenderness and humanity, an empathy whoever they might be, no matter what they might have done. 

In Arnold’s portrait of youth, there is no shame, nor judgement, but beauty.

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