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A Trans Drug Kingpin, Masturbating Zombies and Emma Stone: THR’s Critics Pick the 20 Best Films of Cannes 2024

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COMPETITION

The first Indian movie to play Cannes competition since 1994, Payal Kapadia’s melancholic, playful and moving dramedy stars Kani Kusruti and Divya Prabha as a pair of nurses searching for romantic connection in Mumbai. There’s plenty of sadness here, but also lots of humor and camaraderie, recalling certain films by Satyajit Ray, such as The World of Apu and The Big City, in which small-town folks give up a part of themselves as they shift to urban living. — JORDAN MINTZER

COMPETITION

A sex worker’s romantic entanglement with the son of a Russian oligarch gets very messy in Sean Baker’s smart, satisfying screwball comedy set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Deftly commenting on questions of class, privilege and the wealth divide, the director continues staking out his niche as a chronicler of an often invisible American underclass. Mikey Madison plays the title role with a sweetness that humanizes even the most transactional situations and a defensiveness that makes her dangerous when threatened. — DAVID ROONEY

COMPETITION

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (American Honey) switches up her playbook with a surprisingly tender, warmhearted, magical realism-tinted story of a 12-year-old girl trying to scrape by with her younger siblings in working-class England. Thanks to the director’s magisterial knack with actors — Barry Keoghan and Franz Rogowski play key adult roles, while terrific discovery Nykiya Adams, as the protagonist, is in nearly every frame — the result is entrancing. — LESLIE FELPERIN

CRITICS’ WEEK

Writer-director Constance Tsang’s first feature is a sharp and tender story about dislocation, centering on a trio of Chinese immigrants in Queens: a construction company employee and two colleagues at a massage parlor. Tsang draws us into the intimate orbit of her expat characters; then, the sudden absence of one of them sets everything askew. What unfolds is a quietly gripping drama that grapples with the question of how to go on. — SHERI LINDEN

COMPETITION

Jia Zhang-ke’s elegiac and poetic feature revolves around a woman (the Chinese director’s longtime muse, Zhao Tao) who journeys from her home in a fading industrial city in search of a vanished former boyfriend. The movie looks back not only on China’s recent history, but also on Jia’s filmography, echoing themes, geographical features, techniques and structural elements while incorporating footage shot at various intervals from 2001 through 2023 — an approach that gives it a kind of kinship with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. — D.R.

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

A large Italian American family gathers on Long Island for its annual winter celebration in Tyler Taormina’s warm, weird and trippy ensemble film featuring Maria Dizzia, Ben Shenkman, Michael Cera and Francesca Scorsese. Dividing its attentions between the grown-ups’ revelry and worries on the home front and the optimism of the teens who sneak away to joyride, shoot the shit and dream, this is a memorably adventurous party, fueled by intense hopefulness and the writer-director’s fondness for his characters. — S.L.

COMPETITION

Zoe Saldaña, Selena Gomez and the divine Karla Sofia Gascón light up Jacques Audiard’s fabulous musical in which a Mexican drug lord enlists the help of a lawyer to undergo gender-affirming surgery and start a new life. The French director (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) has always been adventurous, and his latest creation dexterously spans styles: It’s a redemption narrative with a current of Almodóvarian humor, moments of melodrama, noir, social realism, a hint of telenovela camp and an escalation into suspense touched by tragedy. — D.R.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Latvian director Gints Zilbalodis’ captivating 3D animated feature is a vividly experiential white-knuckle survival adventure, told entirely without dialogue, in which a cat evolves from self-preservation to solidarity with a motley crew of other species. It’s a wonderful film for children; themes of the importance of friendship and mutual trust are embedded organically in the narrative without over-emphasis. It’s no less a film for adults, with its beguiling visuals and characters loaded with charm and individuality. — D.R.

