12 Films Competing for This Year's Queer Palme at Cannes
C.J. Prince READ TIME: 14 MIN.
The Cannes Film Festival kicks off its 76th edition this week, with thousands of people flocking to the south of France to catch the biggest cinematic event of the year. Last year's 75th edition pushed a "cinema is back" narrative that some might call successful; films like "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Elvis" became box office hits, while other titles like Palme d'Or winner "Triangle of Sadness" and Critics' Week selection "Aftersun" received various accolades and awards all the way to the Oscars. On the other hand, Cannes' reputation as an event for art films didn't exactly cohere with their eager embrace of a Tom Cruise tentpole, and an uber-wealthy event awarding the fest's highest prize to a satire aimed at the uber-wealthy was more on the nose than, well, "Triangle of Sadness."
Rather than focus on the big, marquee titles unveiling at Cannes this year, EDGE once again looks at the Queer Palme and its nominees. Established independently in 2010, the Queer Palme awards one feature and one short with LGBTQIA+ themes from both the Official Selection and parallel festivals (such as the Directors' Fortnight and International Critics' Week). Last year saw Saim Sadiq's "Joyland" win the Palme, and we were lucky enough to interview the filmmaker after his win.
For 2023, the Queer Palme listed 11 feature nominees and 7 short films, a bit of a drop from the lineup of 17 features and 12 shorts in 2022. This year's jury will be led by John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Shortbus"). Read on to find out more about this year's feature nominees, along with one short film that's already become one of the most anticipated titles at the festival.
"Along Came Love"
French filmmaker Katell Quillévéré's latest film is a period piece set in Normandy in the late 1940s. Madeleine (Anaïs Demoustier, "Anaïs in Love"), a working class single mom and waitress, meets a rich student named François (Vincent Lacoste, "Sorry Angel"). They fall for each other, but as time goes on they learn more about each other's desires, as well as François' past. Like many titles at Cannes, information is scarce until they have their world premieres, but Quillévéré's film could easily become a hit in its home country. With a fall release slated for France, "Along Came Love" plays in the Cannes Premiere section, where last year the film "The Night of the 12th" went on to critical accolades and a pile of César awards.
"Anatomy of a Fall"
Justine Triet competed for the Palme d'Or in 2019 with her film "Sibyl," which compiled a group of gorgeous actors (Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Niels Schneider, and the late Gaspard Ulliel) in a psychological dramedy. Despite the starry French cast, it was German actor Sandra Hüller ("Toni Erdmann") who stole the show in a small role, and now Triet has reteamed with Hüller for her followup. Hüller plays Sandra, who lives with her husband and visually impaired son in a home tucked away in a rural location. When Sandra's husband falls to his death, she gets put on trial, where her relationship gets put under a microscope in the hopes of finding out whether or not her husband's death was a homicide. Early word on "Anatomy of a Fall" has been strong, and with such a strong actor in the lead role it won't be a surprise if Triet's film ends up making a big impression.
Bertrand Mandico is an experimental filmmaker whose works are hard to forget. He has with two features to his name (2018's "The Wild Boys" and 2021's "Dirty Paradise") and his films take inspiration from cheap, pulpy genre films in the 1970s and 1980s, but usually come with a queer twist. But even that description doesn't encapsulate all that goes on in his films, and with "Conann" Mandico has a hook that might bump his profile in North America. Inspired by the original "Conan the Barbarian" stories, "Conann" subverts expectations to make the title character a woman, following her six lives across different eras. Like Mandico's other films, he shot "Conann" on 35mm and only does in-camera special effects. If it's anything like "Dirty Paradise," expect "Conann" to get a dedicated following among genre aficionados.
In 2021, Catherine Corsini won the Queer Palme for her film "The Divide." In 2022, she was president of the Queer Palme jury. This year, she's nominated again with her latest film "Homecoming," which caused some controversy before it was even selected for the Official Competition. Its inclusion in the Competition was held off due to accusations of harassment on set, and the possibility of losing funding for filming a "scene of a sexual nature" with an underage actor that wasn't cleared with the proper authorities. While the film received a sanction for failing to follow protocols around young actors, Corsini denied the accusations of bad behavior on set, and regardless Cannes re-invited the film once its financing issues were resolved.
As for the film, "Homecoming" follows a worker for a wealthy family who takes her two teenage daughters to Corsica over the summer while she takes care of her boss' children. It's a significant trip for the woman and her children, as they originally came from the same area and had to flee 15 years earlier.
