The best of Cannes - With Netflix out and big names absent, can the French festival still prove influential?
Robbie Collin highlights the films to watch, from serial killers to Star Wars
Never mind Avengers: Infinity War. The biggest cinematic cliffhanger of the season is playing out on a Boulevard de la Croisette near you. The Cannes Film Festival is currently being taken to court by the prolific Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, who wants to have Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote struck from its closing night slot. Branco is already embroiled in a legal feud with Gilliam over the rights to his passion project of 19 years, which was previously beset by floods, disease, vanishing actors and a shrivelling budget.
Last week, the festival shot back in a catty press release that they "calmly await" the results of a legal hearing that will determine whether or not the screening can go ahead. That insouciance is Cannes to the core (you can almost smell the nonchalantly puffed Gitanes from here) but the 2018 edition of Cannes has - how you say? - les plus gros poissons à frire. Particularly since some of the biggest fish in the business won't be present, against expectations: basking sharks like Mike Leigh, Luca Guadagnino, Claire Denis, Brian De Palma, Harmony Korine, László Nemes and Paolo Sorrentino are all unexpectedly absent, despite having new films good to go, or near enough.
Then there was the great Netflix exodus, in which the streaming service withdrew its entire slate from the programme last month - including the latest from Paul Greengrass and Alfonso Cuarón, and (this really stings) the once lost but now painstakingly reconstructed final film from Orson Welles - when their ongoing tiff with the festival couldn't be resolved.
So what's left? Well, more than you might think. Rather than packing the competition with venerable amateur brand names, Cannes has assembled an intriguing line-up of new names and rising stars from all over the place, with the expected mix of blockbusting and button-pushing saved for elsewhere in the programme.
Things ignited on Tuesday evening with a bit of both: Everybody Knows, a psychological thriller starring real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and directed by Iran's Asghar Farhadi, the setter of such prickly moral puzzles as A Separation and The Past.
While a Cruz-Bardem red carpet sounds like a glitzy pinnacle of Euro-art-house glamour, for sheer media noise it will surely be drowned out by Solo: A Star Wars Story, the troubled fourth instalment in the franchise's seemingly limitless post-George Lucas period. After a change of directors and extensive reshoots - according to one account, 80pc of the film had to be redone from scratch - there will be a high premium on early reactions to the screening on May 15, which delves into the origins of that galaxy far, far away's preeminent stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder.
At the other end of the family-friendly scale, though no less hotly awaited, is The House That Jack Built, a reportedly unsparing serial killer drama which marks the slinking Cannes return of Lars von Trier. You'll recall the Danish provocateur's expulsion from the festival in 2011 when he jokingly professed Nazi sympathies at a press call. Seven years on, this is his comeback, although Cannes hasn't exactly missed him, with only his pornographic epic Nymphomaniac having surfaced in the interim.
Von Trier is one of two directors working today who could "only" make a pornographic epic.
The other is Gaspar Noé, whose 3D spin on the genre, coyly entitled Love, was unveiled at the 2015 festival at a ludicrous 2am screening. This year he returns with a new knapsack of horrors called Climax, about which almost nothing is known save that it entails some kind of descent into hell induced by drugs and dance music, and that it screens at 8.45am on a Sunday morning. Critics may still be repairing their psyches after the previous night's premiere of Mandy, an action-horror romp starring Nicolas Cage as a lumberjack exacting bloody revenge on a demon-worshipping cult.
Then perhaps Under the Silver Lake will shred them for good. The name David Lynch is already being approvingly murmured in connection with this noir-tinged paranoid mystery from David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), in which Andrew Garfield stars as a Los Angeles hipster whose pretty young neighbour (Riley Keough) disappears overnight. Mulholland Drive for millennials, or this year's Southland Tales?
Only time - and hundreds of hastily composed post-screening tweets - will tell. Mitchell's film is one of only two English-language productions in competition: the other is Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, which chronicles the absurd-but-true infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan by an African-American detective in the 1970s.
The scarcity of anglophone films comes down to one thing: for American producers with Oscars in their eyes, the stakes in Cannes are now just too treacherous. It's hard to launch an awards campaign on the back of booing and brutal reviews - far safer to forgo the glamour and bank on a gentler reception at Venice and Toronto in the autumn.
If that means fewer piranha attacks by the press corps, then that's a genuine pity - part of the fun of Cannes are the moments when critics swarm towards the scent of blood.
But it opens up the competition to a broader range of names than usual, not least Kirill Serebrennikov, the Russian director currently living under house arrest after irking the Putin regime, and Kazakhstan's Sergey Dvortsevoy, whose previous social-realist drama, Tulpan, was decried by the Kazakh government as being even worse for their country's reputation than Borat.