For the third year, Museum of the Moving Image film curators have visited the Cannes Film Festival and have engaged in a dialogue about the films on offer. In the following exchange, begun while on the ground at the Croisette, current Curator of Film Eric Hynes and current MoMI guest curator David Schwartz trade notes in the hall between screenings.

Eric Hynes: Hark, the curators have returned to the Croisette. For the 2024 edition of this dialogue we’re missing Associate Curator Edo Choi, who’s manning the fort back at Museum of the Moving Image, and gaining former Chief Curator and current guest curator David Schwartz, who’s back for his second tour of Cannes. While we’re calling this a “Curators’ Dialogue,” the truth is that both David and I are wearing multiple hats at this year’s festival. I’m indeed scouting films for MoMI’s year-round programming and First Look Festival 2025 (and for the latter, looking out for both films to program and works-in-progress to platform), but I’m also working under a press badge, watching films for this exchange, documentaries to consider for my resuscitated Make It Real column. Meanwhile David is programming and writing for various venues and outlets, in both ongoing and upcoming capacities, and becoming the foremost ambassador for the festival’s apparently deluxe venues outside of the city center (about which I expect you’ll learn when it’s his turn to bat).

I’m writing this on Monday morning, which means we’ve just passed the halfway point, and which also means we’re several days into festivalgoers confidently proclaiming the 77th iteration to be a minor or meh collection of films. (Never mind that films by Gomes, Desplechin, Baker, Abbasi, Honoré, Kapadia, and Rasoulof, not to mention potential discoveries in the Un Certain Regard, Quinzaine, Critics Week, and ACID sections, were yet to premiere at the time of this journal entry.). This impulse to characterize and minimize an entire, famously large, fractured and complex collection of films with a Colosseum-style thumbs up or down has always confused me. Perhaps that’s where the critic in me gives way to the curator. My work as the latter has involved a decentering of personal opinion—which of course remains ever-present and spirited—in favor of a somewhat more experiential and expansive act of appraisal. Which maybe is just a woo-woo way of saying that what I personally think and feel about a film isn’t the end-all be-all. That it exists, how it functions, and—in the context of a column like this—that it’s been selected and presented in concert with other films in this place and time, hold import as well. The considerations undertaken by the artistic directors and programmers of each of Cannes’ sections mirrors, with some convection, what David and I do in our own work.

So I’m disinclined to speak broadly about what I’ve seen so far, and would rather share some impressions from the first half of the festival. Except for ACID—which, though it’s the newest and scrappiest section, is somehow the hardest to attend due to a scarcity of available tickets—I’ve sampled all sections of the festival, and found films to like in each. In Competition, I appreciated Magnus Von Horn’s gothic true crime drama The Girl with the Needle, which reaches Beanpole levels of miserablism yet gets there via notes of horror, queasy comedy, and surrealistic black-and-white cinematography. I had fun with The Substance, Coralie Fargeat’s pile-driver body horror allegory that starts from bombast and keeps upping its own ante to a point of explosive orgiastic abstraction that simultaneously fulfills and critiques its (anti)feminist premise. You’re welcome, Film Twitter.

Over at Un Certain Regard, I was moved by Rúnar Rúnarsson’s When the Light Breaks, which delicately explores the silent, complicated grief experienced by a young woman who was her deceased lover’s “other woman,” and impressed by Roberto Minervini’s maiden fiction feature, The Damned, which shoots an American Civil War military mission like an observational documentary, complete with sparing dialogue and a refusal of overdetermined characterization. My favorite so far out of Critics Week has been Blue Sun Palace (pictured above), Constance Tsang’s slow-burn debut film set in the migrant massage parlors of Flushing, New York, and featuring a beautiful performance by Tsai Ming-liang regular Lee Kang-sheng. I’ve caught several titles out of Quinzaine, which is the most eclectic of the festival by far, with Yoko Yamanaka’s tonally distinctive Desert of Namibia and Matthew Rankin’s sui generis Universal Language early favorites. I’m excited about some of the restored Classics I’ve caught, was giddy seeing Guy Maddin make a survival film out of a G7 summit in Rumours, and loved Leos Carax’s personal essay C’est pas moi more than I’ve loved anything here or elsewhere in a long time. A loving homage to his mentor Godard, a self-deprecating portrait of the artist at middle age, a scattershot skewering of the world’s many monsters, and an exquisitely, improbably harmonious pairing of somberness and vivacity, it also acts as a clever key to his entire oeuvre to date. All of this in 40 minutes? David, how did he do it?

