Breaking Down the 2022 Cannes Film Festival's Queer Offerings

by C.J. Prince

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday May 16, 2022

A scene from "Will-o-the-Wisp"
A scene from "Will-o-the-Wisp"  (Source:Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

After canceling their festival in 2020 and having a more low-key affair in 2021, the Cannes Film Festival returns this year for its 75th edition. Despite the pandemic still raging around the world, it hasn't stopped festival heads Pierre Lescure and Thierry Fremaux from planning a big edition for the major anniversary. Big Hollywood titles like "Top Gun: Maverick" and Baz Luhrmann's Elvis biopic will get the full red carpet treatment with stars Tom Cruise and Austin Butler, while over a hundred features from around the world will screen over the two week period.

Of course, the main focus will be on the Official Competition and what might win the Palme d'Or. French actor Vincent Lindon, who starred in last year's Palme d'Or winner "Titane", is this year's jury president, and films from major filmmakers like David Cronenberg ("The Fly," "Crash"), James Gray ("The Lost City of Z," "Ad Astra"), Ruben Ostlund ("The Square," "Force Majeure"), Kelly Reichardt ("Certain Women," "Wendy and Lucy"), and more are all vying for the top prize.

One of the many awards given out at Cannes this year will be the Queer Palm, which established itself at the festival over a decade ago. The award highlights films with queer themes and content across the entire selection, and has a jury select a winner after seeing all qualifying titles. Prior winners of the award include "Carol", "BPM", and "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," and all three have since been praised as some of the best queer films of the last decade.

This year, French filmmaker Catherine Corsini will take on the role of jury president after her film "The Divide" won the Queer Palm in 2021. To give you an idea of what might walk away with this year's prize, we're highlighting 10 films competing for this year's Queer Palm.

A scene from "The Blue Caftan."
A scene from "The Blue Caftan."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"The Blue Caftan"

Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani returns to Cannes with her second feature after earning praise for her debut "Adam" in 2019. Her sophomore effort follows married couple Mina (Lubna Azabael) and Halim (Saleh Bakri), who run a caftan store together. The couple keep Halim's homosexuality a secret, but when a young apprentice starts working at the store, it creates a disruption in their lives.

"Burning Days"

Most titles at Cannes are world premieres, meaning some films might want to reveal very little about their story until it has its first screening. Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper makes his first appearance at Cannes with his fourth feature, revolving around a prosecutor assigned to a small, corrupt town who forms a bond with the owner of the local newspaper. With only a vague synopsis to go by and a brief teaser, it looks like "Burning Days" might make for an intense experience.

A scene from "Close."
A scene from "Close."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"Close

After his debut feature "Girl" took home the Queer Palm in 2018 along with the Camera d'Or (given to the best first feature at Cannes), it isn't too surprising that director Lukas Dhont's next film would earn a slot in the Official Competition. From what we know so far, "Close" looks at a friendship between two thirteen-year-old boys, who find their relationship challenged when they enter high school and face bullying from their fellow students. While "Girl" made a big impression at Cannes four years ago, the film received heavy criticism from members of the queer community over its portrayal of a transgender teen. It remains to be seen if "Close" will create more controversy for the young director, or if it will cement him as a major new talent.

A scene from "Will-o-the-Wisp"
A scene from "Will-o-the-Wisp"  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"Will-o-the-Wisp"

Having made shorts, documentaries, and features for several decades now, it's safe to say that Joao Pedro Rodrigues ("The Ornithologist") is one of the best queer filmmakers working today. So it came as a nice surprise when it was announced that his newest film would premiere at this year's festival. Details are scant on this film right now, but based off of a brief story outline it involves a dying king reflecting on his past, where he wanted to become a firefighter. Rodrigues' films contain common themes of sex and desire, but the way he explores these ideas is always exciting, unpredictable, and at times alluring. Whatever "Will-o-the-Wisp" turns out to be, it will surely be worth looking forward to.

