Cannes 2018: Jessica Chastain announces all-female cast of spy movie

Cannes daily: Penélope Cruz praises Chastain; strange shouts at the screenings – and Guy Ritchie is back. No, really

Jessica Chastain (centre) with  Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard,  Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o at the announcement of spy drama ‘355’ at the 2018 Cannes film festival. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Jessica Chastain (centre) with Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o at the announcement of spy drama ‘355’ at the 2018 Cannes film festival. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

 

Jessica Chastain and everyone else are on for ‘355’

To the Majestic for announcements about upcoming female-led spy drama 355. At last year’s festival, Jessica Chastain, then a jury member, expressed some concern about the representation of women in the competition films. At the 71st edition, that popular actor has confirmed that she is fronting a thriller starring herself, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong’o, and Fan Bingbing as operatives from agencies throughout the world.

That cast will give Ocean’s 8 a run for its money.

Chastain began pondering the project after a meeting with her agent at Cannes in 2017. Simon Kinberg, director of the upcoming X-Men Dark Phoenix, will be behind the camera. Cruz described Chastain as their Santa Claus. “I have never seen an African woman intelligence agent,” Nyong’o added. “To me, that was important because I know they exist.”

Raoul! Raoul!

There are a number of established traditions in Cannes that you’re unlikely to be aware of until you’ve actually been there. We were relieved to hear, as the first film kicked off, that some bloke still feels the need to shout a single-syllable word whenever the Cannes logo comes up. Most new arrivals at the event assume that it’s just a random class of hoop, an expression of joy that we’re about to see the latest film by that film-maker. In fact the person (it could be anybody) is yelling the word “Raoul”. The story goes that, at some point in the 1970s, an audience member was looking for a friend of that name in the Debussy Theatre. He came in and shouted for his pal. Everyone shouted back. The joke was carried on at the next screening.

We now half-suspect that, were the word not to be bellowed, it would be akin to the ravens leaving the Tower of London. Cannes would slip into the sea. Raoul!

Von Trier’s producer vows to stop ‘slapping butts’

Cannes is waiting nervously for the arrival of Lars von Trier. Seven years after being expelled for comparing himself to Hitler, the Danish film-maker will be back on the red carpet with his serial-killer thriller The House that Jack Built. In the interim, focus has moved from his Nazi gags to alleged sexual abuse at von Trier’s production company Zentropa. New comments from Peter Aalbaek Jensen, founder of that company, haven’t entirely put minds at rest. “I’ve always been a cheerful guy and I’ve been slapping the asses of guys and girls at the company for 20 years,” he said. “I know that I’m guilty and that I have been guilty for about 25 years, with my fondness for butt-slapping. And it was delightful until the second I was told to give it up.” Ohhhhhkay, then?

Miramax backs Guy Ritchie

Guy Ritchie is back. You must decide for yourself whether this is good news. Here’s some more good or bad news. Miramax hasn’t gone away. Long after it disengaged from the now-toxic Harvey Weinstein, the company has, at the Cannes market, confirmed that it will finance Ritchie’s new film (you could almost guess the title) Toff Guys. Warner Brothers seem to have backed away after losing their shirt and every other garment on Ritchie’s indifferently received King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Miramax CEO Bill Block looks forward to working with “a master film-maker in his element who is committed to delivering a super fun kick ass theatrical experience”. You joke. But Ritchie is still on board with Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin. Featuring Will Smith as the genie, that can’t fail to be an enormous smash.

Fact check: Is The Irish Times really at Cannes?

To confirm that I am actually at the Cannes festival and that I am not writing this all in a dressing gown from Dublin 8, I have located the Mediterranean and a palm tree. Don’t worry. I do have a hat. I was uncovered for little longer than the duration of this video.

Verdict: True!!!!

And today’s reviews from the festival...