David Schwartz: It’s an honor to pinch-hit for Edo, who has given me pangs of regret for being stuck in the south of France while the monumental Shimizu retrospective was taking place in Astoria. But yes, Eric, I have found a kind of MoMI substitute here. A longish bus ride from the crowded Croisette is the Cineum, a multiplex whose modernist shell strongly resembles that of the Museum. The comfortable screening rooms even share the Redstone Theater’s dark blue color scheme (do I sound homesick?)

To fill an hour-long gap at the Cineum between two scheduled movies, I grabbed a last-minute ticket to C’est pas moi, which provided a much-needed burst of bliss. (Appropriately, the world view of much of this year’s lineup is quite grim). Yes, Carax has made a personal essay but also a dazzling cineaste’s symphony, stuffed with moments from Lumière onwards and from Carax’s own films, with bonus appearances by Denis Lavant and Baby Annette.

By the festival’s midpoint I had seen 24 films (at least seven of which I loved) and three Knicks games (one of which I loved). Resonating with the Carax is Le Scénario de Ma Vie, François Truffaut, one of the smartest and most engaging portraits of a film director that I can recall. Drawing from personal letters and journals that Truffaut had assembled for a never-written autobiography, the film, directed by David Taboul and written by Truffaut biographer and former Cinématheque head Serge Toubiana, perfectly fuses the complex, troubled story of Truffaut’s life with the substance of his movies, and while it is conventionally chronological, it unfolds like, well, a movie, building to the revelation of a key secret about Truffaut’s identity that deepens our understanding of his films.

Before getting to the new movies, I’ll mention two highlights from Cannes Classics. MoMI favorite Frederick Wiseman presented his 1969 film Law and Order, one of more than 33 of his films that have been newly (and beautifully) restored. Chronicling the interactions between the police and citizens of Kansas City, the film is stuffed with novelistic intimacy, and deep ambivalence about its subjects. It notably includes a staggering moment of police brutality—a close-up view of a Black woman being nonchalantly strangled, a shocking scene that feels all too timely. The amazing 1958 Argentine romantic drama Rosaura at 10 O’Clock, about a delusional painter obsessed with a mysterious blonde beauty, makes a worthy companion to Vertigo, released the same year.

Cut to the new movies. Coppola’s Megalopolis took up too much oxygen in the festival’s early days. Cinematically playful and inventive, it is also undeniably stupid. Yes, it captures the chaos and darkness of the modern world, but it comes up with little of genuine interest to say (and suggests we’d be better off replacing politicians with all-powerful visionary artists). Every line is delivered in a declamatory style; it could be called Brechtian but for the lack of genuine ideas. Coppola is indeed an impresario but he’s not a very good screenwriter. (As a friend observed, the one great Coppola film solely based on his original screenplay was The Conversation, and the true artistry of that film comes from Walter Murch’s picture and sound editing.)

