While Cannes winds down on the ground, I make my way home in the sky. In some respects, it was a weird year for the festival. Genre films, for example, were everywhere, with the competition lineup going unusually heavy on guns, flying saucers, zombies, evil spirits, cultists, and mind-controlling plants. And that’s without getting into the sidebars, which had Robert Pattinson dreaming of fucking a mermaid and a severed hand crawling its way home to its owner.
The latter comes from the only movie I caught this year at Critics’ Week, one of the three other festivals that happens annually in Cannes over the same two weeks. (Past notable premieres of the fest, which programs only first and second features, include the breakout horror indie It Follows and Amores Perros, the very first movie by this year’s Cannes competition jury president, Alejandro González Iñárritu.) By chance, the film I saw ended up picking up the Grand Prize. I Lost My Body (Grade: B-), by French writer-director Jérémy Clapin, uses lush, richly shaded animation to track the pilgrimage of that aforementioned appendage, which flops out of an evidence freezer and slowly traverses Paris— battling rats and pigeons, scaling narrow ledges, dodging cars and subway trains. It’s tough to say whether the extended misadventures of Thing T. Thing could actually sustain a whole movie on its lonesome, but the film is mostly wondrous when it sticks to this wordless, outlandish scenario. Where it fumbles is in the framing device. I loved the first flashback, which plays out like Malickian memories of a kid’s life from the “perspective” of the hand he loses. But the actual story, about a North African immigrant who stalks the woman with whom he has a pizza-delivery meet-cute, is generic lovelorn drama, not really improved by the lingering question of how and when he’s going to lose that hand, à la Crispin Glover in Hot Tub Time Machine. Still, even these scenes are gorgeously animated, suggesting that Clapin could make a big move up the festival ladder next time he’s in Cannes.
“He’s Palestinian… but he makes comedies!” So says Gael García Bernal, playing himself, of director Elia Suleiman, also playing himself, in It Must Be Heaven (Grade: B+), the latter’s first movie in 10 years, which very much sticks to his winning formula of sociopolitical observation via gently deadpan vignette. As usual—with usual defined here as the roughly once a decade that Suleiman makes a movie—the writer-director of Divine Intervention and The Time That Remains stars as the largely mute “Elia Suleiman,” this time leaving his home in Palestine for Paris and then New York, becoming a fish out of water in both cities, trying and often comically failing to secure funding for another project. He’s a less bumbling, more perplexed Monsieur Hulot, and It Must Be Heaven once again puts the filmmaker’s Jacques Tati worship on full display with sight gags both cute (a bird that won’t stop hopping onto Suleiman’s keyboard while he tries to work) and a bit more pointed (two soldiers trading sunglasses in the front seat of a car, while a Palestinian woman sits silent and blindfolded in the backseat). No fan of this artist will notice a major evolution in his style or approach. But given how infrequently we actually get a new dose of it, that’s more than fine, maybe even preferable. I laughed heartily throughout—never underestimate the appeal of a comedy at a festival that supplies misery by the truckload.
As per annual tradition, I’m going to close my Cannes coverage with a shot at guessing the winners of the major awards. It’s a fool’s errand, really—there’s no way to tell what will speak to Iñárritu or the rest of the jury, which includes several other major filmmakers, like Kelly Reichardt, Paweł Pawlikowski, and Yorgos Lanthimos, as well as American actress Elle Fanning. But it’s a fun exercise anyway, and I’ll also make my own picks in each category, which I can confidently do this year, having missed only one competition title: Justine Triet’s Sibyl, which is probably screening as I type this. Until next year, thanks for reading!
This is not one of those years when a single frontrunner for the top prize has emerged. Several winners seem possible. Iñárritu is said to be a diehard Terrence Malick fan (the two often share a cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki), though Malick won less than a decade ago, for the more universally lauded Tree Of Life. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is currently rocking the highest score in the Screen Daily critics’ poll, though the favorites of the jury and the press don’t line up that often. (Remember Toni Erdmann’s shutout three years ago?) And Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is the big event of the fest (nothing drew bigger lines or more attention), but I’m having a little trouble seeing it win the support of this particular group—especially if they’d prefer to avoid charges of nepotism, what with one Fanning sister on the jury and the other in the film. That leaves, I’d say, either Pedro Almodóvar’s loosely autobiographical Pain And Glory or Céline Sciamma’s 18th-century queer romance, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. And I’ll give the latter the slight edge for being both generally beloved and hard to hate; if the Palme is said to sometimes go to the film everyone on the jury can live with, as opposed to the one everyone loves, this is a strong possibility. And will another Cannes jury really turn down the opportunity to honor a film by a woman, especially in a year when a film by a woman is arguably the most acclaimed?
