CANNES PREVIEW: Sizing up the Competition, part two

Posted by · 2:21 pm · May 7th, 2010

Continuing the breakdown of the 18 titles in contention for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, which begins Wednesday. (Catch up with yesterday’s preview here.) Among them is the film I’ve put a sneaky wager on to take the gold — though given the foolhardiness of predicting festival awards, I don’t encourage you to do the same.

As we learned this morning, one additional title will be added to the Competition lineup over the course of the weekend; I will update accordingly. Let’s get back into it:

“ON TOUR” (Mathieu Amalric)

The pitch: Better known to most audiences as one of France’s finest actors, sometime filmmaker Amalric brings some lighter fare to the lineup, directing himself as the down-at-heel manager of a touring group of American burlesque dancers. Christina Aguilera does not star.

Past form: Though his 2003 feature “Public Affairs” played Cannes in 2003, this is Amalric’s first brush (as director, that is) with a major festival competition.

The outlook: As with the Academy, comedy has never been the surest way to a Cannes juror’s heart: you have to go back to “Barton Fink” in 1991 to find a comic Palme d’Or champ, and even that was pretty tortured. (Purer comedies to have won include “M*A*S*H” and “The Knack.”) But Cannes juries can be sympathetic to multi-hyphenates – think Nanni Moretti, Tommy Lee Jones, Roberto Benigni – so a prize for Amalric’s contribution either before or behind the camera is a possibility.

“OUR LIFE” (Daniele Luchetti)

The pitch: The only Italian entry in this year’s Competition stars Elio Germano (the acclaimed lead of Luchetti’s last feature, “My Brother Is An Only Child”) as a widowed factory worker forced into criminal activity to provide for his two sons.

Past form: It’s been 19 years since Luchetti’s first (and last) entered the Competition with “Il Portaborse”; he presumably owes his return to the critical success of “My Brother…” in the Un Certain Regard strand three years ago.

The outlook: Like France, Italy’s Cannes record is spottier than you’d expect: in the last three decades, the country has produced only one Palme d’Or victor. That said, that film, “The Son’s Room” was a simple domestic drama from a relatively modest auteur: Luchetti will be looking to repeat that trick. After the surprise arthouse success of the director’s last feature, expectations should be suitably high.

“OUTRAGE” (Takeshi Kitano)

The pitch: After a mixed response to his eccentric, semi-autobiographical trilogy of films, Takeshi returns to the Yakuza gangster territory that served him well in “Zatoichi” and “Sonatine.” The director stars as a veteran thug still climbing the power ladder; expect heady violence.

Past form: Takeshi may seem like a festival staple, but this is in fact only his second Competition appearance – “Kikujiro” left empty-handed in 1999.

The outlook: The sizable Takeshi cult is breathless with anticipation over this one, expecting a return to form after his recent experimental forays failed to set the arthouse world alight. However, audience approval will probably be a higher priority for the director than awards hardware. Cannes juries aren’t known for their genre-friendliness, though some might feel he’s due; the trailer makes me wonder if the new film can build on his previous work, and not just recreate familiar pleasures.

“OUTSIDE THE LAW” (Rachid Bouchareb)

The pitch: The second sequel to a former Cannes success in this year’s lineup, Bouchareb’s latest picks up where his 2006 Algerian WWII drama “Days of Glory” left off. The new film follows the male characters from the first through Algeria’s battle for independence.

Past form: 15 years after his film “Cheb” played in a secondary strand, Bouchareb made his first Competition appearance with the aforementioned “Days of Glory.” It nabbed an acting prize from the jury (and, later, an Oscar nod).

The outlook: Bouchareb has been flirting with a major festival breakthrough in recent years, with both “Days of Glory” and his last feature, “London River,” greeted warmly at Cannes and Berlin respectively. Inevitable comparisons to the former film, however, make this something of a high-stakes contender. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see if the film’s ensemble – who collectively took the Best Actor prize in 2006 – is as well-received this time around.

“POETRY” (Lee Chang-dong)

The pitch: The lineup’s second entry from the currently fashionable stable of South Korean cinema stars veteran actress Yoon Jeong-hee as a retired suburbanite who develops a keen interest in, you guessed it, poetry.

Past form: This mark’s Lee’s second consecutive Competition entry, after the well-received (and Best Actress-winning) “Secret Sunshine” in 2007.

The outlook: Lee impressed critics on the Croisette with the deliberate, contemplative female character study that was “Secret Sunshine,” and the new film appears to be in a similar wheelhouse. I keep feeling that a South Korean title will triumph at one of the major festivals sooner or later – interestingly, no Asian film of any description has taken the Palme in 13 years. Assuming it’s another strong performance showcase, Yoon, returning to the screen after a 15-year absence, could well be a Best Actress threat.

“THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER” (Bertrand Tavernier)

The pitch: The latest from French vet Tavernier is a 16th-century costumer adapted, like Christophe Honore’s recent, modernized “La Belle Personne,” from a Madame de La Fayette story. As the titular royal forced to marry against her will, Mélanie Thierry stars opposite a trio of France’s brightest young things: Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Louis Garrel and Gaspard Ulliel.

Past form: Another vet making his fourth Competition appearance, a full two decades after “Daddy Nostalgie” in 1990. He took Best Director in 1984 for “A Sunday in the Country,” but the top prize has eluded him.

The outlook: Tavernier’s last film, the US southern Gothic thriller “In the Electric Mist,” went down rather like a lead balloon at Berlin last year, so it’s not surprising that he’s sought comfort in the safe form of French heritage cinema. A return to critics’ good graces is the real reward the director will be after here; the film sounds a touch starchy and conventional for top honors, though perhaps a gold-watch award of sorts is feasible.

“A SCREAMING MAN” (Mahamat Saleh-Haroun)

The pitch: Against the backdrop of civil war in present-day Chad, the film follows the social and psychological slide of a 6o-something man who loses his job to his own son. This surprise selection makes Haroun the first African-born filmmaker to compete for the Palme since 1997.

Past form: Saleh-Haroun premiered his breakthrough feature “Abouna” at Cannes in 2002, but this is his first crack at the Competition.

The outlook: The ever-savvy Neil Young, an expert in both film festivals and betting odds, has Haroun installed as the 3-1 favorite for the Palme – and sight unseen, I think he may be onto something. I confess to being unschooled in Haroun’s previous work, but he has a keen, albeit specialised, critical following, and Cannes juries frequently take to films that balance the personal and political. The festival has been conspicuously neglectful of African cinema in years past; an award of some variety would be a noble gesture.

“TENDER SON: THE FRANKENSTEIN PROJECT” (Kornél Mundruzcó)

The pitch: Reportedly riffing on the classic Mary Shelley novel, the latest from Hungarian actor-director Mundruzcó replaces the monster with a teenaged boy seeking the love of his family after a spell away at boarding school.

Past form: Mundruzcó is the Competition’s most recent returning entrant, having last shown up with “Delta” in 2008. He got no love from the jury, but did take the FIPRESCI prize.

The outlook: The narrative starting-point bears a certain resemblance to that of solemn incest-themed drama “Delta,” so it seems reasonable to expect something similarly stately, perhaps with more pronounced gothic touches. The combination of source material and boy-outsider protagonist might suggest something tailored to the tastes of jury president Tim Burton, but that’d be a rash and uninformed projection.

“UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

The pitch: Four years after his last feature “Syndromes and a Century,” the Thai arthouse darling returns with an extension of his recent short “A Letter to Uncle Boonmee.” The story is in the title: an elderly man returns home to die, whereupon he is visited by the spirits of his wife and son, and has visions of his previous lives.

Past form: Weerasethakul (or Thai Joe, to use his more Twitter-friendly nickname) has been steadily climbing the Cannes ladder, winning the Un Certain Regard category with “Blissfully Yours” in 2002, and landing the Jury Prize on his Competition debut with “Tropical Malady” in 2004.

The outlook: Even before I read a word of the synopsis, I marked this lumpily-titled entry as the film to beat, on the basis of Weerasethakul’s critical standing alone. I’m not quite a fully paid-up member of the cult, but the director’s previous two features have only gained more devotees over the years, and he is ripe for major festival gold. With the film sitting atop many critics’ most-anticipated lists, the pressure will be on, but if he successfully maintains his balance of whimsy and arthouse austerity, he’ll be a formidable challenger.

Tomorrow: we wrap our Cannes preview with a look at the potential highlights in the Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and Out Of Competition strands.




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3 responses so far

  • 1 5-07-2010 at 5:46 pm

    Sieben said...

    I’m thoroughly excited for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Looking forward to your coverage, Guy.

    Now it’s just waiting to see what that elusive final addition will be.

  • 2 5-07-2010 at 6:16 pm

    Michael said...

    wow, these films sound even less exciting than the previous list (although your coverage has been nothing but brilliant and informative). I will do the good ole wait and see with these movies, although I am prematurely interested in the THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER, not b/c the synopsis sounds exciting, but b/c I am a sucker for French costume dramas and a film that stars Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Louis Garrel and Gaspard Ulliel sounds pretty awesome. Just add in Jeremie Renier to the list and that would be all my favorite current french actors in one basket.

  • 3 5-07-2010 at 9:08 pm

    red_wine said...

    Syndromes And A Century grows ever deeper and more profound the more I think about it. The film is entirely unforgettable and shares more with an art installation that with most other movies. Its his only one I have seen but I must call him a great modern master for such quiet confidence that he displayed in that movie. He is my pick too to take the gold.

    Hopefully the new title will do something to appease the unimpressed people. But like you said, there are other riches to be found in other sections.