Here are the literary adaptations to look out for at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.


Brittany Allen

May 17, 2024, 12:06pm

Since the 1930s, the annual Cannes international film festival has been a glamorous hub for new cinema. (And, according to an audacious claim on its website: the world’s “most widely publicized cultural event.”) While the festival’s carefully cultivated position at the apex of High Culture masks what I imagine are brutal behind-the-scenes distribution battles happening nightly in Provençal’s shadiest back-rooms, movie nuts may look to Cannes for some of the most exciting international, indie, and auteur cinema offerings.

And as the frantic book-to-screen adaptation trend continues apace, many of those offerings are adapted from books. Here’s a glance at some of the exciting literary fare to be found at this year’s festival, which is currently running through May 25.

Sisters

September Says

An adaptation of Daisy Johnson’s smash hit gothic novel Sisters, September Says follows a combustible trio of two sisters (July and September) and their mother (Sheela) over a fraught holiday in Ireland. The first feature film written and directed by the actor Ariane Labed (wife and long-time collaborator of Yorgos Lanthimos), this one promises to shimmer with strangeness. Although it has not secured distribution yet, my fingers are crossed.

On its release in 2020, the novel Sisters was praised as a thrilling, macabre mystery, nuanced in its exploration of codependency. You can read an excerpt of the novel here.

cargo

La Plus Précieuse des Marchandises (The Most Precious of Cargoes)

This animated drama from the French auteur Michel Hazanaviciuswho may be best known stateside as the heart behind 2011’s homage-to-silent film, The Artistis adapted from a novel of the same name. This allegorical fairy tale by author Jean-Claude Grumberg is set during the Holocaust, and follows a woman living in the Polish woods who adopts an orphaned child. The novel was published in the States in 2020 via HarperVia, and translated from the French by Frank Wynne.

The film adaptation, which Grumberg and Hazanavicius adapted together, is already generating buzz for its poignant treatment of tragedy, and the beautiful hand-drawn art.

Photo by Jeong Park Long Live the King!

Oh, Canada

Paul Schrader is back in action with this highly-anticipated new film about a leftie documentarian with a dark secret. Our protagonist Leonard Fife (Richard Gere) is lifted from the pages of Russell Banks’ 2021 novel Foregone, which author Adam Haslett praised in  Times’ Book Review. As a confessional reckoning infused with “a working-class New England existentialism,” this piece sounds like something well within Gere’s wheelhouse. Especially considering his cast co-conspirators include pleasure- to-have-in-class like Uma Thurman, Jacob Elordi(!), and Michael Imperioli.

A prolific author of more than twenty books (including the Pulitzer Prize-finalist, Continental Drift), Banks died in January 2023.

limonov e1715947595222 Can you believe this is Ben Whishaw?!

Limonov: The Ballad

This profile of “a revolutionary militant, a thug, an underground writer, a butler to a millionaire in Manhattan…a switchblade-waving poet, a lover of beautiful women, a warmonger, a political agitator, and a novelist,” Eduard Limonov, stars an extra-dapper Ben Whishaw. Adapted by the Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov from a “most peculiar” cult classic by Emmanuel Carrère, this jaunty, raunchy, highly-editorialized biography has piqued my interest.

Consider the novel’s title alone:

MEGALOPOLIS What’s he BUILDING in there…

Megalopolis 

Francis Ford Coppola’s opus features nods to David Graeber and Herman Hesse. But we’ve covered that elsewhere.

I’m curious about this year’s Cannes, whose jury is helmed by none other than Head Barbie in chief (and famous literary adaptor to screen), Greta Gerwig. Not least because the festival has championed some of my favorite filmslike Paris, Texas, The Piano, and Parasite. And of course, the all-time Palme d’or winner: Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.

Those films were all original screenplays, far as I know. But that’s a whole other quibble. In the meantime, my hopes stay high.

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