"How to Have Sex"
Another buzzed about title from this year's lineup is Molly Manning Walker's debut feature, which already got picked up for a US release by Mubi before its premiere in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Set in Greece, it follows three young British girls who go on a summer trip intending to drink, party, and have sex. It's easy to assume that emotions may get involved as well, given the teenage characters and their headfirst dive into sex, booze, drugs, and clubs.
A limited series co-created by "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson and Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd), "The Idol" looks at the relationship between a pop star (Lily-Rose Depp) and her cult leader boyfriend (Tesfaye), although the show's story has been overshadowed by the drama surrounding it. A lengthy expose from Rolling Stone detailed how Levinson and Tesfaye scrapped almost all of the original series, fired director Amy Seimetz, then had Levinson come in to rewrite and reshoot the whole series, adding disturbing scenes and putting the show tens of millions of dollars over budget. Despite all of these issues behind the scenes, "The Idol" managed to get itself a fancy world premiere at Cannes. Sam Levinson's star keeps rising, no matter how many people it burns along the way.
"The Nature of Love"
Fans of Xavier Dolan may recognize French-Canadian actress Monia Chokri from her roles in "Heartbeats" and "Laurence Anyways," but in recent years she's taken on writing and directing as well. "The Nature of Love" is her third feature, and like her 2019 debut "A Brother's Love" it will premiere in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Chokri's film tells the story of a philosophy professor in a humdrum marriage who has her world turned upside down when she falls for a handyman renovating her cottage. It's an intense, passionate affair, but over time class and societal differences put their feelings for each other to the test.
On paper, "Power Alley" sounds like a frontrunner for this year's Queer Palme. Set in Brazil, it follows 17-year-old Sofia, a star player on her volleyball team who's likely to win the championship game and get scholarships to top universities. Sofia discovers she's pregnant, but abortions are illegal in Brazil, so she and her teammates work together to find a way to terminate the pregnancy so they can go on to win the big game. First-time feature director Lillah Halla got to make this rebellious, queer drama while Brazil was still under the rule of former president Jair Bolsonaro. The political nature of the film both behind and in front of the camera, along with its playful approach in portraying a group of young women defying an oppressive authority, makes "Power Alley" one of the more exciting nominees for this year's Queer Palme.
Described as a "rural filmmaker," Pierre Creton has been steadily making shorts and features for a while now, usually set in the French countryside. His latest film "A Prince" sounds like business as usual for Creton, in which a young man joins a gardening school and discovers his sexuality. Programming notes from the Directors' Fortnight describe "A Prince" as a film of characters "overflowing with desires" and where "botany and sexuality flourish in concert."
Set in the 1800s, "Rosalie" stars Nadia Tereszkiewicz as the title character, a woman born with a condition that makes hair grow out of her face and entire body. She makes sure no one else finds out about her hair growth, then finds herself in a tough position when she's married off to an owner of a bar (Benoît Magimel) for her dowry. Director Stéphanie di Giusto returns to Cannes and Un Certain Regard after her 2016 debut "The Dancer," and she appears to have lucked out in casting considering both leads won César awards earlier this year. It remains to be seen how "Rosalie's" story will play out, or how it might qualify for the Queer Palme although that premise sure sounds like a big metaphor.
"A Song Sung Blue"
Another debut feature, Zihan Geng's "A Song Sung Blue" looks at a memorable summer for 15-year-old Xian, who gets sent off to her estranged father while her mother takes a job out of the country. Xian has a hard time with her father, but becomes quick friends with Mingmei, the 18-year-old daughter of her father's girlfriend. Geng's exploration of a time in one's life where one has to let go of their childhood innocence and figure out who they are, all while dealing with the intense emotions of connecting with someone new, makes it one of the more eye-catching titles from this year's Directors' Fortnight.
"Strange Way of Life"
Finally, we couldn't publish this list about the Queer Palme nominees without mentioning the latest film by queer filmmaking legend Pedro Almodóvar. A short film co-produced by Yves Saint Laurent, "Strange Way of Life" brings together Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as two cowboys who reunite after working as hired guns decades earlier. Of course, the big selling point here is Almodóvar making a "queer western," where Hawke and Pascal play lovers. It's only a 30-minute short, but people have been following the film's progress since it filmed last summer, and now it will be seen for the first time at Cannes (those who can't make it to the festival shouldn't worry, as Sony Pictures Classics plans to release the film later this year). It remains to be seen if "Strange Way of Life" will live up to the hype, but regardless we'll be seated for it sooner or later.