Best of Cannes 2021

From the second woman in 74 years to win the Palme d’Or, to a truly horny collection of films, our correspondent Brian Formo presents Letterboxd’s ten highest-rated narrative features from the 2021 Festival de Cannes.

If you follow our Festiville HQ, you will have gotten a pretty solid picture of reactions to the films that premiered at Cannes this year, along with a day-to-day feeling of what it was like being there. Annually, the Cannes Film Festival is one of the biggest events in film, but the 2021 festival was more than just the 74th edition—it was the first in-person-only film festival to occur post-Covid shutdowns. That brought about some complications around testing, and ticketing, but largely things went very smoothly.

By the end of the festival, the awards became historic beyond the Covid narrative when Titane’s Julia Ducournau became only the second woman ever to win the Palme d’Or in the festival’s history. While the Cannes awards are voted on by just ten film professionals, we were curious about what the Letterboxd verdict on the ten best films was.

So here are the ten highest-rated movies (with at least 100 views) from the 2021 Festival de Cannes, according to the Letterboxd community.


The Worst Person in the World

Directed by Joachim Trier, written by Trier and Eskil Vogt

Renate Reinsve took home Best Actress for The Worst Person in the World, and the film itself was the biggest crowd-pleaser of Cannes 2021. Douglas called it “a landmark rom-com… A reassuring film about the overrated nature of having your shit together, remarkable, sprightly and moving”. The Oscar Expert predicted that when more of the Letterboxd community has seen it, they will “rocket that average rating to a 4.0”. We shall see. The film, which chronicles a twenty-something’s transition into a thirty-something with equal charm and mistakes, was picked up at the festival by NEON for North America and Mubi for distribution in the UK/India.

Drive My Car

Written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Drive My Car had the longest runtime at Cannes (one minute shy of three hours) but that didn’t affect its Letterboxd standing in the slightest. Like The Worst Person in the World, this Haruki Murakami adaptation is divided into chapters concerning a playwright, his wife, and the strange ways their work differs. Anthony called it “easily the most moving and compelling film I saw at Cannes. The extended prologue is a brilliant start to the film, so beautiful, sensual, haunting and quietly devastating. Just fantastic, followed by a slow but consistent story of guilt, reconciliation, memory and the struggle of continuing to live and create.” Hamaguchi won the Best Screenplay prize from this year’s jury.

The Souvenir Part II

Written and directed by Joanna Hogg

F9 wasn’t the only sequel screening at Cannes this year. Hogg’s follow-up to The Souvenir debuted in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) section, an independent arm of the festival. Reactions on Letterboxd are currently better than for the first film. However, your mileage with The Souvenir: Part II will likely be determined by how you felt about its predecessor, as they are perfectly constructed as bookends. It’s fitting too that its popularity follows Drive My Car, as these are two films about the artistic process (which, actually, The Worst Person in the World makes a few nods to as well). Isabel Sandoval called it “a self-reflexive marvel of rebirth and artistic invention” before stating that she “loved it more than the first”. And Iana Murray commended Hogg, writing that she “carefully unpacks her trauma and grief in a gorgeous, sensitive and surprisingly meta sequel”.

Paris, 13th District

Directed by Jacques Audiard, written by Audiard, Céline Sciamma, Léa Mysius, Adrian Tomine

After making his first film set outside of France, 2018’s The Sisters Brothers, Audiard returned to Paris to make a black-and-white adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying, a collection of graphic short stories. Paris, 13th District (AKA The Olympiades) follows three individuals (Noémie Merlant, Makita Samba, Lucie Zhang) looking for a meaningful connection, whose paths cross in various ways, through close interactions (as co-workers or roommates). The Cannes debut was on Bastille Day, right after the fireworks exploded by the beach, and with its electronic Rone score and a recognizable touch, it became one of the most-liked films of the fest. Mariedebarbieux wrote that “it strikes all the right emotional chords.” And Josh Golbraith loved it for being “so horny”, a major theme throughout the festival.

