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Cannes '24 🇫🇷: Sex and “The Substance” helped drive the fest

Coralie Fargeat’s cloning horror “The Substance,” starring Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley, helped bring genre thrills to the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

CANNES, France — Attending the Cannes Film Festival this year was like parking for 12 days at the world’s classiest drive-in theatre.

With movies about a Cinderella sex worker (“Anora”), a transgender Mexican drug lord (“Emilia Pérez”) and combative Hollywood clones (“The Substance”) generating the most buzz on the Croisette, the fest proved to be a feast for lovers of genre cinema.

These three films dominated the straw polls of critics here in Cannes. They also found favour with the nine-member international jury led by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig, who awarded the Palme d’Or to “Anora,” the Jury Prize and Best Actress to the women of “Emilia Pérez” (Selena Gomez, Zoe Saldaña, Karla Sofía Gascón and Adriana Paz) and Best Screenplay to “The Substance.”

Still unseen at time of writing is “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, a late-breaking challenger for the Palme d’Or, the fest’s top prize. Rasoulof is defying his country’s moral and legal authoritarians with his film — word is, it’s a stunner — and by his expected presence at the fest. (Update: The film duly impressed Gerwig’s jury, who gave it a special award.)

In order of preference, here are my 10 favourite films from Cannes ’24, coming soon to a festival and/or theatre near you:


⭐️⭐️⭐️½ (out of 4)

Sean Baker’s flair for rough-edged characters, as seen in “Tangerine,” “The Florida Project” and “Red Rocket,” pays off handsomely in this high-voltage screwball comedy. Mikey Madison, who played a Manson Family killer in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” brings seen-it-all chutzpah to the role of Anora (she prefers “Ani”), a potty-mouthed Brooklyn sex worker having a cockeyed Cinderella moment. She meets babyfaced Vanya (Mark Eydelshteyn), the spoiled son of a wealthy Russian oligarch, and after much partying and spending, the two have a quickie wedding in Vegas. After Vanya’s furious parents dispatch three stooges to bust up the couple, this speedster of a tale takes turns we can’t see coming. Madison keeps us loyal to her character and awestruck at her knack for getting in and out of tough scrapes.

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The Substance


Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley go to extremes — and screams — to share a perfect Hollywood body in a cautionary tale for the Ozempic era. Using a mysterious drug plan called the Substance, Moore’s aging star, Elisabeth Sparkle, can co-exist with a decades-younger clone of herself, Qualley’s Sue. The catch is they have to follow a strict weekly body-sharing regimen or dire complications will ensue — and do they ever, once Elisabeth and Sue begin sparring for control. This masterful manifestation of cinema grotesque from Coralie Fargeat (“Revenge”) hat-tips and then one-ups David Cronenberg for body horror gross-outs. Midnight movie programmers and fans, start your engines — and just try to get the film’s big reveal out of your minds.

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