After two tweaked editions due to the pandemic, the Cannes Film Festival made its great return to its traditional May dates with a full line-up in the main selection but also in its satellite strands, Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week and ACID. And whilst the festival still wasn’t at pre-COVID capacity – with notable absence from the wider Asian delegation – it felt ‘normal’. It was sunny, stuffy, people queued for tickets, seagulls attacked lunches and in the middle of it all, everything sparkled on an immaculate red carpet.

All competitions included, this year’s festival was a strong one and – Top Gun: Maverick aside – it was less about flashy and more about indie filmmaking. Here are some of my favourite titles from this 75th edition.

I was not prepared for the quiet devastation that is Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun. Predominantly set in the 90s, the film follows 11-year-old Sophie as she vacations with her father, Callum, in Turkey. The pool, the day trips, the home videos… it all feels so comfortably familiar, and yet there is heaviness under the glorious sunshine and the banging soundtrack, as Sophie becomes more aware of the adult life that surrounds her, and Callum wonders how he made it to another birthday. Part coming-of-age, part father-daughter drama, part holiday movie, Aftersun is an unforgettable exploration of childhood, mental health, family, growing up and ever searching for your place in the world.

Set on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Gina Gammell & Riley Keough’s War Pony follows Bill and Matho as they navigate the world and transition into adulthood. Barely out of childhood, Bill is already a father of two and spends most of his time finding new schemes to make easy money - his latest one involving breeding a poodle. Meanwhile, Matho is only 12 but likes to act as if he’s already an adult. Cutting his father’s stash of drugs with whatever is in the kitchen before selling it to make enough money to buy snacks, Matho’s perception of adulthood is incredibly naïve until consequences catch up with him. Heartfelt and featuring incredible performances by a cast of mostly non-actors, War Pony is a very strong debut from Gammell and Keough.

Julia, the main protagonist of Lola Quiveron’s debut feature Rodeo, is an all-around outsider. She hardly fits in her home and family, and she doesn’t seem to belong to the community of illegal motorcycle stunt-riders she is so fascinated by. But motorcycles are her passion and nothing will stop her from joining the ‘rodeos’. After a rider decides to help her out, she finds herself part of the gang, but is she really? Rodeo explores classism, misogyny, gender, sexual identity and political engagement. Reminiscent of American Honey, 12 O’Clock Boys and MIA’s Bad Girls, it presents the Parisian banlieue under a different light and reveals fantastic talent from its director and cast.

Like every summer, Salomé is spending her holidays in the Portuguese mountains with her extended family, whilst her mother remains in Paris to work. When her beloved grandmother unexpectedly dies, things take a turn. The adults can’t agree on funeral arrangements and old wounds are being reopened as accusations of curses and poisoning fly around the village. Meanwhile, Salomé seems to be developing some of her grandmother’s gifts. Cristèle Alves Meira’s Alma Viva is a family portrait dipped in folklore and tradition, exploring the ties of small communities and the ghosts we carry we us.

In near-future Japan, the government is trying to tackle its ageing and economic crisis by launching Plan 75, a scheme encouraging citizens aged 75 and over to be voluntarily euthanised with an incentive of $1,000 for them to spend whichever way they’d like before they go. Following an elderly woman unable to keep up with the cost of living, a young executive working for the government, and a Filipino nurse working in one of the end-of-life facilities, Chie Hayakawa’s moving Plan 75 asks us to ponder what is the unthinkable. Exploring its characters’ decision-making and drives, and the way their decisions impact those around them, Plan 75 is a quiet ode to life.

There was plenty more to enjoy including Jerzy Skolimowski’s unexpected life-of-a-donkey triumph EO, Quentin Dupieux’s nicotine-fighting superhero tale Smoking Causes Coughing, and Youssef Chebbi’s atmospheric political thriller Ashkal. Aftersun has been picked up by MUBI for UK theatrical release. War Pony and Smoking Causes Coughing have been picked up by Picturehouse Entertainment. EO was picked up by BFI Distribution.

Melissa received a bursary from Film Hub Midlands to attend Cannes.