The director: Bertrand Bonello (France)
The talent: Unsurprisingly for a brothel-set narrative, the film is heavy on rising female stars, including Hafsia Herzi (“The Secret of the Grain”) and Italian ingenue Jasmine Trinca (“The Son’s Room”); their more senior co-star, Noémie Lvovsky, is arguably more of an institution in France than on the international arthouse scene. Two male cast members also prompt interest: Louis-Do DeLencquesaing, so excellent in last year’s “The Father of My Children,” and the more unlikely figure of “Of Gods and Men” director Xavier Beauvois.
The pitch: An evidently sumptuous period affair, Bonello’s film (also known by its French title “L’apollonide”) examines the goings-on in a Paris brothel at the beginning of the 20th century. After one prostitute is brutally disfigured for life by a client, the other women of the house shut themselves off from the outside world; the film tracks the rivalries and camaraderie of their isolated day-to-day existence. Bonello has been something of a controversy-monger with sexually frank films like “The Pornographer” and “Tiresia”; expect that trend to continue with his latest.
The pedigree: At 42 years of age, former classical musician Bonello (who doubles as his own composer) may be one of the younger directors in Competition, but he has some form at Cannes: three of his four previous features premiered on the Croisette, one of them (2003′s “Tiresia”) in Competition. He came up empty that time, but 2001′s “The Pornographer,” was a Critics’ Week hit and landed the FIPRESCI prize.
The buzz: “The Pornographer” made a minor dent on the arthouse circuit, thanks to its risqué premise and the presence of star Jean-Pierre Leaud — but beyond that, Bonello is one of those auteurs, admired in his home country, who has yet really to cross over internationally. (His last feature netted neither US nor UK distribution.) But if blogosphere buzz on this one is predictably quiet, Europeans in the know seem rather more excited, suggesting a significant provocation on the horizon. (Others are hoping for a statelier version of last year’s surprise Best Director winner, Mathieu Amalric’s burlesque ensemble piece “On Tour,” though I’m guessing the premise-based comparisons will prove empty.) A clutch of painterly stills that circulated the net last week, meanwhile, suggest we can at least expect a visual feast.
The odds: Working from under a blindfold, neither the bookies nor the more cinematically astute odds expert Neil Young particularly like the film’s Palme chances, though that could all change if the film causes a stir (among critics, the easily shocked, or both) on the Croisette. My irrational gut instinct suggests this could be one to watch for some form of prize: for three years running, a French entry has won one of the fest’s top two awards. (Last year’s “Of Gods and Men” was also underestimated by the English-speaking media ahead of its screening.) And should the female ensemble delivers, a shared Best Actress prize would be a familiar jury move.
[Photos: Eyes Wired Open]