Celebrating the Cannes Film Festival with 6 LGBTQ+ Films
Matthew Creith READ TIME: 5 MIN.
The Cannes Film Festival, unique in its high-profile presentation of upcoming films revealed to a global audience along the French Riviera, is quickly approaching yet again. Starting May 16 and running until May 27, the invitation-only festival is regarded as one of the "Big Three" European film festivals alongside Venice and Berlin.
As part of the Cannes Film Festival's lineup of categories, many LGBTQ+ films compete for the Queer Palm. Established in 2010, the Queer Palm is not an official award of the festival organization but is independently funded to recognize movies for their treatment of LGBTQ+ themes. Some of the films selected to be nominated for and take home the Queer Palm have also competed for the festival's ultimate prize in prestigious glory: the Palme d'Or.
In celebration of another year of the Cannes Film Festival, here is a list of some of the best LGBTQ+ films that were at the festival over the last few years:
Saim Sadiq's drama "Joyland" took Cannes by storm in 2022, marking Sadiq's feature film directorial debut and the first time Pakistani film to premiere at the festival. Set in Lahore, Pakistan, the movie focuses on Haider (Ali Junejo), the son of a traditional family who becomes a backup dancer for a Bollywood-type of burlesque show. While implanted into a world outside his comfort zone, Haider falls for trans dancer Biba (Alina Khan), much to the dismay of his conservative family. The film explores themes of sex, desire, familial tensions, and independence.
"Joyland" was initially banned in its native Pakistan until Sadiq made some edits in order for citizens to screen the movie. At Cannes, it went on to win the Queer Palm and the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. Though it did not receive an Academy Award nomination, "Joyland" enjoyed an 8-minute standing ovation from Cannes audiences. It became the first Pakistani film to be shortlisted for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film.
Not winning the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival isn't always a sign that LGBTQ+ audiences won't recognize a film for its risk-taking ability. "Titane" competed in 2021's festival for the Queer Palm but lost out to "The Divide," although the former seems to have stood the test of time. Written and directed by French helmer Julia Ducournau, "Titane" surprised everyone when it went on to win the Palme d'Or.
"Titane" is a psychological horror film that stars Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, and Laïs Salameh in a story about a serial killer who experiences a lust for cars after a childhood vehicular accident leaves her fitted with a titanium plate in her head. She changes her appearance in an attempt to escape the authorities by posing as a long-missing boy as she "reunites" with the boy's father.
The film did not garner love from the Academy Awards but still holds a healthy approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, "Titane" is currently available to American audiences via Hulu.
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire"
Following the theme of French films available on Hulu, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" might be the most talked about queer movie released in recent memory. Although flicks like "Bros" and "Fire Island" might have received a lot of attention for their comedic presentation of gay male relationships as of late, writer and director Céline Sciamma took audiences for a wildly romantic ride in 2019 with "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." Starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, the film explores a torrid affair between a female painter tasked with painting a portrait of an aristocrat in France in the late 18th century.
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, won the Queer Palm, and competed for the Palme d'Or. It became the first movie directed by a woman to win the Queer Palm but followed an unlikely trend of not being nominated for an Academy Award. However, the British film magazine Sight & Sound chose to include the movie in its 2022 critics' poll of the greatest films of all time, in which "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" earned the 30th slot of the greatest films, the highest movie on the list of those released in the 2010s.
"Pain and Glory"
Spanish director and noted gay auteur Pedro Almodóvar has made several movies about his life experiences. He has worked with many A-list names and frequently collaborated successfully with Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. In 2019, Almodóvar competed for the Queer Palm against "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" with the entry "Pain and Glory," but lost to the French film. However, "Pain and Glory" succeeded where others hadn't in the Queer Palm category at the Cannes Film Festival: it would eventually be nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.
"Pain and Glory" stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, an aging film director who reflects on his turbulent life and the choices he's made that's led him to be the man he is today. The film benefits from outstanding performances from its ensemble cast, which includes Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, and Julieta Serrano. As one of the most personal films Almodóvar has brought to the big screen, "Pain and Glory" was critically successful and became the highest-grossing Spanish film of 2019. Banderas also took home the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival that year, and he was nominated for the Oscar, a first for the performer.
Typically, LGBTQ+-themed films that premiere at the Cannes Film Festival go on to be recognized on a global scale for their unique take on queer life and experiences. In 2015, America got the chance to add to this creativity by releasing "Carol," a film set in the 1950s about a forbidden love affair between a younger female photographer (Rooney Mara) and an older soon-to-be divorcee (Cate Blanchett). Directed by Todd Haynes, the film is based on the novel "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith and marked a crucial moment for lesbian representation in a mainstream movie.
"Carol" had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, won the Queer Palm, competed for the Palme d'Or, and Rooney Mara tied with Emmanuelle Bercot for the Best Actress award at the festival. Both Mara and Blanchett would go on to be nominated for awards at the Academy Awards for their work in the film, although the movie itself did not receive love in the Best Picture category. Since its release, The British Film Institute has subsequently named Haynes' film as the best LGBT movie of all time.
On the other side of the pond, British filmmakers have also had their say regarding LGBTQ+ films looking for accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2014, director Matthew Warchus hit a home run with the debut of "Pride." Based on a true story of gay activists who raised money and helped lead a strike for British miners in the 1980s, the movie won the Queer Palm. "Pride" starred a plethora of British actors, including fan-favorite Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, and stage actor Andrew Scott. Future "1917" performer George MacKay led the film as Joe "Bromley" Cooper.
Much of "Pride" takes elements from the real organization behind the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. This successful movement helped raise enough money to help striking miners and their families in the mid-1980s. Actor Ben Schnetzer portrays Mark Ashton, the real-life founder of the LGSM, who passed away from complications of AIDS in 1987. His legacy lives on in the lives touched by his work, as depicted in "Pride," a unique account of a labor dispute that mirrors the political unrest seen by afflicted citizens worldwide today.
"Pride" is currently available to watch on Showtime.