Finally, everything has been seen. Of the 18 films in competition for the Palme d’Or, 16 had screened publicly and all 18 had screened for the press by 11 a.m. on Friday in Cannes. The last, Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” had the early-morning slot on the final day of new screenings; usually that’s not a good sign, but most critics praised the film about an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) and her young assistant (Kristen Stewart).
Stewart got the lion’s share of praise for a performance that more than one reviewer described as “career-changing”: In the Telegraph, Robbie Collin called the film “complex, bewitching and melancholy,” and wrote, “It’s Stewart who really shines here. Valentine is probably her best role to date: she’s sharp and subtle, knowable and then suddenly distant, and a late, surprising twist is handled with a brilliant lightness of touch.”
Meanwhile, the penultimate film, Andrey Zyagintsev’s “Leviathan,” immediately whipped up Palme d’Or talk when it screened on Thursday night. “An astonishing, vodka- and irony-drenched symphony of destruction,” tweeted Scott Foundas. “Morally shattering,” said Jeff Wells. “Awesome,” said Peter Howell.
Oh, sure, Alex Billington said he’d “rather eat dinner than watch drunk Russians yell at each other for two hours,” but the consensus is that it’s a true contender. (That’s certainly what Wells thinks.)
Of course, nobody knows how Jane Campion and her fellow jurors feel about all of this. By my count, based on the 11 competition titles I saw and the seven I settled for reading about, seven are potential Palme winners: “Mr. Turner,” “Timbuktu,” “Winter Sleep,” “Foxcatcher,” “Two Days, One Night,” “Mommy” and “Leviathan” – and maybe I’m underestimating the two movies about the movies, “Sils Maria” and “Maps to the Stars.”
That makes for a competitive and intriguing race, though it’s not necessarily the side of Cannes that is drawing everybody’s attention as the festival winds down. Instead, Thursday night was time for getting all dressed up and raising big money for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research whose annual Cannes gala is always the biggest and glammiest of a big glammy festival.
Organizer Harvey Weinstein said Thursday night’s bash at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc raised $38 million, according to Reuters. Leonardo DiCaprio auctioned off a 2015 trip into space on Virgin Galactic (he’ll go along with you) for just under $1 million, a haul dwarfed by the $15 million (11 million Euros) paid by a Ukranian businessman for a Damien Hirst sculpture of a wooly mammoth.
Oh, and Justin Bieber showed up and, to all reports, behaved himself. (Do a search on “amfAR” on Twitter and that’s damn near the only thing you’ll learn about the event.)
Question of the night: Since he’s been Cannes-hopping all week, has he taken the time to see “Maps to the Stars?” Because, you know, pretty much everybody who’s seen David Cronenberg’s delicious take on Hollywood sees a lot of Bieber in the spoiled and unbelievably bratty child star played by Evan Bird.
But if we can pry ourselves away from Bieber and go back to the subject of motion pictures, Film Comment has assembled an instructive Cannes critics’ roundtable, with four critics sounding off on the films they’ve seen during the first week of the festival. And while they all mention things they like, four opinionated critics together is that they’re seldom unanimous. So all you’ve gotta do is name a movie, and one or the other trashed it.
“Wild Tales?” Scott Foundas: “The film is completely mediocre, and I don’t understand what the fuss is about it.” (Scott Foundas)
“Winter Sleep?” Marco Grosoli: “Basically you get the point … after 15 minutes.”
“Mr. Turner?” Todd McCarthy: “For me it didn’t go all the way, it didn’t get to the root of his artistic drive, why he painted the way he did, what separated him from everyone else who was painting during that period, what made him so great, as opposed to just good.”
“Saint Laurent?” Wesley Morris: “I didn’t feel like he was exploring any of the allusions he was making, or he would explore them but there was no connection among these things.”
“Maps to the Stars?” McCarthy: “As someone who’s lived there for many decades and been involved with the industry for a long time, I find a shotgun approach and an exclusively cynical approach, quite tiresome at this point.”
“Timbuktu?” Grosoli: “It seems to me that the lyrical openings that it makes here and there are quite decorative and pointless in the end, and that’s a pity actually.”
“The Captive?” McCarthy: “If you’d shown this film to any group, including the festival committee, without the director’s name on it, forget about it. I think it was inexcusable.”
But at least one critic defends most of those movies (except maybe “The Captive”), and they also say nice things about “Foxcatcher,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “The Homesman,” “White God,” “The Rover,” “Jauja” and others.
Finally, Quentin Tarantino showed up on the Croisette on Friday, in town for a late-night, open-air 20th anniversary screening of “Pulp Fiction” on Friday and a spot paying tribute to Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars” on Saturday. And while he was there, he gave a press conference in which he bemoaned the fact that “Pulp Fiction” would be the only film screened at the festival in 35mm – everything else is being projected digitally.
“As far as I’m concerned, digital projection is the death of cinema,” Tarantino said, according to Indiewire’s Nigel M. Smith. “The fact that most films aren’t presented in 35mm means that the world is lost. Digital projection is just television in cinema.”