Maybe John Hillcoat's movie "Lawless" screened one day early at the Cannes Film Festival and under the wrong title. The Prohibition-era drama, which debuted on Saturday, was originally called "The Wettest County" – and on Sunday, many Cannes attendees suggested that the festival felt like the Wettest Festival, which is to say the rainiest Cannes in years.
The rain soaked red carpets, canceled photo shoots and parties on the beach, forced other soirees to move or hastily erect coverings, and turned queues like the one for Abbas Kiarostami's "Like Someone in Love" into forests of umbrellas that reminded Jeff Wells of "the Amsterdam assassination scene" from Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent."
"The only people who seemed happy were the hordes of umbrella merchants who materialized and made a brisk business selling umbrellas for $10 a pop," wrote Bryan Alexander in USA Today.
Sasha Stone, who has been reviewing Cannes films for TheWrap while also writing a daily diary for her own site, Awards Daily, had a different experience with an umbrella salesman: "Yesterday, I bought an umbrella [from] a street vendor who took me for a dumb American when he tried to sell it to me for 50 euros. It might seem like Monopoly money to many, but I know how much 50 euros is. A woman passed and said 'haggle!' I told him no way, and it didn’t take him long to bring it down to 10."
Still, people found things to do in the rain, and things to talk about other than the rain. At the International Business Times website, Justine Ashley Costanza listed what she said are "The 5 Topics Everyone Is Talking About." Her list, which from this vantage point seems fairly naïve: "Walkouts" (from "Rust and Bone" and "Antiviral" in particular), "Paradies: Liebe" (for its provocative sexuality), "Art Over Popularity" (because festivalgoers are more interested in auteurs than Brad and Kristen), "Stars Skipping Premieres" (though no examples are offered) and "Desperate Fans Seeking Invites" (and for the most part not getting them).
On a more thoughtful note, the New York Times' Manohla Dargis joined the chorus of praise for Michael Haneke's "Amour," which she called the festival's "first masterwork" and "a tender, wrenching, impeccably directed story of love and death." The film, she added, "sent a charge through the packed, rapt 2,300-seat theater, and immediately suggested that there was more to the official lineup than the first few days had suggested."
Still, Dargis appeared to be a fan of some of that lineup – her piece also said nice things about a couple of films that have received mixed reactions, including Wes Anderson's opening-night entry "Moonrise Kingdom" and Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills," which she called "engrossing" even as she noted the critical ambivalence it has inspired.
Most of Dargis' favorites are also scoring high on IonCinema's critics' poll, with a panel of 16 critics rating the main competition films with anywhere from zero to five stars. At the halfway mark, "Amour" had easily the highest score with a 4.1 average; "Beyond the Hills" was second at 3.4, "Rust and Bone" third at 3.3. At 3.0, "Moonrise Kingdom" was the only other film to average at least three stars.
Missing this year from a festival at which he had long been a fixture: Roger Ebert, who has a back ailment that made the 10-hour flight impossible for him. Holding down the fort in his stead: Chaz Ebert, his wife, who has herself been attending Cannes for 20 years, and who shared her impressions in an open letter to her husband in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Her favorite film of the festival so far, she told him, is the Un Certain Regard entry (and Sundance prize winner) "Beasts of the Southern Wild." "I love this movie, loved meandering with it through every scene," she wrote. "… And I loved the way I never knew what was coming next."
Her other favorites included "Rust and Bone" and "Moonrise Kingdom," while she was divided about "Paradies: Liebe" and "Beyond the Hills." But mostly, she didn't think Cannes feels right without Roger, a sentiment no doubt shared by plenty of others.