Birds of Passage
★★★★★

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. Director’s Fortnight, 125 min. Starring Carmiña Martínez, Jose Acosta, Jhon Narváez, Natalia Reyes, Jose Vicente Cots, Juan Martínez, Greider Meza

The main Cannes competition has not yet caught fire, but, down the seafront, Director’s Fortnight, in its 50thyear, has scored a hammer blow with its epic, curious mind-bending opening feature. Three years after bossing the same competition with Embrace of the Serpent, the young Colombian master Ciro Guerra has teamed up with Cristina Gallego, his wife and producer, to deliver a startlingly original study of Colombia’s drug years. It’s worth hanging on to the word “original” here. We’ve had our fair share of drug trafficking sagas. Pablo Escobar has inspired endless dramas and documentaries. The film seems almost consciously modelled on The Godfather: young peasant gains wealth through crime and hands on corruption to a pampered second generation. But the director’s ability to fold the traditional in with the modern is entirely his own. Here is a film about a community cursing itself to eternal doom by thrusting for corrupt lucre and abandoning its ancient conventions. That’s an unfashionable sort of message. It takes a kind of genius to carry it off.

We begin, in the late 1960s, with a tribal betrothal ritual that leads, after an elaborate dance, to Raphayet (Jose Acosta) asking for the hand of Zaida (Natalia Reyes). He will first have to cope with her fearsome, dream-reading mother Ursula (Carmiña Martínez), a character born of storms and ancient spirits. He will also need to provide an absurdly mountainous dowry: cows, beads, goats and so forth. Help comes when he and his pal encounter some American hippies in search of grass. They are surprised at how much profit they make. A few years later, the boys are flying marijuana out by the planeload. Raphayet becomes conspicuously wealthy, but he remains bolted to the tribal soil. His elaborate house sits isolated with nothing but plains as far as the eye can see. But Raphayet’s dim son (more Fredo than Michael) looks set to bring chaos about the family’s ears.

Shooting face forward, composing elegant tableaux, Guerra and Gallego make ingenious tweaks to action conventions: it is now trucks that power over the horizon rather than horses. But it is his interweaving of ancient habit and stubbornly reliable myth that sets the film apart. The music is eerie and authentic. The faces seem carved from elemental stone. The end result is that rare sort of modern classic that feels as if it’s been around forever.

Sure to become one of the year’s most celebrated releases.

Cold War
★★★★★

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cédric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar. In competition, 88 min

Pawel Pawlikowski has followed up his Oscar-winning Ida with another monochrome, academy-ratio study of what the second World War did to Poland. That sounds grim. And, yes, the film has its tragedies, but it also deals in some irresistibly sexy iconography. Surreptitious escapes in Cold War Berlin. A first hearing of rock‘n’roll. Smoky jazz, bohemian garrets and early Nouvelle Vague cinema in a silvery Paris. The opportunity to gorge on those mid-century delights alone kicks Cold War to the top of the heap.

There is much more packed in its startlingly economic 88 minutes. The picture, dedicated to Pawlikowski’s parents, begins with Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza), two musicologists, touring war-battered Poland in search of folk singers. They later set up an academy to form a folk group and – in an audition that can’t help but remind viewers of the X-Factor – pluck the blonde, flute voiced Zula (Joanna Kulig) from a duo she has insisted upon forming. Zula soon becomes the star of the travelling act and her audition song beds in as the picture’s recurrent aural motif: later sung as jazz and boulevard chanteuse. Wiktor and Zula start an affair that takes them from Warsaw to Paris to Split.

Pawlikowski doesn’t oversell the relationship. We get little sense of what binds the two together aside from equal levels of pulchritude. Wiktor is a bit of a cold fish. The tempestuous, constantly irritated Irena is probably not who she says she is: a rural siren who stabbed her abusive father. But the gorgeously presented invitation to fill in the emotional gaps proves impossible to resist.

Much of the credit must go to Kulig who delivers the sort of screen-ripping, sour-mouthed performance that made Cannes what it is: Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti, Anna Karina. The scene where she jumps on the bar at first hearing Rock Around the Clock speaks for a changing age – one that might leave Wiktor, then a jazz pianist, gasping in its wake.

This remains, however, a director’s movie. Working in much the same visual aesthetic as Ida, Pawlikowski gives us a musical romance that works through all the minor keys that matter. Will look and sound well everywhere.

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