Cannes’ Critics’ Week Turns 60 With French-Flavored Lineup

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Critics’ Week, the Cannes Film Festival parallel strand dedicated to first and second films, follows the official selection’s lead in announcing an expanded lineup after taking a year off.

The 2021 program — which marks the sidebar’s 60th edition — will feature 13 world premieres, seven of them in competition, chosen from nearly 1,000 films by Charles Tesson, artistic director, and his committee. The lineup is heavy on French talent, with no American directors in the mix.

Constance Meyer’s “Robust” (previously titled “Misfit”), a drama-comedy starring Gérard Depardieu and Déborah Lukumuena (“Divines”), will open the 2021 edition of Critics’ Week. Set in contemporary Paris, “Robust” stars Depardieu as a lonely film star in decline, who forms an unexpected bond with Aïssa, a semi-pro wrestler earning a living as a security officer.

Leyla Bouzid’s “A Tale of Love and Desire” will close the edition and will also be part of the Special Screenings section, which will also feature Vincent Le Port’s “Bruno Reidal, Confessions of a Murderer,” inspired by a real case dating back to 1905; Samuel Theis’s “Petite Nature,” a poignant drama about a child growing up in a broken home; and popular actor-turned-helmer Sandrine Kiberlain’s debut “A Radiant Girl.”

Rounding out the Special Screenings section is Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s romantic comedy “Anaïs in Love,” an ideal choice to commemorate the anniversary edition.

“‘Anais in Love’ embodies what Critics’ Week is all about,” said Tesson. “Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet previously presented her short ‘Pauline asservie’ in competition in 2018, and she then participated in our Next Step program to develop ‘Anaïs in Love,’ a refreshing film full of humor with a wonderful, whimsical performance by Anaïs Demoustier.”

“We’re proud to have put forward so many filmmakers on the international scene over the years,” he added. “This year’s official selection underscores this with the new films by Julia Ducournau (in competition) and Hafsia Herzi (in Un Certain Regard), who had their feature debuts, ‘Raw’ and ‘You Deserve Love,’ respectively, play at Critics’ Week in recent years.”

This year’s competition lineup includes Clara Roquet’s “Libertad,” a coming-of-age story of two young women from different social classes who become friends over a summer; Somalian director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” a poetic drama shot in Djibouti about a man who sets off to cross the desert to find a cure for his dying wife; Elie Grappe’s “Olga,” which focuses on a Ukrainian gymnast living in exile in Switzerland with her mother who is a politically-engaged journalist; Italian helmer Laura Samani’s “Small Body,” about a mother mourning her newborn baby and clashing with the religious diktat in 19th century Italy.

Also competing are Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy’s “Feathers,” a daring, Kafka-esque parable about a family turned upside-down after the father is turned into a chicken; Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre’s thought-provoking “Zero Fucks Given,” starring Adèle Exarchopoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”) as a struggling young woman working as a flight attendant for a low-cost airline; and Colombian director Simón Mesa Soto’s “Amparo,” starring Melissa Torres as a fearless mother on a mission to rescue her son who has been kidnapped by army recruiters during the civil conflict in Colombian in 1990’s. Mesa Soto had previously won a Palme d’Or for his short film “Leidi” in 2014.

“The competition is very international and showcases films with many different styles and topics. Many films tackle relationships, friendships, family bonds — especially mothers with their children, loved ones we lost, or fighting to get back into our lives,” said Tesson.

Tesson said he has observed an evolution in the scope of films directed by women over the past years. “They are more political, even when they are coming-of-age stories, there are also several films dealing with patriarchy, and themes surrounding desire and power, the human condition,” said Tesson.

The artistic director said he expects some films to strike a chord with audiences, such as Kiberlain’s “A Radiant Girl,” about a young Jewish woman who aspires to become an actress in 1942, in Nazi-occupied France.

“Sandrine Kiberlain’s film is necessary in today’s climate, and she’s tackling an important topic in a subtle and intelligent way. It’s a masterful directorial debut,” Tesson said.

“A Tale of Love and Desire” is another “necessary film at a time when there are so much misunderstanding around Islam, female desire,” noted Tesson, who added that the movie also sheds light on Arab literature about love.

This year’s lineup will not include any U.S. indie films from Sundance or elsewhere. That’s surprising, since Critics’ Week has played a key role in boosting the international profile of such emerging American talents as Jeff Nichols, David Lowery, David Robert Mitchell and Paul Dano. Tesson explained that securing world premieres for American films proved particularly challenging this year. The pandemic also complicated the scouting he generally does at festivals and other professional events.

“We didn’t have Sundance and the virtual format isn’t the same as being there, we can’t forge bonds with filmmakers in the same way,” said Tesson. “Usually we travel a lot and we develop ties over time.”

The jury of the 60th edition will be presided over by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” and will also include actor-singer Camélia Jordana, producer Didar Domehri, Karlovy Vary festival’s artistic director Karel Och and producer Michel Merkt.

Here is the full lineup of the 2021 edition:

Opening Film
“Robuste,” Constance Meyer

Special Screenings
“Anaïs in Love,” Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet
“Bruno Reidal, Confessions of a Murderer,” Vincent Le Port
“Petite Nature,” Samuel Theis
“A Radiant Girl,” Sandrine Kiberlain

Closing Film
“A Tale of Love and Desire,” Leyla Bouzid

In Competition
“Amparo,” Simón Mesa Soto
“Feathers,” Elie Grappe
“Libertad,” Clara Roquet
“The Gravedigger’s Wife,” Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
“Olga,” Omar El Zohairy
“Small Body,” Laura Samani
“Zero Fucks Given,” Julie Lecoustre & Emmanuel Marre

Short Films in Competition
“Brutalia, Days of Labour,” Manolis Mavris
“Lili Alone,” Zou Jing
“An Invitation,” Hao Zhao & Yeung Tung
“Inherent,” Nicolai G.H Johansen
“Intercom 15,” Andrei Epure
“If It Ain’t Broke,” Elinor Nechemya
“Noir-soleil,” Marie Larrivé
“Safe,” Ian Barling
“Soldat noir,” Jimmy Laporal-Trésor
“On Solid Ground,” Jela Hasler