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David Cronenberg returns to body horror and Cannes with "Crimes of the Future"

Sci-fi thriller "Crimes of the Future" stars Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart, in a return to body horror aesthetics by writer/director David Cronenberg.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

David Cronenberg’s return to body horror with his new sci-fi thriller “Crimes of the Future” has him going for gold next month at the Cannes Film Festival.

The celebrated Toronto writer/director, who made his name with such visceral viewings as “The Fly,” “Videodrome” and “The Brood,” is the sole Canadian contender competing for the feature Palme d’Or prize at the 75th edition of the French festival, which runs May 17-28. There are 18 films from around the world in the Palme competition.

A Cannes world premiere highly anticipated by critics and fans alike, “Crimes of the Future” stars Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart and Léa Seydoux in a future shock tale of extreme body modifications by nature and by surgery. (It has the same title and futuristic setting as a 1970 Cronenberg film, but a wholly different story.)

This will be the sixth time Cronenberg, 79, has competed at Cannes and his first time in eight years. His most recent previous Palme attempt was in 2014 for “Maps to the Stars,” a Hollywood satire. He’s raring to go again.

“It’s a thrill to return to Cannes for the premiere of ‘Crimes of the Future,’ a film that grapples with universal questions, concerns, and fears about our bodies, evolution, and what some would deem the threat that technology poses to our humanity,” Cronenberg said in a press release.

“I believe this is a film of our times and I look forward to its unveiling in one of the most prestigious theatres in the world.”

“Crimes of the Future” is among the 47 films of the 2022 Cannes Official Selection unveiled Thursday morning at a Paris press conference. (Festival director Thierry Frémaux said a few additional titles, as well as the Palme d’Or jury and president, will be announced in the days to come.)

Several of the other Palme competition films are new works by previous Palme winners: “Triangle of Sadness,” a social satire by Sweden’s Ruben Östlund (“The Square”); “Broker,” a child-abandonment drama by Japan’s Kore-eda Hirokazu (“Shoplifters”); “Tori and Lokita,” a refugee drama by Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“Rosetta,” “L’enfant”); and “RMN,” a mystery drama by Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”).

Other noteworthy Palme contenders include: “Armageddon Time,” by U.S. filmmaker James Gray, a coming-of-ager set in 1980s New York City, starring Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong (TV’s “Succession”); “Stars at Noon,” a romantic thriller by France’s Claire Denis, starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn; “Showing Up,” a life-as-art comedy by U.S. filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, starring Michelle Williams; and “Decision to Leave,” a detective thriller by South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, starring Tang Wei from Bi Gan’s critically acclaimed film noir “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

Hollywood is making a big return to Cannes, as are festival goers, after a cancelled 2020 fest and a delayed and cautious 2021 one, caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Frémaux said it’s too soon to say what the COVID protocols will be this year but he expects “almost a return to normality” for films and parties alike.

“The scope is wide, the red carpets will be sumptuous!” added Cannes festival president Pierre Lescure, who joined Frémaux in announcing the Official Selection titles.

The flying ace blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise in the long-awaited sequel to his hit 1986 action film “Top Gun,” will have its world premiere on the Croisette.

It will screen out of competition, as will Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as his manager, Col. Tom Parker. Both films had been previously announced for Cannes. Elvis fans will also delight in the news that Presley’s granddaughter, the actor Riley Keough (“Zola”), is making her directorial debut at Cannes 2022 with “Beast,” co-directed by Gina Gammell, an interlocking story of three Lakota men that will premiere in the Un Certain Regard section that highlights new talent.

Tom Hanks and Austin Butler star as Col. Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in "Elvis," a musical biopic by Baz Luhrmann that's having its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival next month.

This is a big year for movies about rock stars at Cannes. There will also be a midnight screening of “Moonage Daydream,” a David Bowie documentary by Brett Morgen (“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”) that includes much unseen concert footage, and a special screening of “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble In Mind,” a doc about the 1950s rock pioneer, a.k.a. “the Killer,” directed by Ethan Coen of Coen Bros. fame.

The festival will open May 17 with “Z,” a zombie comedy by France’s Michel Hazanavicius, whose 2011 Cannes contender “The Artist” went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Opening out of competition, it stars Romain Duris and Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”).

“Z” has a provocative title, given that the letter stands for “zombie” and it’s also a symbol used by supporters of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine. This was not lost on Frémaux, who urged people to watch Hazanavicius’ 2014 Palme d’Or contender “The Search,” which is set on the front lines of Russia’s invasion of Chechnya in 1999. (The Cannes festival has banned films with official Russian backing from screening at the 2022 fest, as a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.)

It was thought that “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” an epic romantic fantasy by Australia’s George Miller starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, might have been the pick for the gala Cannes opener. Miller’s previous film, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” opened the 2015 fest.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” also figured in critical speculation of possible Palme contenders. Instead it will screen out of competition.

But at least it will be at Cannes, unlike a rumoured new film by David Lynch, which many film industry insiders thought was a Palme shoo-in until Lynch shot down the rumour earlier this week.

Writer/director Sarah Polley on the set of "Women Talking," her drama about a group of women in an isolated Mennonite religious colony in Bolivia who have to fight sexual assaults by the community's men. Film stars Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw.

Also MIA, at least for the moment, is “Women Talking,” a drama of female empowerment by Canada’s Sarah Polley that stars Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw.

Considered a Palme comp prospect, it’s possible that “Women Talking” is instead being held for the fall fest circuit, including TIFF.

Polley’s film could still land a Cannes premiere, as the Official Selection expands and sidebar sections Directors’ Fortnight and International Critics’ Week announce their films in the days ahead.

(This column originally ran in the Toronto Star.)



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