Cannes Film Festival Raises The Bar With 2021 Lineup

By J. Sperling Reich | June 5, 2021 5:42 pm PDT
Thierry Frémaux at the Special 2020 Cannes Film Festival

More than a year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of the the 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival in May of 2020, its programmers announced the official selections for the 2021 event. Earlier this year the festival abandoned its usual May dates on the calendar, postponing the event until July, when the seaside town on the French Riviera is usually playing host to summer holidays rather than movie stars and filmmakers. On Thursday, Thierry Frémaux, announced 63 films that will be making their debut on the Croisette at the 74th edition, some of which have waited more than a year for the opportunity.

It is somewhat fitting that Frémaux began the press conference announcing this year’s official selections by stating “Cinema is not dead.” Not only is what we’ve been saying since the pandemic shut most of the world’s theatres, but more to the point, Frémaux followed up his proclamation with a list of official selections that hail from all corners of the globe. What is sure to be noticed is that many of the selections are not reliant on mega-watt movie stars, which is understandable since many may not be able to travel to France for their film’s premiere. (Indeed, entry instructions and guidelines for festival attendees are still being worked out.) Instead, Cannes programmers have invited some of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers to show up with their latest works.

If it wasn’t for the pandemic delaying many releases, it would ordinarily be hard to believe that directors like Wes Anderson, Jacques Audiard, Sean Baker, Leos Carax, Bruno Dumont, Asghar Farhadi, Mia Hansen-Love, Nanni Moretti, Francois Ozon, Sean Penn, Joachim Trier, Paul Verhoeven and Apichatpong Weerasethakul would all have recently completed films they could bring to Cannes in one year. And that’s just over half the 24 films in the official competition, let alone the seven showing out-of-competition, the 16 selected for the Un Certain Regard section and the eight films simply premiering at the festival. Some of those films are helmed by the likes of Mathieu Almaric, Andrea Anrold, Arnaud Desplechin, Todd Haynes, Tom McCarthy and Hong Sang-soo.

When it comes to world cinema auteurs this would be considered an all-star list. The only glaring names missing might be past Palm d’Or winners Bong Joon-ho, The Coen Brothers, The Dardenne Brothers, Jane Campion, Jean Luc Goddard, Michael Haneke, Ken Loach, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier, and Wim Wenders. And their absence is likely due to not having films ready to be shown. (This is the part where you tell me in the comments section all of those I’ve neglected to mention.)

It seems as if Cannes wants to raise the bar with this year’s selections, almost daring other festivals to top it. In fact, if Cannes were to produce a festival poster for its 74th edition that mimicked the style of annual music festivals like Coachella, there would be few “small font bands” filling out the bottom of the bill. (Actually, such a poster would be a great idea this year.)

The only glaring exclusion pointed out by many Cannes veterans isn’t necessarily a filmmaker, but rather a company; Netflix. The streamer continues to eschew the festival because it does not like the rule Cannes put in place that films which appear in competition must have a theatrical release. It appears Netflix would not be satisfied with an out-of-competition slot, though it is worth noting last year they were going to allow Spike Lee’s “Da Five Bloods” to screen since the filmmaker was going to be president of the jury. (Lee is instead the president of the Cannes jury this year.) Ultimately, this means that a film many were hoping might be making the trip to Cannes this year was left off the list; Campion’s “The Power of the Dog.”

Cannes will open this year on 6 July with Carax’s first English language film, “Annette” starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver. Other anticipated entries include Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.” The Searchlight title was meant to debut last year before the festival was called off. Penn will be bringing his latest directorial effort, “Flag Day,” to Cannes, as will Baker whose last film “The Florida Project,” premiered at the Director’s Fortnight down the Croisette in 2017. This year he debuts “Red Rocket,” which reportedly tells the story of a porn star. Paul Verhoeven will also be returning to the festival after his 2016 entry, “Elle,” won acclaim in Cannes. This year he brings “Benedetta,” a film that festival-goers will no doubt refer to as “the lesbian nun movie” since it is about a closeted nun living in an Italian convent during the 15th century.

There is not enough space on the internet to give a detailed rundown of all the films selected for the 2021 Cannes Film Festival – a slight exaggeration, to be sure – but it is safe to say Frémaux and his team will only be adding to the list of those they’ve already announced. Often entries get added in the weeks leading up to the festival.


  • “Ahed’s Knee” direction by Nadav Lapid
  • “Annette” directed by Leos Carax
  • “Benedetta” directed by Paul Verhoeven
  • “Bergman Island” directed by Mia Hansen-Love
  • “Casablanca Beats,” Nabil Ayouch
  • “Compartment No. 6” directed Juho Kuosmanen
  • “Drive My Car” directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
  • “Everything Went Fine” directed by Francois Ozon
  • “Flag Day” directed by Sean Penn
  • “The French Dispatch” directed by Wes Anderson
  • “A Hero” directed Asghar Farhadi
  • “La fracture” directed by Catherine Corsini
  • “Lingui,” Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
  • “Memoria” directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • “Nitram” directed by Justin Kurzel
  • “Paris, 13th District” directed by Jacques Audiard
  • “Par un Demi Clair Matin” directed by Bruno Dumont
  • “Petrov’s Flu” directed Kirill Serebrennikov
  • “Red Rocket” directed by Sean Baker
  • “The Restless” directed by Joachim Lafosse
  • “The Story of My Wife” directed by Ildikó Enyedi
  • “The Worst Person in the World” directed by Joachim Trier
  • “Three Floors” directed by Nanni Moretti
  • “Titane” directed byJulia Ducournau

Un Certain Regard

  • “After Yang” directed by Kogonada
  • “Blue Bayou” directed by Justin Chon
  • “Bonne Mère” directed by Hafsia Herzi
  • “Commitment Hasan” directed by Hasan Semih
  • “Freda” directed by Gessica Généus
  • “House Arrest” directed by Alexey German Jr.
  • “The Innocents” directed by Eskil Vogt
  • “Lamb” directed by Valdimar Jóhansson
  • “La Civil” directed by Teodora Ana Mihai
  • “Let Their Be Morning” directed by Eran Kolirin
  • “Moneyboys,” directed by C.B. Yi
  • “Noche de Fuego” directed by Tatiana Huezo
  • “Un Monde” directed by Laura Wandel
  • “Rehana Maryam Noor” directed by Abdullah Mohammad Saad
  • “Unclenching the Fists” directed by Kira Kovalenko
  • “Women Do Cry” directed by Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova

Cannes Premiere

  • “Cow” directed by Andrea Arnold
  • “Deception” directed by Arnaud Desplechin
  • “Evolution” directed by Kornel Mundruczo
  • “Hold Me Tight” directed by Mathieu Almaric
  • “In Front of Your Face” directed by Hong Sang-soo
  • “Love Songs for Tough Guys” directed by Samuel Benchetrit
  • “Mothering Sunday” directed by Eva Husson
  • “Val” directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott

Out of Competition

  • “Aline, the Voice of Love” directed by Valerie Lemercier
  • “Babi Yar. Context” directed by Sergei Loznitsa
  • “Bac Nord” directed by Cédric Jimenez
  • “Emergency Declaration” directed by Han Jae-Rim
  • “In His Lifetime” directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
  • “Stillwater” directed by Tom McCarthy
  • “The Velvet Underground” directed by Todd Haynes
J. Sperling Reich