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5 Independent Gems to Watch at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

Every year, the Cannes Film Festival ignites an intense excitement within the realm of cinema along the La Croisette, a picturesque stretch of beachfront road. This year’s festival has heightened anticipation with the latest announcement that Meryl Streep will be the guest of honor at the opening ceremony, set to unfold on the evening of May 14. Streep is poised to receive an Honorary Palme d’Or, adding to the prestigious list of actors and filmmakers who will grace the festival. This roster, featuring luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola presenting his first film in nearly a decade, David Cronenberg’s autobiographical horror The Shrouds, and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, reads like a who’s who of Hollywood royalty.

Although there’s significant buzz around the blockbuster films, the big screen in Cannes always belongs to indie gems, the dark horses that end up turning the race upside down. A prime example is last year’s entry, Justine Triet’s slow-burning French film Anatomy of a Fall, which earned the prestigious Palme d’Or as well as two Golden Globes and an Academy Award.

So as you prepare for the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, here are some hidden gems you should add to your list.

Being Maria 

Director: Jessica Palud

When you are decades ahead of a groundbreaking movement like the #MeToo movement that shook the industry in 2017, your contributions might not receive the recognition they deserve. This was the case for French actress Maria Schneider, who was cast in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris when she was just 19 years old. Her dream role quickly turned into a nightmare as she allegedly suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of Bertolucci and her co-star Marlon Brando during filming. Schneider never fully recovered from the trauma she endured while filming the now-infamous butter scene, and though she continued to appear in other films, her reputation as a troublemaker plagued her career. Palud’s film stars César-winning French-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei as Schneider and former teen heartthrob Matt Dillon as Brando.

Julie Keeps Quiet 

Director: Leonardo van Dijl

Julie Keeps Quiet is a Belgian film that follows the story of a high school tennis player who excels on the court but whose personal life leaves something to be desired. When fellow student Aline, who is also an aspiring tennis athlete, commits suicide after a traumatic incident, Julie is forced to confront inner conflicts. The film prompts viewers to consider the consequences of silence versus speaking out, while also exploring factors that might have contributed to Aline’s despair, including Coach Jeremy. With a slow-burning narrative, the film’s dense subject matter still manages to tug at the heartstrings, proving to be a worthwhile movie experience.


Director: Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel

This debut feature comes from Norwegian-born writer and director Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel, who happens to be the grandson of Swedish actress Liv Ullmann and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Armand is a story about boundaries, following two six-year-old best friends and their parents who are summoned to their children’s school shortly before summer vacation after an incident occurs. The film stars Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve, who is best recognized for winning the Best Actress Award at Cannes in 2021 for her performance in The Worst Person in the World.


Director: KEFF

Mark my words: once this film premieres, it’s poised to receive considerable acclaim. Locust carries hints of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite (another Cannes favorite) and channels the visceral violence reminiscent of a Tarantino classic, presenting a raw and unbridled masterpiece. The cinematography is equally stunning and gritty, portraying a young man whose inability to speak acts as a metaphor for the silence of Taiwanese youth amidst their country’s far-reaching corruption. While Hong Kong takes to the streets in protest, protagonist Zhong-Han and his peers can only watch in disbelief, while Taipei’s mafia navigates the complicated situation. American-Taiwanese filmmaker KEFF is undeniable—a multifaceted creative with credentials spanning screenwriting, directing, music, and artistry. This marks the first Taiwanese film to screen in Cannes Critics’ Week.

Motel Destino

Director: Karim Aïnouz

After reigning as the king of indie features for over two decades, Brazilian-Algerian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz moved closer to international stardom with his 2023 historical drama Firebrand, starring Alicia Vikander and Jude Law. Now, Aïnouz returns with Motel Destino, an artistic exploration of personal freedom and the power dynamics between individuals. Set at a forgotten motel in Ceará, a tropical region of northeastern Brazil, where the scorching heat of the land mirrors the sultry relationship between the film’s protagonists, the result is an erotic drama sure to captivate audiences.

Honorable Mention: Across The Sea (Le mer au loin)

Director: Saïd Hamich Benlarbi

This marks the French Moroccan director’s second feature, following his 2018 debut Return to Bollène and the short film The Departure, which screened in festivals worldwide, earning over 20 awards and a César nomination (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2022. In his latest endeavor, the filmmaker and producer delves into the decade spanning from 1990 to 2000 through the lens of Nour and his friends in Marseille. The film showcases exceptional performances, including those by French actor Grégoire Colin and Moroccan TV star Ayoub Gretaa, among others. Complemented by a phenomenal soundtrack featuring both classic and undiscovered Raï music, Across the Sea stands out even before Cannes begins.


Words By: E. Nina Rothe
Photos provided by: Cannes Film Festival


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