Cannes 2023: Best of the Fest – Rohrwacher + Koji Yakusho + Gondry
by Alex Billington
June 6, 2023
What are the best films out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After 12 days at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, after watching a total of 31 films, it’s time to present my 2023 list of my Top 10 Favorites. This was my 13th year back to this festival, and I still enjoy being there right in the middle of all the craziness and all the crowds and all the hype about new cinema. It’s rejuvenating, even if it’s raining and queues are crazy long and the screening is delayed and everyone is tired. As I usually say – there’s always more to see, always more to take our breath away. These ten listed below are the ones that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope you’ll consider watching a few when they arrive in your neighborhood. They are worth the wait. It might have been a weaker year at Cannes, for the most part, but am still glad I could fall in love with a few of these movies. This is my final recap of Cannes 2023 – don’t miss any of these films below. Best of the fest.
My goal at film festivals nowadays is to watch, watch, watch and keep watching as much as possible. I don’t want to miss anything that might be good, and I prefer to get a look at everything just to see what each of the films is about. I don’t do as many interviews as I used to in the past, and that’s okay. Being in Cannes is like being at a giant party that goes on for two weeks non-stop. You can choose to sleep, to party, or to watch films (and occasionally get some food). I’m just there to see any/every good film I can fit into my schedule. I skipped or missed a batch of higher profile films, including Jeanne du Barry (just not for me), Wang Bing’s doc Youth (Spring), the African film Banel & Adama, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters, Victor Erice’s Close Your Eyes, The Settlers, The Delinquents, The Breaking Ice, and others. Hopefully I’ll catch up with some of these at another festival down the road. There’s never enough time to see everything, and it’s hard enough to watch films over 12 days and still work on the site, too. I’m always relieved I could see this many.
I won’t delay any further with my Top 10 films of Cannes 2023, as these are the films that I loved the most, or left the greatest impact on me, and they all deserve to gain recognition outside of France. My favorites:
La Chimera – Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
This is my Palme d’Or pick for 2023. It should’ve won. It’s magnificent. This already has a guaranteed spot on my Top 10 of 2023. I loved everything about it, from all the music to the exquisite performances to the deeply moving story about archeology and how our souls may live on… La Chimera is my favorite film so far from Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher, I prefer it over her last one before this, Happy as Lazzaro. It has the same one-of-a-kind magical realism, the same vintage touches (shot on film, too!), the same kind of unique performance from the main character. But with a different story – also spanning time and space. I also adore the concept behind La Chimera, following a group of “tombaroli” – which is the name given to this troupe of whimsical archeology “thieves” who hunt for buried remnants at old graves to sell for cash. To top it off, Josh O’Connor gives the best performance of his career so far as Arthur, the de facto leader of this troupe who has a special ability to discover tombs. I can’t wait to watch this again. My full review here.
Perfect Days – Directed by Wim Wenders
“It’s such a perfect day… I’m glad I spent it with you.” I’m glad I watched this film! Wim Wenders’ new film is the Paterson (one of my favorites from 2016) of this year’s Cannes – a wonderfully poetic, deeply Buddhist film about a cleaner living a basic life in Tokyo. Both films are quietly moving, while also being charismatic and nuanced in their understanding of the simpler lives of blue collar workers. This one stars the wonderful Kōji Yakusho (who won the Best Actor award in Cannes) as Hirayama, who cleans toilets around the city all day and listens to his favorite classic rock songs while driving around or relaxing at home after work. I felt so light and refreshed after watching this, inspired by Hirayama and his life, but also by the way he observes the world and his interactions in Tokyo. One of the most beautiful films at the fest this year.
