By James Mottram

THE Cannes Film Festival is back, and there’s a feeling that the world’s most prestigious cinematic gathering is in celebratory mood. Marking its 75th edition, there’s a pleasing-to-the-eye mix of must-see arthouse movies and Hollywood spectacle, with plenty of A-List actors keen to pose at the top of those famous steps at the Palais. After organisers moved last year’s event to July to evade the worst of the pandemic – with guests outside of the EU required to test for Covid-19 every 48 hours – the relaxation of the laws in France suggest this time will be more of a carnival atmosphere.

Opening with Final Cut, a zombie comedy from Michel Hazanavicius, who previously stormed the festival with 2011’s silent tale The Artist, the festival is clearly on the side of the big screen. Of course, following two years of pandemic-induced theatre shutdowns and streaming companies growing in power, it helps if the biggest star in the planet is on hand. Tom Cruise will grace the festival with Top Gun Maverick, his long-delayed sequel to his 1986 aviation classic just before it goes on general release. He’ll also sit down for a Q&A with journalist Didier Allouch, as the festival pays tribute to his 40-year career.

Equally special will be the return of Australia’s Baz Luhrmann, who previously saw his films Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby open Cannes in 2001 and 2013 respectively. This time, Elvis – a career-spanning biopic about the king of rock’n’roll – plays out of competition. The film stars Austin Butler as Presley, who looks to have what it takes in the hips, and Tom Hanks as his Svengali-like manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Ironically, Presley’s own granddaughter, Riley Keogh, is back at the festival too – making her directorial debut with War Pony, co-helmed with Gina Gammell.

Another Antipodean filmmaker back is George Miller, who rocked the festival back in 2015 with the utterly insane Mad Max: Fury Road. He returns with Three Thousand Years of Longing, starring Scotland’s own Cannes regular Tilda Swinton. Set in Istanbul, and described as an epic fantasy romance, Swinton is paired with Idris Elba for a story that sees her play a lonely woman who discovers a bottle that unleashes a supernatural Djinn offering her three wishes.

While early rumours had it that David Lynch was delivering a secret film to the festival – in what would be his first feature since 2006’s Inland Empire – that was sadly scotched by the filmmaker himself. But there is another iconic David making a comeback – Canadian master of body horror David Cronenberg returns with his first film since 2014’s Maps to the Stars. Crimes of the Future, starring his go-to guy Viggo Mortensen, looks to be this year’s Titane, with its queasy-sounding near-future story where humans are altering their own biological makeup.

Vying for the coveted Palme d’Or alongside Cronenberg are a juicy selection of films – including the new feature from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, the director of Oldboy. His latest, Decision to Leave, is a mystery story about a detective who falls for the woman suspected of killing her own husband. Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda – last in Cannes with 2018’s gentle tale of hard-living, Shoplifters – is also back with Broker, his debut Korean-language feature that tells of a world where boxes are left for parents to leave unwanted babies in.

When the initial line-up was announced back in April, there were mutterings on social media about the fact only three female directors were selected for the main competition. That balance was somewhat redressed with the Director’s Fortnight sidebar adding eleven female filmmakers to its selection, but it still feels like a step backwards after Julia Ducournau became only the second woman ever to win the Palme d’Or last year for Titane. This time, most tantalisingly, American director Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff) is up for her first Palme with Showing Up, starring her beloved Michelle Williams as a sculptor juggling work and family.

As for British cinema, there’s little in the main competition to shout about – although the BFI Film Fund and BBC Film invested in Ruben Östlund’s satire Triangle of Sadness. Starring Harris Dickinson, it’s the Swedish director’s first film since he won the Palme for his abrasive drama The Square and promises to be another poke at the elite – this time as a coterie of wealthy passengers, including a Russian oligarch and British arms dealers, gather on a luxury cruise. Woody Harrelson, for good measure, gets to play the boat’s Marx-quoting captain.

Homegrown filmmakers are better represented in the sidebars. Charlotte Wells, an Edinburgh-born filmmaker based in New York, makes her directorial debut in Critics’ Week with Aftersun. The film follows a young woman as she reflects on memories of her father, and features Paul Mescal, the Irish-born breakout star from the BBC’s Sally Rooney adaptation Normal People. He’ll also be seen in God’s Creatures, playing in Director’s Fortnight, co-directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer – and described as a “tense, sweepingly emotional epic”.

There’s also some freaky folk horror. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) brings his latest film Men to Director’s Fortnight for a special presentation. This creepy-looking tale stars the utterly brilliant Jessie Buckley, fresh from her Olivier win for Cabaret, as Harper, a woman who heads to the English countryside to heal after a personal tragedy. The trailer – with multiple roles played by Rory Kinnear – makes it look utterly unnerving. Also out to unsettle is Mark Jenkins’ Enys Men, the follow-up to his fine debut Bait. Again appearing in Director’s Fortnight, this 16mm-shot Cornish folk horror stars Mary Woodvine as a wildlife volunteer working on a remote island.

The festival is also destined to get political – how can it not? – with the war in Ukraine all too present in people’s minds. The Cannes organiser already banned official delegations from Russia, although as the festival’s artistic director Thierry Frémaux noted, “We can’t boycott Russian artists.” As such, the in-exile Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov will present Tchaikovsky’s Wife, his third time in main competition. Meanwhile, in Un Certain Regard, Maksim Nakonechnyi’s Butterfly Vision tells of a female Ukrainian soldier who was held by Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region. It caps what is sure to be an emotional, explosive festival.

The Cannes Film Festival runs between May 17 and May 28. James Mottram will be covering it for The Herald.