Titane

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau

Many of the most enthusiastic Letterboxd reviews of the Palme d’Or winner come with spoiler warnings, so we’ll skip the plot outline and just quote Kevin Yang who called it “an undeniably ambitious, visually striking and slightly silly mashup of serial-killer thriller, pregnancy body horror, and found-family character drama. Titane is clearly shepherded by a unique vision, carried by an absolutely tremendous, visceral performance by Agathe Rousselle.” Though, as many of the less favorable reviews also state, like Ducournau’s last film Raw you’ll have to have a strong stomach for this ride.

Red Rocket

Directed by Sean Baker, written by Baker and Chris Bergoch

Red Rocket is the lone comedy in this top ten. It follows a former LA porn star (Simon Rex) coming home to small-town Texas completely broke, and trying to set up his triumphant career revival after discovering a young girl (Suzanna Son) at the donut shop. Ethan Colburn noted that “it’s intentionally icky, but hilarious in some very dark moments”. And for Baker’s follow-up to The Florida Project, Shubhra likened it to an earlier movie of his, stating that it’s “a perfect contrast and companion to Starlet”.

A Hero

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

Farhadi’s newest morality play tied for the Grand Prix (second place) with Compartment No. 6 (see below). This time the writer-director of A Separation treads into the social-media sphere of judgment. Because a personal debt is at stake and the lies escalate, some comparisons to Uncut Gems were made. Without bringing up that beloved movie, David Ehrlich wrote that “Farhadi plays to his strengths with A Hero, as he takes a classic premise and spins it around and around and around with enough centrifugal force to keep you rooted in place even as your sympathies fly in every conceivable direction”.

Vortex

Written and directed by Gaspar Noé

At what was possibly the horniest Cannes ever, who would’ve guessed that Gaspar Noé would’ve actually been the least horny? Noé’s latest film did not play in any section at Cannes—it merely premiered on the penultimate night of the Festival. Vortex’s midnight showing and the director’s reputation did not properly prepare people for what many are calling his most earnest work, full of compassion and love. Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento play an elderly couple stricken by dementia, and Noé uses a split screen to tell their story. Leo wrote approvingly that Vortex “made my insides turn in a calm and soothing way”. Josh called it “flawless from beginning to end … A masterpiece” but also warned that the film “is unlike anything Gaspar has ever made. If you go into it expecting another Climax or Enter the Void, you should temper your expectations.”

The French Dispatch

Written and directed by Wes Anderson

The biggest and splashiest premiere at Cannes 2021 was Wes Anderson’s latest pastel pastiche, The French Dispatch. Though the film is stuffed with pretty designs, it’s worth noting that this anthology film features Anderson’s first foray into black-and-white photography since his Bottle Rocket short. The cast list is immense but those with the most screen time include Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand and Jeffrey Wright. The story is a series of shorts pulled from a fictional French magazine in the 1960s. Luke Hicks labelled it “a delectable, feverish whirlwind of color, design and journalistic locution bound to keep giving on repeat watches. Stories about arts and artists, poetry and politics, and tastes and smells—delivered in Wes Anderson’s singular style and accompanied by new tricks.” Florence called it “heartwarming… There is so much to look at, and so much to process, that it almost becomes a game”.

Compartment No. 6

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

The only Cannes award winner I didn’t see, which puts it high on my watchlist. Filmlandempire fleshed out the appeal of this Finnish drama, writing that it follows “a young, coarse Russian man who strikes an unlikely friendship with a Finnish lesbian woman on board the TransSiberian. Full of underlying warmth, bittersweet, atmospheric but never romanticized; a gem!” And perhaps furthering the appeal, Simon called itBefore Sunrise with vodka!”, while Belies took things further by declaring it “​​cuter than [the] Before trilogy”.

Special mentions

Just outside of the top ten highest-rated films were a few big swings, with Best Director winner Leos Carax mixing original music with performance art and a puppet baby in Annette, Kogonada making a worthy companion to Ex Machina with After Yang, and Paul Verhoeven adding nunsploitation to his provocative filmography with Benedetta. Plus, if people swoon as hard for The Worst Person in the World as predicted, be sure to check out more of Anders Danielsen Lie in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island.

With the 74th edition of Cannes in the books, the quadruple film-festival punch of Venice, Telluride, TIFF and NYFF begins! Many of the Cannes films will screen at the last three festivals, and we’ll be watching to see how these initial ratings stand the test of other festivals.

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