As the penultimate day of the 70th Cannes Film Festival comes to a close in the South of France, all 19 of the films in the main competition have screened. The most prestigious prize on the international film-festival circuit, the Palme d’Or, is now in the hands of a nine-member jury headed by director Pedro Almodovar and also including actors Jessica Chastain and Will Smith, directors Maren Ade and Paolo Sorrentino and composer Gabriel Yared.
What will they choose? Occasionally, a clear frontrunner emerges and takes the Palme: “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was the odds-on favorite in 2013, and “Amour” the year before that. More often, a dark horse takes the top prize: Last year, for example, the critical consensus was that “Toni Erdmann” was the festival’s best film, but it didn’t win anything, and the Palme went to the far more modest but more serious “I, Daniel Blake.”
And this year is one of the toughest in memory to even hazard a guess. Will Almodovar champion something bold and transgressive like “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” or “Amant Double,” because his own cinema often pushes boundaries? Will Ade lobby for something seriocomic to atone for the snub that her “Toni Erdmann” suffered last year? Will Will Smith take his support of Netflix from the jury press conference to the deliberation room, and push for “Okja” or “The Meyerowitz Stories?”
We’ll know on Sunday evening; until then, we can only guess. Keep in mind that I saw only 12 of the 19 competition films before leaving Cannes; for the others, I’m relying on reports from TheWrap critic Ben Croll and others.
To my mind, the contenders fall into a few categories.
The first competition film to screen this year was Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless,” a gripping but sorrowful portrait of a disintegrating marriage and a missing child; it won raves and topped Screen Daily’s critics’ poll from wire to wire. If this masterful but grim work is too tough to forge a consensus with the jury, or if it screened too early for them to recall it with immediacy, a more uplifting alternative could well be Robin Campillo’s “120 Beats Per Minute,” a touching chronicle of the early days of the AIDS activist group ACT UP in Paris.
Many of the most exciting films in the competition are dark and disturbing, and quite likely divisive. There’s the cold precision of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the raucous heist-gone-wrong desperation of the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time” and the mood swings of Ruben Ostlund’s funny but unsettling “The Square.” The final competition film to screen, Lynne Ramsay’s twisted film noir riff “You Were Never Really Here,” could also make a play, though many critics felt that its rushed post-production showed.
(It might help Ramsey that French cinema icon Isabelle Huppert called out the festival at its 70th anniversary gala for only giving one female director the Palme in its first 69 years.)
Don’t rule them out
Michael Haneke has won the Palme for his last two films, “The White Ribbon” and “Amour,” so you underestimate this virtuoso filmmaker at your own peril — but his quest to win a third Palme was hurt by the fact that his “Happy End” is an ice-cold provocation that has little of the emotional engagement of his previous winners. Sergei Loznitsa’s “A Gentle Creature” is a bold exploration of Russian identity and bureaucracy that could feel particularly timely. And Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” left many critics underwhelmed, but the beautifully mounted time-jumping piece has a big heart that could touch jurors.
Two other very different films could figure in the race somehow, though they might be more likely to end up winning lesser awards than the Palme d’Or. Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” has its delightfully trashy moments, but it is also a marvelous slow-burn adaptation of a pulpy novel, while Francois Ozon’s “Amant Double” starts with a graphic gynecological exam, gets wilder from there and might be irresistibly appealing to Almodovar.
“Reboutable,” a playful Jean-Luc Godard story from “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius, was one of the festival’s pleasant surprises, with a light touch that could prove to be more crowd-pleasing than awards-worthy. And Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” was a lot of fun, but one suspects the jury is looking for more than fun.
Then you’ve got Korean director Hong Sangsoo’s “The Day After” (its stylish melancholy makes it a dark horse), Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” (solid if not among the director’s best), Naomi Kawase’s “Radiance” (touching but slight) and Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” (a workmanlike drama).
And the two films that seem to have fared worst with Cannes critics are Kornél Mundruczó’s “Jupiter’s Moon,” a refugee story with clunky sci-fi elements, and Jacques Doillon’s “Rodin,” a dull biopic of the artist.
So what’s in store at Sunday’s awards ceremony? “Loveless,” “You Were Never Really Here” and “The Square” for the Palme d’Or, Grand Prize and Jury Prize (essentially, the first, second and third place awards)? Sofia Coppola for best director? Nicole Kidman, who’s in four films at Cannes, including the competition titles “The Beguiled” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” for best actress? Nahuel Biscayart from “120 Beats Per Minute” for best actor?
Almost certainly not — Cannes juries are never that predictable, at least not until Sunday afternoon, when sharp-eyed viewers begin spotting which filmmakers have been summoned to the awards ceremony in the Grand Theatre Lumiere.
Until then, let the guessing games continue.