CRITICS’ WEEK

Revolving around a Syrian exile tracking down his former torturer in France, Jonathan Millet’s film is a work of visceral intensity and formidable control, pulling you into a tight grip and holding you there. Millet has a shrewd grasp of paranoid-thriller mechanics; a refreshing preference for intimacy and clarity over distancing stylistic or narrative fussiness; and two fantastic actors: soulful, movie-star-magnetic lead Adam Bessa and Tawfeek Barhom as a villain whose humanity is the most chilling thing about him. — JON FROSCH

COMPETITION

In Magnus von Horn’s piercingly sad, urgently timely drama, Vic Carmen Sonne delivers a multilayered performance as a seamstress in post-World War I Copenhagen, left high and dry when her wealthy lover gets her pregnant but won’t marry her. That leaves her with two choices: give herself an abortion with a knitting needle or have the baby and hand it over to a sinister woman (the great Trine Dyrholm) who runs a backstreet adoption agency. The film builds to a devastating climax. — L.F.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Culled from two years of footage, Sergei Loznitsa’s shattering documentary observes ordinary Ukrainian citizens and soldiers trying to get on with life during wartime. Without voiceover or editorializing, the film builds a majestic, tragic sweep, but also a wrenching intimacy — for instance, in scenes of a maternity ward where a father, wearing combat fatigues, meets his newborn son for the first time. — L.F.

CRITICS’ WEEK

Silence speaks volumes in this riveting psychological drama from Belgium about the ruptured relationship between a rising teenage tennis star and her coach. Leonardo Van Dijl’s first feature casts young sportswoman Tessa Van den Broeck as a player whose personal trauma is heightened by a peer’s suicide. Tautly composed in static frames that maximize the intensity, it’s an austerely effective work with echoes of last year’s German Oscar nominee The Teachers’ Lounge. — D.R.

COMPETITION

Yorgos Lanthimos returns to the collision of conventional reality with occurrences surreal and disturbing that characterized his earlier work in this fascinating triptych exploring love, faith and control. Watching Lanthimos alums like Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley — as well as new recruits like Jesse Plemons (the standout) and Hong Chau — play different roles with different relationship dynamics in the three stories is a significant part of the pleasure. — D.R.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

French director Julien Colonna’s spellbinding feature debut is set during one sweltering summer in Corsica in 1995, a time when the island was wracked by warfare among nationalist groups and crime families. Focusing on a mafia don trying to simultaneously preserve his leadership and protect his teenage daughter, the movie marks the arrival of a bold new talent who’s able to spin a gripping thriller while channeling real emotion onscreen. — J.M.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

In director Rungano Nyoni’s disquieting and deeply absorbing second feature, a Zambian family reckons with accusations, confessions and resurfaced secrets after the death of a problematic uncle. The filmmaker confidently swerves between different tones, filling the story’s tragic frame with comic moments, hints of surrealism, stretches of mystery and pockets of rage. The result is a chilling exploration of silence and complicity. — LOVIA GYARKYE

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander and Charles Dance play clueless world leaders at a G7 conference in Canadian auteur Guy Maddin’s hilarious collaboration with co-directors Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson. Featuring masturbating zombies and a giant brain the size of a hatchback, the movie also pointedly lampoons the non­committal language of global summits — the promises that mean nothing and the outcomes that achieve little in a world that’s on the verge of burning up. — L.F.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

The latest from Swiss director Claude Barras (My Life as a Zucchini) is a deeply heartfelt and galvanizing stop-motion animated feature about an 11-year-old Indigenous girl trying to protect her land and people from encroaching deforestation. Triumphantly proving that entertainment and educational value aren’t mutually exclusive, Barras never condescends to his viewers; the film is uncompromising in its messaging and absolutely gorgeous to look at. — L.G.

COMPETITION

Mohammad Rasoulof crafts a powerful, overtly political, deeply personal indictment of his native Iran’s oppression through the eyes of one unraveling family. Shot clandestinely and set for the most part in a somber Tehran apartment, the film depicts a clan of four whose patriarch gets a promotion that promises him a bigger flat and a better place in Iran’s judicial hierarchy. In a sense, it’s a home invasion movie in which the threat turns out to come not just from outside forces, but inside ones as well. — J.M.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

French director Boris Lojkine’s tough, tender film follows an African immigrant (played with fragility and increasing emotional tension by non-actor Abou Sangare) navigating Paris’ labyrinthine streets as he struggles to make a living and get legalized. Playing like an update of post-war Italian masterpiece Bicycle Thieves, it’s a realistic drama, but peppered with moments of tenderness and camaraderie among people willing to help each other out. — J.M.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Without ever working above a whisper, Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s drama finds distinctive and unexpectedly stirring ways to portray grief and untimely death. It follows a group of young adults in Reykjavik as they cope with a close friend’s passing, chronicling how they navigate the rough emotional terrain. An astute study of a singular kind of heartbreak, the film offers painterly images that anyone who has lost a loved one at a young age will find impossible to shake. — L.G.

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