Mumbai: The last time an Asian film won the Palme d’Or was in 2010: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

In the decade before that, there were three winners—a shared prize for Shohei Imamura’s The Eel and Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry in 1997, and Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine in 1993. The Eurocentric leanings of the global festival circuit apart, this is a poor indicator of how influential Asian cinema has been in the last few decades.

Cannes will find it tougher to ignore Asia’s increasing financial clout. The token studio offering at this year’s festival is Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. While an Out of Competition slot is usually reserved every year for a Hollywood tentpole title, will coming years see a Chinese studio offering make the cut?

Many analysts predict that China will soon overtake the US in terms of global box-office share. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, in 2017 China accounted for $7.9 billion in ticket sales compared to $11.1 billion in US and Canada.

Cannes, which is as much a marketplace as it is an arbiter of cinematic taste, could well respond to this trend soon.

The 71st edition of the festival, which runs from 8 to 19 May, has a sparkling line-up, and films from Asia seem to be generating a lot of interest.

The Competition section includes two stalwarts in Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, a gentle chronicler of everyday life, with Shoplifters, and the politically minded Chinese director Jia Zhangke, with Ash Is Purest White.

Both have won awards at Cannes before and been in the running for the Palme d’Or several times—along with regulars like Asghar Farhadi and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, they’ll be among the first names penciled in for the top prize.

Also in Competition is South Korea’s Lee Chang-dong (winner of the Best Screenplay Award for Poetry at Cannes 2010), whose hypnotic-looking Burning is an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami story, and Japanese director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II.

The Middle East, meanwhile, is represented by Iranian veteran Jafar Panahi, who continues his unique streak of films made under severe official restrictions with 3 Faces.

In addition, there are several other Asian titles across sections that we’ll be looking out for: the portmanteau film 10 Years Thailand (Weerasethakul is one of the directors); Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night; and Wang Bing’s documentary Dead Souls.

There’s no Indian film in competition, but Un Certain Regard (a parallel section that seeks to promote fresh talent) has an Indian entry—Nandita Das’s Manto, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the Pakistani writer who used scathing humour to talk about the horrors of Partition.

Over email, Das explained how the film, although a period piece, had contemporary relevance.

“Artists, writers, freethinkers, rationalists are all being attacked in some form or the other and are being silenced. So I think it is relevant not just in our South Asian sub-continent but also around the world," Das wrote.

The other Indian film in a prominent parallel section (Dinkar Rao’s Asthi is in the Short Film Corner, a parallel event) is Rohena Gera’s Sir, which is part of International Critics’ Week.

The film, about the relationship between a man and the woman who works in his home, features Tillotama Shome and Vivek Gomber.

Over email, Shome, who also has a cameo in Manto, said that, “As a society our class bias is a blindness of convenience that we have systemically perfected. I was hyper-aware of my complicity and hence the process of Sir was often very uncomfortable for me to negotiate."

She said she had not seen the film yet, and was looking forward to doing so at Cannes. That the two Indian entries are helmed by women, she said, “is an incredible relief from the claustrophobia of a male-dominated industry".

The mix of established rabble-rousers like Jean-Luc Godard and Spike Lee and younger directors looking to burst onto the world scene should make for an exciting and—if we’re lucky—unpredictable edition of Cannes.

Apart from the films on offer, it will also be instructive to see how the diverse, women-dominated jury headed by Cate Blanchett adjudicates and interacts with the press in the first edition of Cannes after #MeToo.

Close