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From Annette to The French Dispatch – The best films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

Rumoured to be the most traditional film festival to occur since the beginning of the pandemic, Cannes boasts some heavy hitters this year. Adam White highlights the most intriguing films on the line-up

Tuesday 06 July 2021 06:34 BST
Bill Murray in ‘The French Dispatch'
Bill Murray in ‘The French Dispatch' (Twentieth Century Fox)

The Cannes Film Festival is back after its hiatus last year, signalling a further return to some kind of normality. In fact, it will reportedly be the most traditional film festival to occur since the beginning of the pandemic. Rules stipulate that all guests must be fully vaccinated, and it is currently unknown whether masks will be a requirement for screenings.

This year’s line-up is also filled with heavy hitters, as if distributors are flexing their confidence that the film industry is getting back on its feet. Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Turner-Smith, Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand are among the stars headlining some of the festival’s most intriguing movies, and you can find our 11 best picks of the bunch below...

After Yang

Arthouse enthusiasts will remember with fondness the 2017 indie Columbus, a bittersweet meditation on friendship and architecture starring John Cho. After Yang is director Kogonada’s top-secret follow-up, about a family attempting to save the life of their robot housekeeper. Considering its starry cast (which includes Jodie Turner-Smith and Colin Farrell), and its distributors (the uber-cool A24), it probably isn’t a Bicentennial Man redux, which we should all be grateful for.


The first trailer for Annette is the most French thing imaginable. The film appears to be a surreal rock opera that’s also a marital drama and effectively a perfume ad, with Marion Cotillard swinging around a baby and Adam Driver dancing in a bathrobe. Quite what Annette is actually about remains a mystery, but it’s directed by Leos Carax, whose last film was the masterful Holy Motors, and that’s good enough for now.


Lurid genius Paul Verhoeven – director of Showgirls, Elle and Starship Troopers, among many others – has finally made the lesbian nun movie he really should have made years ago. Virginie Efira stars as a 17th-century nun living in a convent who is struck with erotic visions about other women. Expect walkouts, controversy and a new cult classic from one of our last true provocateurs.


Andrea Arnold, the visionary filmmaker behind Fish Tank and American Honey, has more than earned our trust and attention – even if she’s made something that sounds a bit odd on paper. Cow is a documentary film that “revolves around the lives of two cows”. I mean… sure! Sign us up immediately!

Drive My Car

Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, Drive My Car is about a woman driving a famous theatre director to Hiroshima, where he is due to stage a production of Uncle Vanya. There are strong Jim Jarmusch vibes to this intimate two-hander, which is the latest film from Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour; Asako I & II). Hamaguchi also won the Silver Bear award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival for an entirely different movie, just to drive home how prolific he has recently been.

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch trailer

Finally and officially coming out after what feels like a thousand months of Covid-related delays is Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. Still somewhat under wraps, it apparently revolves around an American newspaper in a fictional French city. Playing the newspaper’s staff and their various hangers-on is a characteristically A-list ensemble, which includes Timothée Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan.


The English-language debut of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul – of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives fame – Memoria stars Tilda Swinton as a Scottish woman hiking in the mountains outside Bogota and questioning her own identity. According to Weerasethakul, “we will see her walking a lot, like a ghost”. Identity? Tilda Swinton? Ghosts? Sold.

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Paris, 13th District

Co-written by Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma, Paris, 13th District apparently revolves around a quartet of friends and sometimes-lovers, as they tangle with “their own gender, feelings, sexuality and the concept of fidelity”. It also stars Portrait’s transcendent Noémie Merlant, as well as musician Jehnny Beth, and we are suitably intrigued.

Red Rocket

One of the biggest question marks at this year’s Cannes is director Sean Baker’s return to the festival nearly half a decade after his remarkable coming-of-age story The Florida Project. Red Rocket revolves around a washed-up porn star (Simon Rex – of the Scary Movie franchise and a before-he-was-vaguely-famous blue movie of his own) who makes a comeback to his Texas hometown. Rex, who once dated Paris Hilton and counts something called The Karate Dog on his CV, could be 2021’s most unexpected breakout star.


Julia Ducournau was last at Cannes with 2016’s Raw, an icky, gorgeous thriller about a university fresher who develops a taste for human flesh. She’s back this year with Titane (or “Titanium”). The film’s story is still unknown, but based on its first image – showing a young, pale girl strapped inside a medical device – it’ll be equally attention-grabbing.


This Val Kilmer documentary sounds like a real-life Boyhood, as it’s made up of nearly 40 years of self-shot footage of Kilmer’s early adulthood and erratic movie career. The Top Gun actor, whose credits also include Batman Forever, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Doors, is a fascinating character, famed for being somewhat difficult to work with at the peak of his stardom. He’s also valiantly fought throat cancer, having announced in 2020 that he had been given the all-clear. Could this be the documentary highlight of 2021?

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