A few days ahead of its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have jointly stepped up and acquired U.S. distribution rights to The Sea of Trees, a new drama from director Gus Van Sant starring Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar). The movie landed an in-competition slot at Cannes, where it will compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or, the top prize of the festival, alongside other anticipated specialty titles including Carol starring Cate Blanchett, Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender, and Sicario, a thriller starring Emily Blunt that also has a home at Lionsgate.
In The Sea of Trees, McConaughey (an Oscar winner two years ago for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club) portrays an American traveler who journeys to Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Japan’s Mt. Fuji, with the intention of ending his life. Once there, he meets another lost man (played by Oscar-nominated Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and the duo team on a reflective, and sometimes perilous, quest to find their way out of the forest. Naomi Watts co-stars and Chris Sparling (Buried) wrote the Black List-mentioned screenplay.
Throughout his career, Van Sant has been a regular fixture at Cannes, premiering several of his movies at the film festival. In 2003, he won the Palme d’Or for Elephant, a chilly, fly-on-the-wall mediation of students at a high school as a Columbine-like shooting occurs. Other works of his that premiered at Cannes included the 2004 film Last Days, an account of the final days of a Kurt Cobain-like troubled musician, and the 1995 dark comedy To Die For, which earned star Nicole Kidman a new legion of critical support and a Golden Globe Award. The Sea of Trees is set to premiere on May 16th.
It remains to be seen where the film will land in Van Sant’s varied filmography, one that has shifted from films that are widely accessible to coldly esoteric. While The Sea of Trees focuses on rather gloomy subject matter – on the surface the film appears tonally compatible with Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy” (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days) – the film has an undeniable pedigree thanks to the participation of McConaughey, Watts, and Watanabe (a current Tony Award nominee for The King and I). That Lionsgate and Roadside acquired the title just ahead of its world premiere might foreshadow commercial prospects despite the fact that The Sea of Trees may seem like a hard sell.
There’s no release plans set just yet, however, that may change after the film makes its Cannes premiere. If early reviews are promising, the film might become a part of the awards season conversation later this year. To date, Van Sant has received two Academy Award nominations for directing Good Will Hunting (1997) and Milk (2008); both films also received nominations for Best Picture. Watch a clip of The Sea of Trees below.