Cannes parallel section Critics’ Week opens Wednesday with French director Jonathan Millet’s psychological manhunt thriller Ghost Trail (Les Fantômes), starring Adam Bessa as man in in pursuit of a faceless, former torturer.

Running from May 15 to 23, the compact line-up will showcase 11 first and second works features by emerging directors, seven in competition, as well as 13 short films.

Deadline caught up with Artistic Director Ava Cahen on the eve of the 63rd edition.

DEADLINE: You’re on your third selection as Critics’ Week artistic director. How was it this year?

AVA CAHEN: We always put the counters back to zero. So everything felt new, even if it’s my third year. We received a few more films than normal and screened 1,050 features. It’s hard when you’ve only got 11 slots. Obviously there were a lot more than 11 films that we would have liked to have welcomed. There was a lot of discussion.

DEADLINE: Were there any trends this year?

CAHEN: Aside from the very innovative points of view and ways of telling stories… there was also the range of characters and performances. Critics’ Week isn’t just about discovering emerging filmmakers, with their first and second films, it’s also about a whole new generation of actors and actresses.

This year it has been exceptional. Performances that come to mind are those of Ayoub Gretaa in Across the Sea, Louiza Aura and Gio Venture in Queens of Drama and Tessa Van den Broeck, who is fabulous in Julie Keeps Quiet, as well as Oulaya Amamra, who gives an unshackled performance to transcend the role offered her by Emma Benestan in Animale.

Adam Bessa in Critics Week opener ‘Ghost Trail.’

Cannes Critics Week

DEADLINE: There’s also Adam Bessa, winner of the Un Certain Regard Best Performance award in 2022 for Harka, in the opening film Ghost Trail. Why did you set this film for the opening?

CAHEN: It’s a very strong first film, with a mastery in the direction and writing as well in the performance. We felt it would set the tone. It’s a psychological thriller inspired by a true story that plays with the codes of a spy film and renews the sensations you get from this genre.

We also like to welcome French cinema and to show its plurality, it’s diversity. There’s an equilibrium with the opening film in the spy film genre and our closing film Animale, which is also a genre film, between fantasy and body horror, evoking the work of Julia Ducournau or Tiger Stripes last year, with its metamorphosis theme.

DEADLINE: Looking at the overall selection, do any themes or topics come to the fore?

CAHEN: We don’t start with presuppositions. We’re led by the filmmakers and their cinema. The selection is always at the service of the artists who present their current vision of the world. There’s a bit more drama this year, which is maybe a reflection of the world today. Themes running through this year’s selection include immigration, integration, discrimination, emancipation, gender-based violence, and speaking up.

DEADLINE: A number of the films also have LGBTQ+ storylines… was this is a deliberate choice or did it come from the submitted films?

CAHEN: It’s something that is being explored more and more and in increasingly diverse ways. Queens of Drama, for example, is a lesbian musical, which is 100% Queer but at the same time 100% mainstream. It’s a cinematic gesture by the director Alexis Langlois. It’s a multi-format, multi-genre work, which speaks different cinema languages. It’s Phantom of the Paradise meets A Star is Born meets an Ophélie Winter music video.

There is another magnificent Queer film in competition called Baby, which is a melodrama, taking place in São Paulo. I’m very happy to see that Brazilian cinema, and in particular its LGBT cinema, which was muzzled for a time under Bolsonaro has managed to emancipate itself.

DEADLINE: The U.S. has made it into competition for the first time in nearly a decade with Constance Tsangs’s Blue Sun Palace. Can you tell us about the film?

CAHEN:  I don’t want to crush it under the weight of references but one of the first things that struck us was the presence of Tsai Ming-Liang’s actor Lee Kang-sheng  and the way that traces a connection with his early cinema.

It’s a drama about a mother, re-telling the lives of the so-called Invisibles. What absolutely touched us is that the film is a sign that American cinema is renewing itself, and in particular through a new generation of filmmakers from immigrant backgrounds.

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