Cannes Report, Day 9: Xavier Dolan Grows Up, Neon Falls for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Both Dolan’s “Matthias and Maxime” and Arnaud Desplechin’s “Oh Mercy!” made their debuts Wednesday

Xavier Dolan is “enfant terrible” no more. The director has now turned 30, and he got emotional and teary-eyed while introducing his latest film, “Matthias and Maxime,” on Wednesday at Cannes.

And critics could sense that his latest film suggests the director is slowing down and looking back on his youth with more sensitivity and even maturity.

“‘Matthias & Maxime’ deals with friendship and self discovery in a way that will be familiar to fans of Dolan’s previous work, but it is a, dare we say, more mature work,” TheWrap’s Steve Pond wrote in his review, calling the film a return to form despite the young director’s blistering pace and constant presence at Cannes. “There’s a reflection to go with the gleeful, transgressive energy, a sense of looking back fondly at the jarring but seminal moments that form identity.”

His intentions were clear from the start. In the film’s press booklet, Dolan said he’s been trying to figure out where he “might belong” after a decade of making films and friends in his 20s. And at the press conference for his film, Dolan echoed the interpretation of many of the film’s critics and admirers and further fueled the narrative of his personal maturity.

“The film is not a just a mixture of my preceding films, it’s an opportunity for me from a formal stance to try something different and explore another part of myself, in terms of being more restrained, making more artistic decisions. I’m not going to spend my entire life filming people who quarrel in the kitchen,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Dolan singled out Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (more on that later) as his favorite of the festival so far. In a lengthy Instagram post, Dolan wrote, “Even when I try I am unable to remember the last time I sat in a theatre and heard such delicate, such incisive and profound writing. I woke up this morning remembering how constant the artistry of the film was, and how it impressed me.”

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Neon Is “On Fire”

BuzzFeed’s critic Alison Willmore declared that the distributor Neon may have just “won” Cannes after the indie acquired Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” an early critical darling and Palme d’Or contender.

The company had already acquired “Parasite” from “Okja” director Bong Joon-ho, and Neon promised that “Lady on Fire” would receive a robust release later this year in time for awards season.

Set in 1770. the film follows a painter tasked with doing a portrait of a reluctant bride in secrecy. Sciamma’s style has earned nods to Jane Campion, the sole female winner of the Palme. “‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is precise, powerful, gorgeous, transformative cinema,” Anne Thompson wrote following the film’s premiere Sunday. “Céline Sciamma could follow in the footsteps of the sole woman Palme D’Or winner, Jane Campion, in more ways than one. ‘The Piano’ was also about a corseted woman who escapes period constraints.”

“Lady on Fire” is one more major competition title scooped up off the marketplace. Previously, Fox Searchlight nabbed Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” and Amazon picked up “Les Miseérables.”

Oh Mercy

Arnaud Desplechin’s “Pilot in Disguise”

Arnaud Desplechin has been coming to Cannes for so long with films like “My Golden Days” and “A Christmas Tale,” audiences have come to expect the unexpected from the eccentric French auteur. But for his latest film, “Oh Mercy!,” they certainly didn’t expect a TV show.

“Compared to all that has preceded it, “Oh Mercy!,” which premiered in Cannes on Wednesday, is his most unconventional film to date — precisely because it feels so very conventional,” TheWrap’s Ben Croll wrote in his review. “A straight-down-the-line police procedural about a group of cops trying to get to the bottom of a grisly crime, the film feels more like a TV pilot than anything else, centering on an engaging and charismatic lead as he works out his latest case.”

The reviews are some of the more disappointing of the In Competition titles, and Cinevue even went as far to say that Cannes should stop inviting Desplechin back. “It’s time Cannes called a moratorium on screening the films of French director Arnaud Desplechin until he can come back with work as good as ‘A Christmas Tale.’ Oh Mercy!’ has no business competing for the Palme d’Or.”

“I Lost My Body” Wins Critics’ Week

One section of the festival has already ended a few days early, and Jeremy Clapin’s animated film “I Lost My Body” won the Critics’ Week sidebar’s Nespresso Grand Prize. Ciro Guerra (“Embrace of the Serpent”) led the jury in selecting the film, which is about a severed hand searching for the rest of its body. It’s the first time an animated feature has won the top prize since the sidebar launched in 1962. The title is being sold internationally by the Paris-based company Charades.

Among the other 11 films that screened in the sidebar competition, Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz’s “Our Mothers,” won the SACD Prize from the writers’ guild. Icelandic actor Ingvar E. Sigurðsson won the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award for his performance in Hlynur Pálmason’s “A White, White Day.” Chinese filmmaker Qiu Yang won in the short film category for “She Runs,” claiming the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize. And Danish director Andrias Høgenni won the Prix Canal+ prize for the short “Ikki illa meint.”