Cannes, Day 7: It’s Not All Malick, You Know

“Tree of Life” may have dominated the last 24 hours, but at the halfway point there’s also a competition going on

Monday's big news out of Cannes was obviously the premiere of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," which TheWrap has already covered in some detail.

To recap: The first screening was met with boos and with applauseThe movie is saturated with beautyMost critics were impressed, and I think it's magnificent and maddeningThe beautiful people turned out for the premiere.

But that's not all that can be said about Malick's day at Cannes. (Or, rather, his film's  day – the director himself was notably scarce.) Several of the actors, including Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, showed up at the press conference where Pitt explained, among other things, that the enigmatic director actually goes to the bathroom. The Globe and Mail has some snippets of video from the event, and so does Jeff Wells.

Anthony Breznican also recaps the press conference, including a couple of choice descriptions of Malick's method from Brad Pitt: “He tells this micro story of this family in a small town in Texas and juxtaposes it with the macro of the birth of the cosmos and cells splitting … He’s like a guy with a butterfly net waiting for the truth to go by."

Falling modelHe also describes the 8:30 a.m. press screening, which by all reports caused an unprecedented amount of shoving and near-panic – or, as Breznican puts it, "a mosh pit of fearsome determination."

And by the end of the day, the paper of record had weighed in on the film, with the New York Times' Manohla Dargis calling it "a cosmic head movie of the most ambitious order," and then trotting out a string of adjectives: "beautiful, nonlinear, trippy, flawed."

Apparently, though, some other things happened in Cannes on Monday that didn't have anything to do with Terrence Malick. (Heck, there was even a "Fashion for Relief" charity fashion show where one model fell down on the runway, left.)

Melena Ryzik says that lots of people were still talking about a pair of parties that took place on Saturday night: the first was a sedate affair that festival president Gilles Jacob threw for jury chief Robert De Niro, the second a reported $1 million beach party thrown by the L.A. production company Red Granite Pictures.

The first had "foie gras and grilled turbot." The second had Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and a fireworks display.

Monday also marked the halfway point in the screening of Cannes' competition films. Jurors have now seen 10 of the 20 movies competing for the Palme d'Or, which has emboldened some observers to start picking favorites and making predictions.

Kenneth Turan doesn't do the latter, but he does do the former, praising the Weinstein Company pickup "The Artist" as a film that "manages the seemingly impossible:It's a new silent film that pays thoughtful tribute to the traditions of the past while creating great fun for modern audiences."

Adds director Michel Hazanivicius of the silent format: "It's not intellectual, it's emotional. You take it in the way you take in music."

Lisa Schwarzbaum also picks her favorites at the halfway point – and she singles out "The Artist" also, attributing some of its delight to the fact that it's one of the few Cannes competition offerings not to deal with grim material: "Bad parents, children at risk, bad children, women at risk, and whores."

On the other hand, she liked some of that grim stuff, notably the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid With a Bike" ("Integrity and honesty in the telling of documentary-like, child-focused stories are the brothers’ strengths"), along with Joseph Cedar's "sharp, sophisticated" "Footnote" (a Sony Classics pickup) and Bertrant Bonello's bordello-set tale "L’Apponide: Souvenirs de la maison close," or "House of Tolerance."

So now that people are picking favorites, what's going to win the Palme d'Or? On an IMDb blog, Keith Simanton handicaps the race so far, deciding that "The Artist" is "the talk of the town" but that the Dardennes have the inside track, because jury prez De Niro "seems to have a soft spot for films where the protagonists has a lot of daddy issues and this one certainly does."

(But how assertive a jury president is De Niro going to be? In recent years, Robert Altman and Roman Polanski were reported to be dominant personalities that put their stamp on the jury; De Niro strikes me as someone who'll be quieter and less forceful when it comes time to decide, though I certainly have no real evidence for that.)

If one is to go by what the critic think at the halfway point, indieWIRE's criticWIRE poll is a good place to start. The site surveys a cross-section of generally tough, indie-minded critics and comes up with letter grade for every entrant in the competition – and so far, "The Tree of Life" is the highest-rated film, with an overall A- grade.

"Footnote" and "The Kid With a Bike" come in second with B+ grades, followed by "The Artist," "Michael" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" with Bs, and "Polisse," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Habemus Papam" with B- grades. Bringing up the rear: "House of Tolerance," with a C.

In Un Certain Regard, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" shares a B+ grade (largely earned from reviews out of Sundance, not Cannes) with "Miss Bala," while "Ariang" and "Hors Satan" bring up the rear at C-.

And if you want to actually read the indieWIRE reviews rather than just check the latter grades, you can do so here.

(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)