The Pot-au-Feu – Directed by Anh Hung Tran
Ohhhhh my goodness! This film! This is one of the most magnificent, decadent, delicious food films I have ever seen. An instant classic, instant comfort movie favorite, instant inspiration. I didn’t want it to ever end! I could’ve kept watching for hours! More more more. The Pot-au-Feu is Vietnamese-French director Anh Hung Tran’s latest feature, an exquisite voyage through the world of French cuisine and gastronomy. It’s bliss. Food heaven. There isn’t a single shot in it that isn’t perfectly composed, not one. Seriously. The film stars Juliette Binoche as Eugénie, a master chef for a wealthy aristocrat named Dodin Bouffant, played by Benoît Magimel. It’s pretty much just two hours of watching them cook for each other, and if that sounds boring, let me tell you it’s anything but boring. I watched in awe as they carefully prepared meals, reminding us that indulgent haute cuisine is not as good as a simple dish with all the right ingredients made perfectly.
Fallen Leaves – Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Yet another lovely, poetic film at the festival that swept me off my feet – and everyone else, too. Most of my colleagues and friends were hoping this might end up winning the Palme d’Or this year, even though it’s just a basic love story. Of course, it is the one-and-only Aki Kaurismäki and he’s already proven himself to be a remarkably talented, unique filmmaker. This time he gets really sentimental, telling a story of two people who fall in love in Helsinki. There’s also an adorable doggie that shows up halfway through, which makes it an instant winner. Holappa, played by Jussi Vatanen, and Ansa, played by Alma Pöysti, randomly meet at a bar one night. Through a series mishaps, missed moments, and other quirky incidents, it takes the rest of the film for them to reconnect and figure out how to be a couple. As expected with Kaurismäki, there’s some excellent music throughout, including a stellar performance by the Finnish rock sisters Maustetytöt. It’s best to refrain from saying much else, other than it’s a film that every cinephile needs to catch & enjoy.
Mars Express – Directed by Jérémie Périn
The sneaky, secret sci-fi premiere at the festival that nobody knew about. I couldn’t miss it! And it knocked me out! This incredible epic animated sci-fi noir adventure is pretty much the best modern update on Ghost in the Shell since the original Japanese anime released in 1995. Mars Express is the latest film by French animation director Jérémie Périn and it’s as dense and complex and visually jaw-dropping as a film of this scope and scale should be. It also comes with an awesome electro score by musicians Fred Avril & Philippe Monthaye – another one of my favorite parts. The attention to detail in every aspect, from the backgrounds to the various robots to the hacking itself to the interconnected elements of this future to the story, are so mesmerizing and need to be examined closely. I was blown away by how spectacular this movie is and how BIG it gets. Anyone that loves sci-fi MUST see this on the big screen whenever possible. My full review here.
Robot Dreams – Directed by Pablo Berger
The other hidden gem animated film from Cannes this year! Both of these animated films really impressed me, and I’m glad I took the time to discover them (not many people had the chance to watch them during the fest). Robot Dreams is quite unique because it’s a “silent” film, though I don’t think that’s an accurate label. It’s a dialogue-free film, though there are plenty of sounds and muffled voices and great songs (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” forever!!) and more. Both written and directed by Pablo Berger, based on Sara Varon’s graphic novel, this joyful little film is another example of animation breaking out beyond the “it’s for kids” cliche. It is all about the story, a heartbreaking then heartmending story of friendships – including loss and love and companionship and everything else inbetween. Don’t skip this one when it hits theaters.
The Book of Solutions – Directed by Michel Gondry
One of the best Michel Gondry creations since Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep (my personal fave of his films). It’s a quirky, scrappy little meta indie film about a funky filmmaker having a hard time finishing his film. Beautifully inspirational and full of warm-hearted, scatter-brained laughs galore. I had a blast with it. It’s light, clever and very small scale, almost too intimate at times. And it’s autobiographical – Gondry made this to express his own frustrations about how challenging it can be to make a movie. It’s the best “feel good comedy” I saw at Cannes this year. An uplifting reminder to find your own way to making art and to come up with your own quirky solutions. A film made for artists by a real artist. I hope film lovers take the time to enjoy it, Gondry deserves some appreciation for sharing his own vulnerable story in The Book of Solutions. And perhaps it will influence other artists to take risks and be more creative like him, too.