Nothing at the festival, inside competition or out, pulled me into its world and its point of view as seductively as Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, which builds and builds to what’s sure to be one of the great and most talked-about endings of the year. There were more ambitious films in competition this year, but Sciamma accomplished a lot with the simple pull of her craft and the empathy of her gaze, fashioning a love story that feels likely to endure far beyond this festival. (Neon will open it Stateside this fall.)
The runner-up prize at Cannes sometimes goes to an ambitious vision, one that the whole jury maybe couldn’t agree on. (It’s been unofficially called the passion pick—a consolation prize to appease some bullish cheese-stands-alone champion or particular wing of the jury.) If that’s how they handle it this year, I have a hunch it could come down to the two giant American auteurs duking it out. And with Malick largely defaulting to his usual style (albeit applied, for the first time in a while, to a straightforward story), Tarantino’s epic but unusually relaxed Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood could get its due here.
It screened very late at the festival (a couple hours ago, in fact; see above), but It Must Be Heaven is a controlled, elegantly crafted film that depends heavily on its direction (comedy is all in the timing, after all) by a singular filmmaker who doesn’t make movies very often. Factor in the extra identification Elia Suleiman generates by appearing as himself on screen, and the fact that his film is at least partially about how hard it can be to get funders to invest in personal visions, and this feels like a no-brainer.
Chinese director Diao Yinan’s manhunt thriller The Wild Goose Lake is a tour de force of directing, with just about every scene a demonstration of how you can elevate familiar, even dodgy material through the imagination and power of your staging. I might stump for Diao in this category on the basis of the umbrella fight scene alone.
For a while, I was convinced that Almodóvar had the Palme in the bag for his personal, fictionalized drama about an aging film director looking back on his life and past loves. Then a bunch of worthier films premiered. Now it seems more likely that the jury will honor Pain And Glory with a prize for its star, Antonio Banderas, stretching far out of his comfort zone to embody the spirit, and not just the famous hairdo, of his long-time collaborator.
If the Academy had just held its horses for a few more years, they could have finally given Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar for a much worthier role than The Revenant: his tragicomic work in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, which didn’t require eating a raw liver but does find him locating heretofore untapped reservoirs of wounded pride, while also allowing him to joyfully showboat in the episodes-within-the-movie. Come to think, Brad Pitt is pretty spectacular in this film, too.
If Portrait Of A Lady On Fire doesn’t win the Palme, it will almost certainly nab Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel a shared prize for the duet of words and glimpses they perform together in it. But since I’m banking on it taking home the big one, I suspect that Debbie Honeywood, who plays a hardworking contract nurse trying to balance her demanding work life against her tumultuous home life, could add Sorry We Missed You to the list of Ken Loach movies taking home prizes at Cannes.
This year’s Cannes lineup didn’t offer a bounty of great roles for women (again, outside Portrait Of A Lady On Fire). But I was impressed with the crucial, very carefully modulated dread and uncertainty Emily Beecham brings to Little Joe, an unnerving sci-fi allegory that deserved a stronger reception than what it received on the Croisette. Acting prizes rarely go to performances this offbeat and restrained, but maybe they should.
Essentially a wild card, the Jury Prize can serve multiple functions—it can be, for example, a place to honor an additional performance or craftsperson from a competition title. Usually, though, the jury tends to just treat it like third place, sometimes with a special focus on films by promising up-and-comers. This year, that makes it the likeliest place for Mati Diop to win some love for her feature directorial debut, Atlantics.
Bacurau is such a bugfuck blast of unexpected B-movie mayhem, but with the revolutionary politics of its makers woven throughout, that I’d love to see it overcome genre bias to add a little genre insanity to the winner’s circle—especially this year.
It would be strange if the highly acclaimed Parasite didn’t pick up something. And Bong’s script is terrific and nimble, lacing some genuine economic outrage into its unpredictable machinations.
It’s not the deepest film in competition by a long shot, but Corneliu Porumboiu’s major departure into breezy crime fiction, The Whistlers, is a lot of chronologically complicated fun—and its unexpected pleasures begin right there on the page.