A scene from "The Five Devils."
A scene from "The Five Devils."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"The Five Devils"

There's been strong buzz on this French title by Lea Mysius, which stars Adele Exarchopolous ("Blue is the Warmest Color") and had people thinking it would be unveiled in Cannes' Official Competition (it ended up in the Director's Fortnight, a smaller festival that runs parallel to Cannes and usually has a more eclectic lineup). Based on its description, "The Five Devils" will have some sort of fantasy element, considering it takes place from the perspective of a little girl with the unique ability to replicate scents and preserve them in jars. Exarchopolous plays the girl's aunt, whose arrival upends the girl's life in unexpected ways. Even before its premiere, the arthouse streamer MUBI announced it bought Mysius' film for a U.S. release, a sign of confidence in the film that makes "The Five Devils" one of the more highly anticipated movies at Cannes this year.

A scene from "Forever Young."
A scene from "Forever Young."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"Forever Young"

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is a mainstay at Cannes, both as an actress and filmmaker, with two of her prior directorial efforts included in the Official Selection. She returns to the Official Competition for a second time with "Forever Young", a drama about four 20-year-olds who enter the famous French theater school Les Amandiers in the late 1980s. It sounds like a coming-of-age tale for the young leads, along with some blending in of popular real life figures: French actor Louis Garrel will play the school's co-head Patrice Chereau, the famous out theater director and filmmaker who passed away almost a decade ago.

A scene from "Irma Vep."
A scene from "Irma Vep."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"Irma Vep"

The streaming age can lead to weird things, like HBO Max remaking Olivier Assayas' 1996 film "Irma Vep" as a miniseries. The original film is a sort of playful, meta critique of French cinema, with Maggie Cheung playing herself as she stars in a doomed remake of the classic silent film "Les Vampires." Assayas is back in the director's chair for the remake, except this time Alicia Vikander takes on the lead role as an American actress instead. Given the self-awareness of the original film and how much it commented on the industry itself, it should be interesting to see how Assayas updates the material given how much the landscape has changed in filmmaking since the 90s.

A scene from "Pacification."
A scene from "Pacification."  (Source: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival)

"Pacifiction"

Albert Serra has a reputation among those who've seen his films where it's almost impossible to find any middle ground. His last film, 2019's "Liberte", observed French aristocrats engaging in all sorts of hedonistic behavior in a dark forest, with some viewers hailing it as a masterpiece and others calling it a waste of time. "Pacifiction" joined the Official Competition this year as a later addition, and the inclusion of such a divisive director came as a surprise. What we know so far is that Serra's film stars Benoit Magimel as a French government official in Tahiti, whose position has him interacting with both the upper and lower classes of the area. Despite claims from some that Serra's new film is more accessible than his prior works, "Pacifiction" may lead to a lot of walkouts and angry audience members.




"Rodeo"

Another buzzed-about title is this debut feature by Lola Quivoron, who researched her film by spending years immersed within the scene of French motorcycle gangs performing dangerous stunts (a cultural phenomenon that was brought over to France from Baltimore). The title "Rodeo" refers to the term used for a gathering of bikers, where a young woman finds herself drawn to the hypermasculine world of motorcycling and tries to join. A teaser released before the fest makes "Rodeo" look like an intense drama with plenty of stunts to look forward to.




"Tchaikovsky's Wife"

Given the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the late addition of a Russian film in the Official Competition came as a surprise, even though filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov is no friend of the Russian government (he was detained and put in house arrest for several years after being accused of embezzling government funds). After showing up in last year's competition with "Petrov's Flu", Serebrennikov returns with a biopic about the tragic marriage between composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Antonina Miliukova, which lasted a short time and made Miliukova lose her mind. From the sound of it, Serebrennikov won't shy away from dealing with Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, which was apparently a cause of great anguish for both the composer and his marriage. The current political situation may make juries and awarding bodies hesitant to hand prizes out to a Russian film, so we'll have to wait and see well things go over at the premiere.