Cannes Film Festival: Can you feel le buzz?

Big names bomb and unknowns prosper – nobody knows anything on the Croisette. But Jonathan Romney knows which films he's excited about …

So why do people make such a fuss about the Cannes Film Festival? Because Cannes is a dazzling, intricate, sometimes laborious, but always unpredictable machine for generating fuss – and for proving that cinema is worth making a fuss about. The commercial film universe has its blockbusters, its tentpoles, its event movies. But in these artificially hallowed 12 days on the Croisette, movies are seen as something more exalted – manifestations of whatever ineffable substance le cinéma is made of.

Whether a given year turns out good or bad, Cannes always tells us which films we'll be talking about for the next 12 months – but they're not always the ones we expect. I've been making my annual pilgrimage since 1993, and have learnt that it doesn't pay to try to predict how good a particular edition will be. I've seen all-star line-ups yield their share of duds, and drab-seeming ones go on to glitter.

But it's not just the competition – with a jury chaired by Steven Spielberg – that counts. The selected titles may hog the limelight and the prestige, but some of the best films often turn up in other sections. This year, official sidebar Un Certain Regard boasts the latest by admired French auteur Claire Denis (see overleaf) and a glamorous opener in Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson. Cognoscenti will always make a few sorties up the Croisette to investigate Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Week, guaranteed hotbeds of discovery with the occasional big name thrown in.

All that's sure about this year's competition line-up – high on Americans, low on women directors, Brits, and intriguing outsiders – is that it promises to be extremely entertaining. How could it not be, with Michael Douglas playing Liberace (in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra) and two French directors both named Arnaud going head to head? Never say Cannes selectors don't have a sense of humour ....

The Cannes Film Festival, Wed to 26 May. Jonathan Romney will tweet from the Festival @JonathanRomney

The Great Gatsby

The talent: Baz Luhrmann directs; Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star; Jay-Z masterminds the soundtrack.

The pitch: Forget your grandad's Jazz Age – this is the 1920s when bling was king.

Croisette quotient: This opening night extravaganza will be big, loud and lavish, and may horrify those who cherish their slim, dog-eared Penguin of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel. With a glitzy R&B-themed score, it's just the sort of event movie – whatever the so-so reviews thus far – that continues to justify the Croisette's reputation for world-class razzle-dazzle.

Le buzz (out of 5): ****

Only God Forgives

The talent: Danish genre maverick Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Drive) directs; Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas star.

The pitch: Refn's hot, Gosling's hot, the Thai underworld is hot …. What's not hot about it?

Croisette quotient: Refn's 2011 competition entry Drive gave him a mainstream crossover hit, and if this thriller pulls it off, his international hipster cachet will be unbeatable. The neon-devil poster looks great – and you don't often get to see the fragrant Ms Scott Thomas playing "a merciless mafia godmother". Le véritable hot ticket du festival.

Le buzz: *****

Michael Kohlhaas

The talent: Danish star Mads Mikkelsen; French director Arnaud des Pallières

The pitch: You liked Mikkelsen as the TV Hannibal; now try him as a 16th-century merchant turned bandit.

Croisette quotient: The competition loves a dark horse. Hitherto obscure French director Des Pallières has made little-seen such as Parc, a bizarre John Cheever adaptation. Michael Kohlhaas, from the 19th-century German novella, could be a straight costume number – but seems likely to be something richer and stranger. A sleeper hit in the making.

Le buzz: **

The Past

The talent: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi; stars Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim

The pitch: You liked A Separation – here's another separation, this time with a European touch.

Croisette quotient: Farhadi put Iranian cinema back in the spotlight with A Separation. This story of a French-Iranian couple breaking up stars Bejo, from The Artist, and Rahim, from Jacques Audiard's A Prophet. Probably the most solid auteur package in competition, tipped for the Palme d'Or.

Le buzz: ****

Venus in Fur

The talent: Roman Polanski directs Madame P – aka Emmanuelle Seigner – and Mathieu Amalric.

The pitch: Polanski gets perverse again, in a two-hander from the play by David Ives – about a director trying to adapt the novel that gave masochism its name.

Croisette quotient: Given his chequered past, Polanski's friendly reception in Europe rests on his ability to show that he's still a heavyweight. This competition contender could restore Polanski's former reputation as a provocateur.

Le buzz: ***

The Selfish Giant

The talent: Brit director Clio Barnard (The Arbor), and some Northern kids you haven't heard of – yet.

The pitch: A troubled 13-year-old falls into the underworld of scrap-metal dealing.

Croisette quotient: Cannes loves British cinema in its gritty realist mode, and that's possibly what we can expect from Barnard's Directors' Fortnight entry. She made a brilliant debut with her docu-drama about Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar. The connection with the Oscar Wilde fairy tale may or may not be tenuous.

Le buzz: ***

The Dance of Reality

The talent: Alejandro Jodorowsky behind the camera, several other Jodorowskys in front.

The pitch: The education of a South American surrealist, by a man who knows.

Croisette quotient: The barmier the better, as far as the fans of this cultest of cult auteurs are concerned. Jodorowsky made the legendarily demented 1970 El Topo but has been missing in action since 1990. This autobiographical fantasia in Directors' Fortnight could be the craziest film in Cannes. Fans will also throng to see a documentary about how Jodorowsky nearly directed a version of sci-fi bible Dune.

Le buzz: **

Nebraska

The talent: Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) directs, old-timer Bruce Dern stars.

The pitch: Curmudgeon makes road trip with estranged son; the kind of story that Payne has made his speciality.

Croisette quotient: Payne isn't the biggest US indie name in town – the Coens, Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch also have films in competition. But Payne is much admired in Cannes, and you can expect veteran Dern to be the toast of Croisette cinephiles.

Le buzz: ***

Max Rose

The talent: Jerry Lewis. Or as the French say, "Ah! Jerry Lewis!"

The pitch: The cantankerous comedy legend plays a jazz pianist looking back on his life.

Croisette quotient: This one has its own rubric in the official selection: "Hommage à Jerry Lewis" – ominous words to some. Little is known about it, but if you remember Lewis in Scorsese's King of Comedy you'll want to check it out.

Le buzz: *

The Bastards

The talent: Director Claire Denis; stars Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni.

The pitch: Container-ship captain on a mission of revenge. But, knowing this director, done the abstract way.

Croisette quotient: Claire Denis is one of France's most innovative directors. So why isn't she in competition? Especially given her photocall-friendly cast, big names in Gaul. And especially given 2012's furore over a competition dearth of women directors – a lapse hardly remedied this year. Still, this could be the jewel of the often terrific Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Le buzz: ****

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment