(Header photo is from EL SALTO courtesy of RTVE)
UPDATE: The full festival lineup is now public! Ahead of the festival open, this document will be cleaned up to reflect that.
The time has come for speculation to begin about what to expect from the line-up of one of the most prestigious (“Big Five”) film festivals in the world, the Cannes Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 76th edition this year, running from May 16-27, 2023.
The festival typically kicks off its lineup announcements in early April, about a month after the submission process officially closes (March 17 this year). UPDATE: The Festival confirmed this week that it will announce the Official Selection for its 76th edition at 10 am BST on Thursday, April 13.
Heading into the final rush, here’s a list of feature titles telling African stories from around the world (and not exclusively directed by African filmmakers) that Akoroko speculates could claim slots in either the festival’s Official Selection or one of the parallel/sidebar sections.
Note: the list will be updated as new information surfaces (tips can be sent to email@example.com).
LE RETOUR: Aissatou Sagna, Esther Gohourou, Suzy Bemba lead Catherine Corsini‘s LE RETOUR. Story: Kheìdidja, in her forties, works for a wealthy Parisian family who offers her the opportunity to take care of their children for a summer in Corsica. It’s an opportunity for her to return with her daughters, Jessica and Farah, to the island they left fifteen years earlier in tragic circumstances. Catherine Corsini is certainly no stranger to Cannes. Her previous three features were all screened either in competition or one of the parallel sections.
LE RETOUR (CONFIRMED): A second film titled LE RETOUR just might premiere in the South of France next month; this one is Mati Diop’s followup to her 2019 Cannes winner ATLANTICS (ATLANTIQUE), which was also her feature directorial debut, making history as the first feature film directed by a Black woman filmmaker in competition. It was also selected to represent Senegal at the Oscars in the Best International Film category for which it was shortlisted. Little has been reported about the project, but buried at the bottom of a March 16 Adèle Exarchopoulos article on the very reliable Cineuropa website is a “by the way” mention of LE RETOUR, framing it as a documentary produced by Les Films du Bal, who also produced Diop’s ATLANTICS. The film’s status was listed as “post-production,” meaning it could very well be ready in time for a Cannes debut. LE RETOUR (THE RETURN in English) is about “the return of the royal treasures of Abomey in Benin, after more than a century in France when they were snatched away by colonial plunder.” The 26 works of art are valuable cultural artifacts that help encapsulate Benin’s rich history. In December 2020, a law was unanimously adopted by the French National Assembly that included a return of the treasures.
LES INDÉSIRABLES: It’s unlikely to premiere at Cannes this year, given how recently it was announced (December 2022). But we don’t have all the information on its production, and anything is possible, so it’s included. Up next for French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly: LES INDÉSIRABLES. Story: charts the journey of a fierce young woman, Habi, and a budding new mayor, Pierre, crossing paths in an underprivileged suburb on the outskirts of Paris. Habi, a native of the suburb who is involved in social causes helping locals, becomes a political figure. Pierre, meanwhile, is a former doctor who takes the city’s reins after the mayor’s death and sets off to follow his agenda. The film is headlined by a promising newcomer, Anta Diaw, and Alexis Manenti, who co-starred in Ly’s debut LES MISÉRABLES, which was France’s submission for Best International Feature Film Oscar consideration for 2019.
SALEM (CONFIRMED): Jean-Bernard Marlin’s SALEM is described as a “ground-breaking fantasy epic” set in Marseilles, with a running time of 160 minutes. Story: 14-year-old Grasshoppers gang member Djibril leads a dangerous existence in a Marseille slum, along with his pregnant girlfriend Camilla who belongs to a rival gang, the Crickets. When Djibril is manipulated into killing the young Cricket Mahad, war breaks out. Djibril is haunted by the curse Mahad spat out as he lay dying, and begins to communicate with the spirit world. Convinced that global apocalypse is imminent, he embarks on a crazy plan to flee with Camilla and their unborn child – the only one capable of saving them all from Mahad’s malediction. But the law catches up with him. Now, after 12 years in prison and a secure psychiatric unit, Djibril will do whatever it takes to find his daughter and convince her to fulfill his prophecy. The film stars Oumar Moindjie, Dalil Abdourahim, and Mohamed Soumare.
IO CAPITANO: Matteo Garrone’s IO CAPITANO is described as a “Homeric tale.” Story: the adventurous journey of two Senegalese youngsters, Seydou and Moussa, who leave Dakar for Europe. A modern-day Odyssey traversing the perils of the desert, the dangers of the sea, and the ambiguities of human beings. The film was shot in Italy, Morocco, and Senegal, marking the first time, Garrone — a two-time Cannes jury prize-winner — sets a feature film outside of Italy. The main cast includes newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall. Matteo Garrone is a Cannes regular. Should IO CAPITANO’s premiere land at the festival, it’ll be the renowned Italian filmmaker’s fifth Cannes entry since GOMORRA in 2008.
EL SALTO: Spanish filmmaker Benito Zambrano’s EL SALTO is described as a social thriller that “relates the hell experienced by those who try to jump the fence separating the African continent from the European continent.” Story: the film follows Ibrahim, a migrant from Guinea who now lives in Madrid with his wife Mariama. Their peaceful lives turn upside down when he is arrested for not having a residence permit. Ibrahim is deported to his native country and from that moment on his only objective will be to return to Spain to be with Mariama and the daughter she is expecting. The film stars Moussa Sylla, Edith Martínez, and Nansi Nsue.
THE PERFUMED HILL: Last we checked, this was in post-production as of late 2022. It most recently drew finishing funds from the Red Sea Fund in January. And as Abderrahmane Sissako is no stranger to Cannes, this is a likely strong candidate, as his last feature, TIMBUKTU (2014) was, in the main competition section at Cannes the same year. TIMBUKTU was also chosen as Mauritania’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and went on to be nominated for the prize at the 87th Academy Awards, although it didn’t win. Co-written by his TIMBUKTU co-writer Kessen Tall, THE PERFUMED HILL follows the journey of Joice, who leaves the Ivory Coast to start a new life in Guangzhou, China, after saying “no” on her wedding day. She finds a job at a tea boutique owned by Cai, a Chinese man, in the vibrant region of Guangzhou, known as the “Chocolate City.” In the secrecy of the back shop, Cai decides to initiate Joice to the tea ceremony, and through the teaching of this ancient art, their relationship slowly turns into tender and passionate love. The film is a co-production between Cinéfrance Studios, House on Fire, Gaumont, Arte (France), Dune Vision (Mauritania), and House on Fire International (Taiwan).
BANEL ET ADAMA (CONFIRMED): Senegalese-French director Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s feature debut is set in a remote village in Northern Senegal where the title characters Banel and Adama are fiercely in love. Longing for a home of their own, they have decided to live apart from their families. When Adama refuses his blood duty as future chief and informs the village council of his intentions, the whole community is disrupted and chaos ensues. Writer/director Sy is most noted for her 2021 short film ASTEL, which was the winner of the Share Her Journey award at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and the SACD Award and a Special Jury Prize at the 2022 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. She was also a co-writer of the feature films SIBEL (2018) and OUR LADY OF THE NILE (2019). BANEL ET ADAMA entered production in 2022. Brussels-based film sales agent Best Friends Forever boarded the film at the 2023 Berlinale EFM.
SMALL GODS: The UK’s Sovereign and Scala Productions, in association with Prestige Films, are backers and producers of SMALL GODS, a feature narrative film about the landless Batwa people of Uganda, in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Asher Rosen and Ezra Mugisha are directing. Story: A struggling single mother and a charismatic street performer, both sing for international tourists in their fight to rise above the cycle of poverty. When a crisis strikes, it threatens their growing hopes for a better future. The cast includes Bizimana Hussain, Florenz Mariserena, and Tuyi Mariserena. The independent production might be a long shot if only because both Rosen and Mugisha are first-time feature filmmakers without much of a story. But the project has drawn the right kind of prestige internationally that could earn a Cannes slot.
BELGIUM/NETHERLANDS/DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
AUGURE (CONFIRMED): Belgian-Congolese rapper/filmmaker Baloji makes his feature directorial debut with AUGURE. Story: Considered a zabolo (sorcerer) Koffi was banished by his mother. After 15 years of absence, he returns to Lubumbashi to pay his dowry. Accompanied by his future wife Alice, he will confront the prejudices and suspicion of his family. Marc Zinga and Lucie Debay star. Baloji has two stylish short films on his resume, including ZOMBIES (2019) which can be watched on Nowness, the digital video channel that was launched as a brand of LVMH. AUGURE seemed like a lock for the 2023 Berlinale last month, especially given that it received funding from the World Cinema Fund, which is an initiative of the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Berlin International Film Festival. But it likely wasn’t ready. Cannes seems like the next logical stop; possibly Venice and Toronto down the road.
Mohamed Kordofani’s upcoming drama GOODBYE JULIA (CONFIRMED) is the first Sudanese feature film and director to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival in history.
GOODBYE JULIA follows the story of Mona — a northern Sudanese retired singer in a tense marriage — who is wracked by guilt after covering up a murder. In an attempt to make amends, she takes in the deceased’s southern Sudanese widow, Julia, and her son, Daniel, into her home.
Unable to confess her transgressions to Julia, Mona decides to leave the past behind and adjust to a new status quo, unaware that the country’s turmoil may find its way into her home and put her face to face with her sins.
The film stars Eiman Yousif, Siran Riak — the former Ms. South Sudan — Nazar Goma, and Ger Duany, is written and directed by Kordofani, and produced by Station Films’ acclaimed Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala — the director of Sudan’s first-ever submission to the Academy Awards YOU WILL DIE AT TWENTY — in collaboration with producer Mohamed Al-Omda, who co-produced Yemen’s Berlin International Film Festival selection THE BURDENED.
ALL THE TITLES BELOW ARE CONFIRMED
African stories set for the ACID (Association du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion) sidebar which showcases independent auteur films from around the world:
– NO ME | Dir. Sana Na N’Hada | Guinea-Bissau | Guinea-Bissau, 1969. A violent war between the Portuguese colonial army and the guerrillas of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea. Nome leaves his village and joins the maquis. After years, he will return as a hero, but joy will soon give way to bitterness and cynicism.
Sana Na N’Hada is one of the earliest documented Bissau-Guinean filmmakers, together with Flora Gomes who is more recognized. But both have been key figures in documenting the country’s history on film. This is N’Hada’s third feature.
2) African stories set for the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, a showcase for new and innovative films from emerging filmmakers:
– DÉSERTS | Dir Faouzi Bensaïdi | Morocco | The story follows the journey of two friends through the Moroccan Sahara.
– MAMBAR PIERRETTE | Dir. Rosine Mbakam | Cameroon | Mambar, a seamstress in Douala, struggles to make ends meet. She works long hours in her sewing workshop, but customers are few and far between. She is resigned to her fate, but she dreams of a better life for her children. Will the rain of Douala ever let the sun shine on Mambar and her children?
This is documentarian Mbakam’s first narrative feature film and her first time at Cannes. Look for her documentaries, notably THE TWO FACES OF A BAMILEKE WOMAN and DELPHINE’s PRAYERS.
Cape Verdean drama AMA GLORIA by Marie Amachoukeli. The story: six-year-old Cléo loves her nanny Gloria more than anything. When Gloria must return to Cape Verde to care for her own children, the two must make the most of their last summer together. It’s the opening film for the La Semaine de la Critique (The International Critics’ Week) parallel.
The 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival will be held from May 16 to 27, 2023.