Queer Girl: The Queer Palm Contenders (So Far) at Cannes Film Festival 2019

I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s Queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! Film festival season is upon us once again, with the annual Cannes Film Festival kicking off in the French Riviera. This year also happens to be the 10th anniversary of the Queer Palm, an award founded by journalist Franck Finance-Madureira to celebrate LGBTQIA+ stories. Many nominated in this category later go on to vie for Golden Globes, BAFTAS and even Oscars, in the case of 2015’s winner “Carol.” While there may be a few more nominees in the next few days, the Queer Palm jury has released a list of over 20 nominated films spreading rainbow visibility in tremendous ways. Here’s everything I’ve gleaned so far about the nominees (and my top contenders for the prize).

Note: All film titles translated to English from their respective languages.

FEATURE FILMS

  • “Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodovar (Official Selection- Competition)

“Pain and Glory” stars Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Pénelope Cruz, Julieta Serrano and Leonardio Sbaraglia in a self-reflective story about a fading film director’s childhood, his first love and his foray into film. The film has been hailed by IndieWire as Pedro Almodóvar’s “…best and most personal movie in years,” calling it “a memoir in the medium he knows best.”

  • “Roubaix, A Light,” Arnaud Desplechin (Official Selection- Competition)

French film “Roubiax, A Light” follows police chief Dauod and rookie cop Louis as they stumble across the murder of an old woman. Soon, it becomes clear who the culprits are: Claude and Marie, a pair of addicts and lovers living just next door. While the pair terrify Louis, Dauod seeks to treat them with respect, rising beyond the horror of their crime to give both murderers back their humanity.

  • Matthias and Maxime,” Xavier Dolan (Official selection- Competition)

This drama, written by, directed and starring Canadian Xavier Dolan, follows a group of friends in their late 20s. While this is the most non-descriptive summary of our selections, Dolan is a well-received gay filmmaker who has had seven of his films premiere at Cannes since 2009, receiving eight awards along the way. His work, loved by the film world and often queer-centric, places “Matthias and Maxime” as one of the bigger frontrunners in this race, simply because of Dolan’s strong track record.

  • “Frankie,” Ira Sachs (Official Selection – Competition)

This American-French drama starring Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Isabelle Huppert, and Greg Kinnear follows family matriarch Frankie and her family struggling with a life-changing experience on a vacation in Sintra, Portugal. According to IndieWire, “Frankie” will explore the cracks within this group of family, friends, and lovers.  Among the group is Pascal Greggory’s Michel, Franke’s now-gay first husband (and probably the reason this film was nominated). It’s already been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics wider for distribution, so if your interest is piqued, you’ll likely be seeing it very soon.

  • “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Céline Sciama (Official Selection – Competition)

A French film from director and writer Céline Sciama, “Portrait of A Lady On Fire” is set on an isolated Bretagne island in the late 1700s, where a female painter is asked to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman. The film sounds like a lesbian period romance for the ages.  

  • “Rocketman,” Dexter Fletcher (Official Selection-Out of Competition)

The contender with the most aces in its hand, “Rocketman” sounds like everything fans could want from a musical biopic. Based on LGBTQIA+ icon Elton John, audiences follow a young Elton (Taron Egerton) from obscurity to bedazzled fame. With 22 hits sung by Egerton, directing from Dexter Fletcher (the director who completed filming on “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and continuous involvement from John (who’s also a producer), this film has nearly everything fans could ask for from a Queer Palm award winner. It’s also the first major studio film to include gay male sex scenes, a win for representation. The only downside of “Rocketman’s” shining light is its potential to put its fellow nominees in the shadows; most of the other nominees won’t have the kind of awards season muscle “Rocketman” boasts. A Cannes prize can make the difference between a Foreign Film Oscar and total obscurity. I’m rooting for “Rocketman,” but I hope it isn’t the only queer film that earns critical praise at this year’s festival.