Monday brought top-tier work from Jia Zhangke and Raoul Peck. Caught by the Tides is nothing less than a time-hopping summation of Jia’s career that unfolds like a documentary about China’s modernization over the past 23 years, with a bittersweet love story at its core featuring another great performance by Zhao Tao, Jia’s partner/muse. Peck’s Ernest Cole: Lost and Found, is a portrait of the unsung photographer, whose brilliant and vivid images of South Africa and the United States, mainly from the 1960s and 1970s, were nearly lost. Peck’s film is a dense tapestry, filled with Cole’s great images, but also with his words—a deeply pained account of the dehumanizing oppression of his home country as well as the paradoxical and surprising struggles he faced in America, a country of supposed freedom that offered its own forms of oppression. Peck edits Cole’s images to an incredibly rich musical score, filled with American jazz and African music.

Eric, you highlighted When the Light Breaks and The Girl with the Needle, whose star, Vic Carmen Sonne, is the favorite for Best Actress in the Main Competition. But the festival has offered at least four other tremendous performances. Isabelle Huppert is in top form—which is saying a lot—in Patricia Mazuy’s Visiting Hours. As a wealthy woman whose husband is in prison, and who befriends a working-class woman whose husband is also a convict, Huppert fully inhabits her conflicted, complex character. Two other actresses “of an age” (meaning in their late fifties) give deeply textured performances; Agnès Jaoui as a writer more comfortable living inside her own head than with the people in her life, is wry and vulnerable in the late Sophie Fillière’s final work This Life of Mine. The film may be autobiographical, but for a viewer like me, whose mother bore many of this character’s traits, the film was remarkably resonant. Irène Jacob gives an unvarnished and riveting performance in Rithy Panh’s Meeting with Pol Pot. Ever inventive with narrative form, Panh uses superimposed newsreel footage and key moments recreated with puppets to strong effect. But the film’s emotional core belongs to Jacob, who brings fierce intensity as a journalist (inspired by the real-life Elizabeth Becker) on an increasingly nightmarish mission to capture an interview with the notorious Cambodian dictator. There’s one more actress to note for now. The low-key but simmering Belgian drama Julie Keeps Quiet is about a teenage tennis player whose coach is being investigated for sexual abuse. Julie is reluctant to reveal her own experience with the coach; the film is built around her inner struggle. In an effective bit of casting, first-time director Leo Von Dijl hired a non-professional actress, real-life tennis player Tessa Van den Broeck. All of the tennis in the film feels authentic—because it is—and Van den Broeck’s performance is Bressonian in its understated power.

Perhaps Cannes 2024 won’t rise to the level of last year’s galvanizing edition, but there’s been plenty to treasure. Eric, I think we both agree that Alain Guiraudie’s Miséricorde is an unqualified success, and that David Cronenberg’s hauntingly personal The Shrouds is perplexing, defying quick judgment.

EH: Everything I’ve seen here defies quick judgment, which speaks to the flaws in flash festival coverage, submitted by critics working on scant sleep and empty stomachs, as much as it speaks to the quality of films premiering at the world’s most esteemed and consequential festival. I enjoyed Cronenberg’s auto-science-fiction comedy The Shrouds and was moved by its explorations of grief as a tactile, mutational process. I look forward to seeing it again, but I’m not sure its structural issues will have resolved. I’m usually happy to see Guy Pearce, but when his shambling sketch of an IT expert emerges as a key player in the film’s final section, it augurs a finale exhausted of emotion and preoccupied with a tedious plot. Which, in the spirit with which we began this exchange, doesn’t have to mean I dislike or don’t recommend the film. I look forward to the deep-dive criticism that awaits, including pieces written by a Cronenberg expert like yourself, David.

In the days since we began this exchange, there’s been quite a lot of action out of the main competition. Inexplicably, Alain Guiraudie’s Miséricorde, the best French film I’ve seen at the festival, screened out of competition. Which is only more confusing and damning when I recall the hours spent with Gallic mediocrities like Wild Diamond and Niki that I’ll not recover. I thought of Miséricorde while catching up with the competition’s Romanian offering, Emanuel Parvu’s Three Kilometers to the End of the World, an impressive and meticulously constructed tale of a small community undone by corruption and religion-inscribed bigotry. Guiraudie centers a criminally complicated gay character, privileging a point of view that’s not always in the moral right and doesn’t conform to stereotype. Parvu, on the other hand, has made a film largely focused on the parents and police chief as they sort through and contribute towards an outed young man’s victimization,leaving the latter’s trauma overshadowed by the others’ guilt and emergent shame. While I quite liked Parvu’s film, it did make me appreciate anew what makes Guiraudie’s project so unique and essential, and the value of storytelling that treats queerness beyond a tragic framework.

