Four recommendations from Cannes 2019

Film4 Online Editorial Director Michael Leader reports from the Croisette with his picks from this year's Cannes Film Festival...

Cannes this year seemed to have several films that sparked intense debate and discussion, and a handful in particular that revved up the engine of ‘festival hype’. With that in mind, I’m not going to add to the mass of praise for Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, although you can read my review of the Director’s Fortnight standout The Lighthouse over at Little White Lies. What I will do this year is highlight four gems from the programme that might not make headlines, but showcase the breadth and depth of quality on display this year.

The White Snake Enchantress

Each year, Cannes Classics serves up restorations and documentaries on the history of international cinema, and it's always a treat to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Competition and escape to the altogether more relaxed setting of the Salle Bunuel. This year, the resounding highlight for animation nerds was a premiere of a restoration of the pioneering Japanese film The White Snake Enchantress (also known as Panda and the Magic Serpent). The first colour, feature-length animation released in Japan, and one of the first Japanese animations to be screened internationally, this is an essential step in the journey towards what would become the titanic 'anime' industry - not least because it reportedly inspired a young Hayao Miyazaki, later of Studio Ghibli, to venture into animation himself.

And Then We Danced

Let’s stick with Miyazaki for a second, in this year’s most bizarre moment of crossover. Tender Georgian romantic drama And Then We Danced matches the swooning, youthful yearning of recent queer cinema fan favourites such as Call Me By Your Name, but has a distinctive, fiercely strident identity all of its own, thanks to its focus on a relationship between two young male students of traditional Georgian dance - an artform predicated on physicality, convention, and restrictive gender roles. And in a rare moment of ‘Ghibli-spotting’, boyish protagonist Merab not only has a Spirited Away poster gracing his bedroom wall (one ripped down in a moment of anguish), but has a tattoo of that film’s character, No-Face, which pulls focus unexpectedly in some of this gem’s more intimate scenes.

I Lost My Body

Over to Critics Week for a rare thing: an animated Cannes prize winner. This hand-drawn marvel is a resounding celebration of what animation can do best, even with the most esoteric of elevator pitches. How’s this for a set-up? A dismembered hand traverses the dangerous streets of Paris in order to reunite with its owner, along the way recalling the life they lived together, most significantly the relationship with a young woman. By turns thrilling - city life has never felt so perilous - and moving, this feature debut from director Jeremy Clapin took home the top award in the CW sidebar, and, well, you’ve got to hand it to them.

Pain and Glory

You know you’re blessed with a strong year at Cannes when something as special as a new Almodovar film struggles for the spotlight. Playful and provocative, this tricksy twist on auto-fiction sees Almodovar stalwart Antonio Banderas playing a very Pedro-alike director reflecting on both his career and life during something of a mid-life crisis. The director is no newcomer to mining his memoirs for narrative material but this might be his most profound personal statement: and Banderas finds new reserves of gravitas as the collaboration between actor and director tips over into outright overlap. Pain & Glory bears all of the hallmarks of Almodovar’s craft, from his fascination with Franco-era Spain and the promised liberation of queer culture, to the always eye-popping details in his production and costume design. I have no doubt that this will look amazing when screened in the Courtyard of Somerset House at its UK premiere at Film4 Summer Screen later this year.