  • “Lux Æterna,” Gaspar Noé (Official Selection – Off-Competition – Midnight Sessions)

Per ScreenDaily, “Lux Æterna” is a narrative and an essay, entwining the story of two actresses on a film telling stories about witches, and a love letter to cinema, film and on-set hysterics. The Selection Committee for the Midnight Screenings watched the film at the last minute and added it to the lineup, which foretells some potentially strong critical reactions to “Lux Æterna.”

  • “5 B,” Dan Krauss (Official Selection – Off-Competition – Special Sessions)

“5 B” is the first film to document the efforts of nurses and staff at San Francisco General Hospital during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. 5 B became famous for its brand of radical empathy even in medical environments, treating physical contact between patients and caretakers as the norm when other hospitals still saw AIDS patients as dangerous lepers. According to Collider, Oscar winner Paul Haggis co-directed the film and threw much of his weight behind the project, which focuses on just how fundamental human contact (and radical empathy) is to human beings, and the care nurses on the ward gave to their patients. I’m pulling for this film to earn the Queer Palm, as it reminds us of the horrors our community’s survived, and those who stood by us.

  • “Beanpole,” Kantemir Balagov (Un Certain Regard)

In the aftermath of the World War II siege at Leningrad, young women Iya and Masha search for meaning and hope as they struggle to rebuild from the ashes of the city and their lives. The name “Beanpole,” according to director Kantemir Balagov, comes from the Russian title “Dylda,” suggesting clumsiness and gracelessness, a representation of Iya and Masha’s struggle to live again after the horrors they’d endured during the war. Balagov previously won the Fipresci prize at Cannes for his debut feature “Closeness” in 2017, and could win again with his latest offering.

  • “Port Authority,” Danielle Lessovitz (Un Certain Regard)

Danielle Lessovitz’s feature film debut is a hell of a ride, following Paul, a man who meets a beautiful woman named Wye voguing on the sidewalk near the Port Authority. Their love is hot and heavy, but when Paul realizes Wye is trans, he must confront his own identity. Set in the kiki ballroom scene, this film seems to be one of the more serious contenders for the Queer Palm, with Martin Scorsese as a producer and Lessovitz casting trans actor Leyna Bloom to play Wye, reportedly never even considering casting a cis actor for the role. Even if “Port Authority” doesn’t win the Queer Palm, it may receive the Un Certain Regard or future big nominations during awards season.

  • “Liberté,” Albert Serra (Un Certain Regard)

Set in 1774 just before the French Revolution, Madame de Dumeval, the Duc de Tesis and Duc de Wand are expelled from the court of Louis XVI for their libertine leanings. They soon seek the support of Duc de Walchen, a German freethinker and playboy, in a mission to export libertinage, the philosophy of enlightenment through rejecting morality rules and authority; but really, their goal is to find a safe space to pursue pleasure outside all societal laws. A queer, and very steamy, feature.

  • “Adam,” Maryam Touzani (Un Certain Regard)

Set in Casablanca, “Adam” follows Abla, a baker who lives alone with her eight-year-old daughter Warda until Samia, a young pregnant woman, knocks on their door. The chance encounter sets off a friendship that changes each woman’s life. Per Variety, the film is aimed at shedding light on women’s rights issues around motherhood and social ostracism in Morocco.

  • “Nina Wu,” Medi Z (Un Certain Regard)

Indie, Taiwanese-based director Medi Z was inspired to make “Nina Wu,” a psychological horror film, in the wake of the #MeToo movement. According to Variety, “Nina Wu” follows an aspiring actress who goes through hell to deliver a breakout performance, only for her psychological resolve to crumble. Fleeing to her rural home, she manages to drag the delusion that she is being stalked and belittled by another actress with her. It’s a creepy and devastating venture.

  • “And Then We Danced,” Levan Akin (Fortnight of Directors)

Levan Akin’s Georgian dance/young gay romance feature film is receiving good reviews from its May 16 screening, with press in attendance raving about the predictable, but beautiful story. Think the Georgian version of “Call Me By Your Name,” with more dancing. “And Then We Danced” also seems to be the first gay Georgian film ever, which is a great step towards LGBTQIA+ equality on screen. I’d keep my eye on this film in the coming week.