About Dry Grasses – Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Having watched many of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films a festivals over the last decade, I’ve grown to become a fan of this Turkish filmmaker. His latest is one of the most intellectually stimulating and philosophically compelling films from Cannes this year. About Dry Grasses is absolutely worth sitting through, even at three and a half hours, as it offers viewers a chance to delve into the minds of many different people – locals from this snowy Turkish town, a pretentious teacher, aimless youngsters, corrupt cops, wise men & women, and many others. There is one scene in particular, set over a dinner table involving the two leads, that is especially fascinating as they debate and discuss politics and the philosophy of life. Deniz Celiloglu stars as Samet, and Merve Dizdar (who won the Best Actress award in Cannes) as Nuray, whom he’s attracted to, and both give tremendous performances. Take the time to sit with this one after and discuss with friends.
The Zone of Interest – Directed by Jonathan Glazer
There’s plenty to talk about with this one. While I am not a fan of Glazer’s other film, Under the Skin, this new one really got me. I would’ve been happy with it winning the Palme d’Or instead of Anatomy of a Fall. This chilling, unsettling Holocaust film is remarkably well made and powerful in its minimalistic concept of how normal evil people really are. However, there’s not much more to it. The Zone of Interest is about one German family living their quaint life in Poland. They’re not just any German family – it’s the family of the Auschwitz camp commander, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), showing how they’re living a luxurious life just outside the walls of the most brutal concentration camp of World War II. Much like Son of Saul (which I think is a slightly better film overall) the focus is so specific it makes it even more disquieting. The Zone of Interest might go on to change Holocaust films forever, depicting the “banality of evil” with such casualness and simplicity it’s almost disgusting to watch this. But that really is the point of Glazer’s masterful new film.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – Directed by James Mangold
Yes, I loved this. I really did. It got my all teary-eyed in a few scenes. It’s an exciting experience. It doesn’t take any crazy risks or try anything unusual or unexpected, because it doesn’t need to – it’s a proper Indiana Jones sequel, continuing and carrying on the legacy. James Mangold handled this perfectly (also see: Logan), taking us back out on another global-trotting adventure with Indy. This time with a few newcomers, namely Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena Shaw (she’s great) and Ethann Bergua-Isidore as Teddy. I think some will want more out of this, but they stuck to what works – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, I will admit – Crystal Skull did break things, but Dial of Destiny has put them back together. The MacGuffin for this one is actually a real historical artifact, which gives it a more chilling edge this time, especially once it takes the story down the path that this series really needed to go down at one point or another. I am really looking forward to watching this a second (and third) time to see if it has the same emotional impact on me.
A few other films from the festival I want to mention even though they didn’t make the cut. First, I wanted to include Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom, an intriguing French film about people turning into animals. The prosthetics and SFX are impressive and it’s a fascinating film with a great amount of emotional depth. Not as cheesy as it sounds, it’s definitely worth a watch. As for the Palme winner, I did see Anatomy of a Fall and I think it’s a good film – there’s plenty in it to make you think and wonder what is really going on. But it’s not that innovative or edgy, just another “true” crime drama like so many others being churned out on Netflix & HBO & Prime Video these days. Another great discovery is the American indie drama The Sweet East, from director Sean Price Williams. It premiered early in the fest and it’s got some problems, but overall it’s a really interesting, dream-like Alice in Wonderland tale drifting around Americana. I was also quite fond of Kim Jee-woon’s meta Korean ensemble comedy Cobweb, starring the always-amazing Song Kang-ho as a filmmaker trying to make a new film but everything is a mess. A bit similar to Gondry’s, but it’s too long & too indulgent. For the full list of films I viewed this year – check my diary on Letterboxd.
And that’s it for Cannes 2023, ending our coverage of this film festival. Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall won the Palme d’Or top prize this year – find the full list of 2023 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and all my other reviews from the fest. I’m always looking forward to returning to Cannes again, it’s one of my favorite fests and I always enjoy going back hoping to discover masterpieces.