5 Must-Watch Films From The Cannes Film Festival

For your cinema bucket list

In an unsurprising turn of events, the Cannes Film Festival 2020 has been cancelled. Set to have occurred last week, one of the largest international film events have followed a slew of other major public gatherings in the pandemic-induced limbo of suspension. The list of films that would have premiered is set to be released early next month. Details have yet to be finalised, but opting out of a physical and virtual festival, for now, they would instead be organising smaller screenings in collaboration with other film festivals that are to take place in different parts of the globe later this year. 

The annual fest has always been considered a temple of cinema, showcasing only the best and most sublime pieces. Year after year, we're introduced to cinema gems from around the world with Palme d'Or winners like Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, among many others. So not being able to celebrate these works of art as we traditionally would is an unfortunate event for the international film industry. 

While we wait for the complete lineup fighting for the Cannes Film Festival 2020 Palme d'Or to be released, here are some of the titles that premiered in the festival that's definitely worth a space in your movie bucket list.

The Assassin

Loosely based on a ninth-century story, The Assassin follows Nie Yinniang, an abducted child raised by a nun who trained her to follow a path of the martial arts. When she grew into a young woman, she was sent back to her hometown, tasked to assassinate her former husband-to-be and military governor Tian Ji'an to prove her mettle. In between bursts of thrilling action of the wuxia film, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien deftly creates a poignant drama as the heroine confronts her past and feelings. This, and how he worked with the gorgeous costumes and environment to tell the story, might just have been what won him the title of Best Director at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. 

What to expect: Though a martial arts film, not every single second of The Assassin will be packed with action. Expressive silences fill the moments in-between, and rather than dulling the story, they only serve to heighten the tension and intrigue. 


Aside from Bong Joon Ho, another South Korean director who is worthy of your attention is Park Chan Wook. He's particularly exceptional at crafting jarring psychological thrillers, as exemplified in the 2003 film Oldboy, which won the Grand Prix, the second-most prestigious prize of Cannes back in 2004. Paralleling the experiences of its protagonist Oh Dae Su, who's kidnapped and locked in a hotel room for 15 years, the audiences are given no clues nor hints on what's about to unfold. You simply have no choice but to follow him as he fights his way through discovering the mysteries of his captivity.

What to expect: Oldboy, simply put, is not for the faint-hearted. The film, falling in the neo-noir action genre, is undeniably graphic. You'll definitely find yourselves reeling at some scenes, but they're not just there to shock you — they definitely play a role in how the revenge plot unfolds.

The Piano

Those into period dramas, on the other hand, should definitely watch The Piano. Arguably one of the best films that won the much-coveted Palme d'Or award, Jane Champion's film set in the 19th century follows a mute widow who is shipped off to New Zealand to marry a landowner. Across the high seas, she brought along her daughter, as well as her piano through which she expresses herself. When she arrives in the islands, however, things don't go according to plan as she finds herself falling in love with a forester. The film remains to be the first and the only top prize winner of Cannes that was directed by a woman.

What to expect: Aside from its breath-taking cinematography, Holly Hunter's performance as the protagonist will have you deeply immersed in this tale that revolves around the feeling of love.

Toni Erdmann

For something a bit more fun, there's also the Palme d'Or-nominated Toni Erdmann that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2016. It follows Ines, a woman who reluctantly spends time with her father who returns home in Germany. Though the dad's passion for bizarre practical jokes brings laughter to the screen, his antics present complicating issues to their already estranged relationship. Beneath its absurdly funny scenes, Marden Ade's German-Austrian comedy-drama reveals itself to be quite an insightful tale about family.

What to expect: The film lasts for almost three hours, but even then, you won't find yourself dozing off midway. Its slow but hilarious pace keeps you entertained, while its heart-felt moments touches your heart, leaving you perhaps teary-eyed after watching.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Who says only live-action films can be considered a serious work of art? One of the best films that Studio Ghibli has ever produced, The Tale of Princess Kaguya just proves that animated films can also bring such profound wonder to their audiences. Based on the mythological Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the story begins with a poor old couple who discovers a tiny nymph inside a bamboo tree. Seeing her as a divine blessing, they raise her and attempt to make her a noble princess with the gold they magically found in the bamboo grove. Though mystical, the story still nonetheless portrays the dilemmas women face as they're bound by pressures of society and family.

What to expect: You'd think it's a fantastical tale befitting of a marvellous animation, but Isao Takahata chose to further highlight its beauty by rendering it in simple art style reminiscent of traditional Japanese paintings. With each frame of the film painstakingly hand-drawn, the masterpiece will leave you appreciating the ordinary realities we come across every day.

(Cover photo from: facebook.com/TheAssassin2015)

Next, before the month ends, make sure to watch these Netflix releases for May.

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