What did you think of Sean Baker’s Anora and Miguel Gomes’s Grand Tour, two films that made early assessments of a minor year obsolete. I loved the latter and have some reservations about the former that I’m eager to work through.

DS: In the time between your question and this response, Anora won the Palme d’Or on the strength of Sean Baker’s bravura direction (Safdies-via-Jerry Lewis in its manic energy) and the explosive performance of Mikey Madison, who brings astonishing emotional depth to the role of an exotic dancer who gets the best of every man she encounters. To invoke another auteur, the film is Hawksian in its vivid depiction of an enclosed, male-dominated world where a strong woman takes charge. We’ll be hearing plenty about itbetween now and its possible Best Picture win next March. I was excited by its freshness; at every bonkers moment, the characters (not the actors) seem to be improvising their next move. I’m very curious to hear what your reservations are.

I really wanted the Palme d’Or to go to Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light. I was on a FIDMarseille Lab jury in 2021 that gave Kapadia an award to help finish her debut, A Night of Knowing Nothing. Here she is, barely three years later, with a quietly astonishing film about the lives of three women in Mumbai. Since I’ve been invoking other directors, I’ll say that this film kept reminding me of Jean Renoir. Organic and open, it creates the sensation that there is no boundary between what we’re seeing on screen and the world beyond the frame. The artistry is hidden, yet there is poetry in every shot. And like Anora, All We Imagine is a great city film, though Kapadia reverses the trajectory of Sunrise, going from the city to a rural setting for its transcendent final section.

Miguel Gomes’s Grand Tour and Jia Zhangke’s Caught by the Tides were also Palme-worthy. Gomes depicted a favorite theme of this year’s festival—lovers separated by time or space (or death)—and a favorite technique, incorporating documentary footage into a fictional framework. The effect here is, to name-check two more directors, something like Josef von Sternberg meets Chris Marker. Grand Tour is an enthralling revision of Hollywood colonial fantasies, rigorous and exhilarating throughout.

As for The Shrouds; the central premise of technology that allows one to view the decomposing corpses of our loved ones is the ultimate expression of Cronenberg’s key subject—that we are thinking creatures trapped inside decaying bodies. Add conspiracy paranoia, artificial intelligence, and the alternation of reality and fantasy, and the elements are there for prime Cronenberg. But Vincent Cassel’s performance as the director’s alter ego feels tentative, and the film sags under the weight of a clumsy subplot involving Russia and China. But now that I’m acclimated to its odd structure, a second viewing may be rewarding. I’m wondering if there are films from Cannes that you’re looking forward to watching again.

EH: I’m eager to rewatch Grand Tour and Caught by the Tides, two films I adored but which have a languor and quietness not ideal in the context of five films-a-day and sleep deprivation. I look forward to making those two—along with the even more languorous and quiet (and equally major) Viet and Nam, the standout among the Un Certain Regard films I saw—the only thing I watch on whatever night I revisit them. My reservations about Anora aren’t major, though they were amplified a bit by the Palme d’Or win, which I thought should have gone to the very strong, fearlessly incendiary The Seed of the Sacred Fig, which premiered less than two weeks after its director, Mohammad Rasoulof, escaped from Iran (and imminent imprisonment). Anora is well conceived, well made, and a fun ride, but I’m not sure its “human and humane” qualities, to quote jury president Greta Gerwig, can withstand much scrutiny. It’s true that Baker’s film doesn’t emanate the misanthropy of the similarly frenetic, nocturnal Safdie brothers’ films. But while Good Time gets under your skin because it also plays as a confession and queasy invocation, becoming less vicarious as it goes, Anora keeps us always rooting for, sometimes pitying, and from the very first shot of the film, ogling Madison’s Ani from a distance that never feels properly investigated.