  • “Zombi Child,” Bertand Bonello (Fortnight of Directors)

“Zombi Child” is a French film from auteur Bertrand Bonello combining the real-life Haitian origins of the zombie mythos, a bevy of teenage girls (one of whom may also be a zombie), and one zombified man, struggling to break free from a zombie chain gang. If you like zombies, this is probably your film. You can read more on “Zombi Child” in THR’s review.

  • “Tlamess,” Ala Eddine Slim (Fortnight of Directors)

A Tunisiam film hailing from Ala Eddine Slim, “Tlamless” tells the story of “S,” a Tunisian soldiers gone AWOL after the death of his mother, and his meeting with “F,” a pregnant wife who leaves her rich husband and escapes into the nearby forest.

  • “You Deserve A Love,” Hafsia Herzi (Review Week)

Directed, written by and starring Hafsia Herzi, French film “You Deserve a Love” is a story of life after heartbreak and the process of picking up the pieces on a solitary journey to far-off Bolivia.

  • “Indianara,” Aude Chevalier-Beaumel and Marcelo Barbosa (Acid)

Per Variety and Mubi, “Indianara” is a fiery documentary feature following the titular Brazilian icon and her supporters in the fight to protect the country’s transgender population against a repressive government regime. Read more about Indianara, her life and activism here.

SHORT FILMS

  • “The Distance Between The Sky And Us,” Vasilis Kekatos (Official Selection)

Two strangers meet in a lonely gas station, where one man has run out of gas money for his drive home. While haggling with the other stranger, he attempts to sell him the distance that separates them from the sky.

  • “Jeremiah,” Kenya Gillespie (Cinéfondation)

U.S. filmmaker Kenya Gillespie tells the story of an Asian-American high school football player who must confront his deepest fears after an encounter with a mysterious person.

  • “Complex Subject,” Olesya Yakovleva (Cinéfondation)

A strange teacher comes to work in a provincial town school, where his views are deemed too pretentious and innovative. But soon he will realize just how much the city loves him.

  • “Great Bouquet,” Nao Yoshigai (Fortnight of Directors)

A helpless woman confronts “a black object” with great power and many questions the woman can answer, but she can’t say them aloud, offering beautiful, colorful flowers instead of words.

  • “Journey Through A Body,” Camille Degeye (Review Week)

Thomas, a Swiss-German musician, is stuck at home with a broken foot, and spends his days composing a new piece of music. But just who is the unexpected female visitor, knocking on the door at dawn?

Frontrunner Picks For the Queer Palm

  • “Rocketman”: This film already has hype and the potential to bring in a large box office, even if it doesn’t earn the Queer Palm. But this high-profile project of a gay icon has already garnered glowing reviews and a lot of public interest, making it one of the more obvious choices for the prize.
  • “Pain and Glory”: Almodóvar’s latest and perhaps greatest film is earning a wave of praise with just as much star power as “Rocketman,” if not more. Until “Pain and Glory” comes to the U.S. in October, you may not hear as much buzz about the film as you will “Rocketman,” but it’s also got more than enough juice to win the Queer Palm.
  • “5 B”: This is a poignant film about the nurses and health professionals who treated AIDS patients with love and the human touch in a time when AIDS patients were still othered and feared. “5 B” will clearly resonant with Cannes audiences, and its message still resonants within our LGBTQIA+ community. I’d really like to see this kind of storytelling receive the critical praise it deserves.
  • “Indianara”: Indianara’s fight for the trans community against an incredibly conservative government is, frankly, badass, and the film shows that. Films like “Indianara,” showcasing LGBTQIA+ strength in the most conservative countries, often bring the world’s eyes and ears to the plight of our most vulnerable folx; from a personal standpoint, I’d love to see “Indianara” go all the way.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14 to 25, 2019; check back with Awards Circuit for winner news and more!

Who should win the Queer Palm? Let me know in the comments below!