Paul Dano’s directorial debut ‘Wildlife’ to headline Cannes Critics’ Week

The Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, the parallel section dedicated to directors’ first and second films, will open with Paul Dano’s drama “Wildlife” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan.

“Wildlife,” which world premiered at Sundance and was warmly received, was written by Dano and Zoe Kazan and is based on a novel by Richard Ford. Set in the 1960s, in the small town of Great Falls in Montana, “Wildlife” is told through the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who sees his mother taking her life in her own hands after his father takes a risky job in the nearby mountains and leaves them to fend for themselves.

Charles Tesson, the sidebar’s artistic director, described “Wildlife” as a “director-driven film in the vein of Jeff Nichols’ films.”

“‘Wildlife’ has a timeless dimension, as well as a social bent because it deals with the struggles of the white working class while also exploring the characters’ emotions with great sensibility,” said Tesson, who had selected Nichols’ second film, “Take Shelter,” which established Nichols as a major filmmaker.

“Wildlife” is the sole American film set to unspool at this year’s Critics’ Week. The rest of the selection, including the seven titles of the competition lineup, is dominated by European films.

Echoing “Wildlife,” several films competing, notably Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Fugue” and Zsofia Szilagyi’s debut “One Day,” also explore the themes of womanhood and motherhood through different genres.

“The Fugue” follows a woman who struggles to be a mother and wife after losing her memory. Tesson said the film begins like a drama and progressively becomes a psychological thriller with fantasy elements. “The Fugue” marks Smoczynska’s follow-up to “The Lure,” which won Sundance’s Special Jury Award in 2016.

“One Day” chronicles 24 hours in the life of a woman in her 40s who is on the edge, saddled with daily duties – including her work, three children, husband and financial issues – until something unexpected happens.

Other anticipated films set to compete include Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War,” which marks the Icelandic helmer’s sophomore outing after his critically acclaimed debut, “Of Horses and Men.” “Woman at War” is a female-powered action comedy about a middle-aged woman who embarks on an environmental mission to protect the highlands of Iceland. Tesson said the film delivered a “jubilant, endearing and inventive portrait of a woman” while addressing political issues at the same time.

Other films in competition, such as Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s “Diamantino” and freshman Indian director Rohena Gera’s “Sir,” also address social and political themes through comedy or romance, Tesson said.

“Sir” explores the budding romance between an open-minded, upper-class Indian man and his housekeeper, who aspires to become an independent woman. Tesson, who had programmed Ritesh Batra’s “Lunchbox,” another Indian romantic comedy, in 2013, said he was particularly excited to turn the spotlight on Gera, who is a popular screenwriter in India. “‘Sir’ says something deep and meaningful about the middle and upper class in India through a tale of an impossible love,” Tesson said.

“Diamantino,” which was pitched during last year’s Work-in-Progress section at Les Arcs Film Festival, follows an imaginary Portuguese soccer star – a character inspired by real-life player Ronaldo – who becomes exploited by many people, including a nationalistic party eager to use him as its mascot.

The competition lineup is completed by Anja Kofmel’s “Chris the Swiss,” a feature weaving documentary and animation, and Camille Vidal-Naquet’s “Sauvage,” which charts the experience of a young man’s search for love and involvement in the world of male prostitution. “Sauvage,” which Tesson said was a poignant and bold drama, toplines Félix Maritaud, who starred in Robin Campillo’s “(BPM) Beats Per Minute.”

“Chris the Swiss” follows the filmmaker’s journey on the trail of her cousin, a young journalist who was murdered during the war in Yugoslavia.

The two pics set to world premiere in the Special Screenings section of Critics’ Week are Guillaume Senez’s “Nos batailles,” and Jean-Bernard Marlin’s “Shéhérazade,” a love story set against the backdrop of Marseilles’ underprivileged, crime-ridden neighborhoods. “Nos batailles,” Guillaume Senez’s follow-up to “Keeper,” toplines French star Romain Duris as a dedicated labor activist who is forced to start acting as a father when his wife deserts him.

As many as 1,100 films were watched by Tesson and his selection committee to come up with the final 11 features.

The 57th edition of Critics’ Week takes place May 9-17. To see the full lineup of films, click here.

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