Seven years after Baker’s The Florida Project debuted in Directors’ Fortnight, there was a trio of new American indies in this year’s selection: Ryan J. Sloan’s Gazer, Carson Lund’s Eephus, and Tyler Taormina’s Christmas Eve at Miller’s Point (as well as India Donaldson’s Sundance carryover, Good One). Following 2023’s showcasing of Brooklyn-born films The Sweet East and The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, there’s an undeniable Yankee flavor to the current Quinzaine. But unlike the Gerwig-Baker handoff, and legacy feting of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola ballyhoo at the Palais, there was nothing Hollywood about the American films in the Quinzaine, but rather a reminder that the freshest American independents don’t even debut at Sundance (and when they do, such as with Good One, they’re either unrewarded or relegated to the Next section). Of the three, I was most impressed by Christmas Eve at Miller’s Point, which reminded me of early Linklater and the (actually human and humane) films of Stephen Cone, yet was distinguished by distinctive textures and edit choices and a penchant for digression that keeps this most familiar of genres from ever grooving to expected beats. Similar things could be said about Eephus, which was directed by Christmas Eve’s cinematographer, Lund, and approaches “the baseball movie” as an opportunity to dramatize an entire amateur baseball game (calling to mind Kyle Smith’s touch football play-by-play, Turkey Bowl). But there’s a depth and breadth of emotion achieved in Taormina’s film that exceeds most comparisons, thanks to the finely honed tone and improbable equanimity of his script co-written by Eric Berger, and terrific performances from a cast of veterans and newcomers.

David, were there any standouts for you among the satellite sections of the festival?

DS: There are so many satellite sections that the groupings can feel haphazard. As you know as well as anyone, documentaries are undervalued at Cannes, and strong films by Raoul Peck, Claire Simon, and Serge Loznitsa were thrown into the catch-all Special Screenings section.

I was impressed with Un Certain Regard, especially by three films that have U.S. theatrical distribution. Zambian director Rungano Nyoni’s On Becoming a Guinea Fowl, to be released by A24, brings an assured yet relaxed blend of low-key magical realism to a family saga that unfolds during the mourning period after a funeral. A disturbing family secret emerges, eliciting shock, indifference, denial, and disbelief. The family interplay is subtly observed and naturalistic, yet the film is laced with surreal yet deadpan humor, and a poetic touch that confirms Nyoni (already known for her 2017 film I Am Not a Witch) as an exciting voice on the world scene. Metrograph Pictures, which launched in 2019 but is now ramping up their distribution efforts, picked up two very strong titles from Un Certain Regard, Sandhya Suryi’s Santosh, a British-German-French co-production filmed in India, and Julien Colonna’s The Kingdom, a French production filmed in Corsica. Both are complicated crime stories that tell their riveting stories through the eyes of female protagonists. As Lesia, a young teenager who is the daughter of a beleaguered gangster kingpin, Ghjuvanna Benedetti is compelling in The Kingdom as she travels a path from naiveté about her father’s work to a highly conflicted blend of revulsion and involvement. Comparisons to The Sopranos will be inevitable, but the compression of this father-daughter saga into a feature film rather than a sprawling series gives it an intensity that barely lets up. Santosh tells the story of a young woman who, through a legal loophole, is given the police job that was held by her husband before he was killed. The title character, played by Shahana Goswami, gradually learns about the insidious workings of caste structure, corruption, and worse, in the police force. As I watched this powerful film I kept thinking of Frederick Wiseman’s Law and Order, shown earlier in the festival, another movie that laid out in vivid detail the ways that the police use their power to impose social order.