The recent Palme d’Or winner joins a growing trend of Asian auteurs finding a second cinematic home in France.
Earlier this year, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his family drama Shoplifters, and his next project is already on the horizon. La Verite (also known as The Truth or The Truth About Catherine), another family drama, will star Ethan Hawke and French screen legends Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve, according to Variety. The film, which will be Kore-eda’s first set outside of Japan, is going to be about a married couple (Hawke and Binoche) who return to France from Hollywood in order to help the wife’s mother (Deneuve) write her autobiography.
By setting his next project in France and casting Western talent, Kore-eda joins a small but growing number of Asian auteurs who have helmed French films. Korean director Hon Sang Soo‘s 2017 drama, Claire’s Camera, was set at the Cannes Film Festival, where it also premiered and was one of our 13 must-see movies from last year’s line up. Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien‘s 2007 picture, Flight of the Red Balloon (also starring Binoche) tells the story of a Chinese student’s evolving relationship with a French family.
Other big-name Asian directors that haven’t made films set in France have at least collaborated with French production companies. Wong Kar-wai did this, for instance, when he made his English language film My Blueberry Nights under the French banner Studiocanal.
That these very different directors would all choose to set films in France and work with French production companies has to do with Cannes’ longstanding love of Asian auteurs. Although many Asian countries have thriving film industries of their own, it is difficult for Asian independent filmmakers to find a Western market while staying within the Asian festival circuit, and it is particularly challenging to market Asian cinema to subtitle-averse English-speaking and French-speaking viewers.
On the other hand, the French film world has a love of visionary independent filmmakers and a healthy affinity for foreign cinema. The concept of an auteur is, after all, a French invention. Several Asian filmmakers have had their big international break at Cannes, rather than in an Asian premiere. Directors such as Wong Kar Wai, Jia Zhangke, and Park Chan-wook have all found international success at Cannes, showcasing several projects and winning coveted awards at the prestigious festival.
The difficulties of finding an international audience solely in the smaller Asian independent film world, combined with the arthouse mecca that is Cannes welcoming Asian filmmakers, is how we arrive at situations like Jia’s Touch of Sin winning the Cannes screenwriting award while at the same time being banned by the Chinese government from having a domestic release. It would be hard to imagine Jia’s filmography without Cannes. The director’s most recent film, Ash is Purest White, premiered at the festival earlier this year alongside Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, and the two films were hardly the only Asian titles in the lineup.
The 2018 Cannes Film Festival program was chock full of works by iconic Asian filmmakers, including projects from Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Ten Years in Thailand) as well as premieres from Cannes first-timers, like Bi Gan (Long Day’s Journey Into Night).
It is safe to say that Asian cinema has become a staple at the festival, where opportunities to network with French filmmakers are readily at hand. As more Asian auteurs are invited and then welcomed back to Cannes, these directors are finding increased opportunities to forge relationships with French actors, producers, and financiers. It is not surprising that this cross-pollination has already led to several French-language films by Asian auteurs.
Due to Cannes’ long-running affinity for Asian filmmakers, it is likely that Kore-eda’s La Verite won’t be the only foray by an Asian auteur into French-language filmmaking in the coming years. We can expect more and more Asian directors to find success at Cannes and for the trend of Asian directors contributing to French cinema to continue into the future.