Queuin' in the rain: Cannes 2012 hits the halfway mark

Posted by · 5:43 pm · May 21st, 2012

It’s generally a sign of a lukewarm film festival when the principal point of conversation across the Croisette is not which A-list auteur just set the Competition afire, which out-of-competition sleeper is one to watch for future months, or even the surreal sight of ill-fated US “X Factor” judge Cheryl Cole walking the red carpet for, of all things, the new Michael Haneke movie, but the rather more mundane topic of the weather.

Admittedly, it’s quite some weather: where festivalgoers can usually count on catching a bit of a tan as they queue up in balmy Mediterranean conditions for the day’s hot ticket, this year we’ll merely settle for staying dry. It is, according to those in the know, the wettest Cannes on record — which makes the prospect of sitting in a dark room watching even the most gruelling festival fare a more appealing prospect than usual. If you can get into the room in the first place, that is. Whether it’s down to increased accreditation numbers or this year’s Hollywood-heavy lineup, the festival feels more crowded this year than in either of the previous years I’ve attended — a reality that hit yesterday as I was turned away from three consecutive screenings, as the white- and pink-badged elite filled the theaters before the lowlier classes could get a look-in. 

That, however, has merely been a side frustration to a festival that, so far, has been a tad short on truly buzz-worthy films. With today marking the midpoint of the 12-day festival, 13 of the 22 Competition films have now been unwrapped — and while several of them have been well-received, a bona fide sensation has yet to emerge. As indeed does a truly spectacular flameout, or a controversial lightning-rod of the variety that Lars von Trier or Gaspar Noe can be counted on to produce. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the politeness of this year’s hits and misses so far has arguably resulted in friendlier, more measured critical conversation than usual — but with six days to go, we’re still waiting to be surprised.  

Certainly, the names currently leading the Palme d’Or conversation are very drawn from the pool of usual suspects. “Amour,” Michael Haneke’s supremely accomplished drama about the indignities of mortality, is the film that has most united critics thus far, prompting much speculation that it could land the austere Austrian formalist his second straight Palme, just three years after “The White Ribbon” scooped the same prize. I’ll save my thoughts on the film for a later piece, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it’d be a worthy if slightly safe winner: typically immaculate, and more humane than his recent run of works, it nonetheless doesn’t quite represent peak form for a director whose standards are higher than most. A likelier outcome, I think, is a brace of acting awards for its marvelous veteran stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva — which would be an appropriate way of rewarding the film without over-filling Haneke’s cup.  

Just behind Haneke on the chart of Palme frontrunners is Jacques Audiard — yes, it could be 2009 all over again, when “The White Ribbon” pipped Audiard’s “A Prophet” to the top prize. Audiard’s latest, dazzling, dark-hued misfit romance “Rust and Bone,” has more detractors than “Amour,” largely because it’s the more formally aggressive work — but its champions, particularly within the European critical community, are passionate and plentiful, and the film has retained its buzz since screening on Day Two of the fest. (It’s even supplied Cannes 2012 with its unofficial theme song in the chlamydia-catchy form of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”) At this point, it’s hard to imagine it leaving the festival empty-handed, whether the beneficiary is beloved star Marion Cotillard or Audiard himself.

Beyond those two giants, every other Competition film that’s screened so far comes with some caveat or another. “Moonrise Kingdom” is another of the festival’s most well-liked titles, and served its opening-night purpose dandily of getting everyone in a good mood for the tougher stuff to come — but it’s surely too lightweight for the Palme. (Already, it feels as if it screened a month ago.) The only other American film to have screened in Competition, “Lawless,” seems even less likely: mainstream genre films are rarely embraced by festival juries, and reviews haven’t been ecstatic enough to lift it out of that ghetto. (That goes for any potential Oscar attention too: classy late-summer hit status appears to be the ceiling on this one.)

A rumor was doing the rounds at a party tonight that the jury was wowed by Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt,” a drama about a kindergarten teacher  accused of paedophilia. I haven’t seen it yet myself, but while reviews have been mixed, those who like it are very keen indeed — even if talk of the jury’s affections are exaggerated, pencil in star Mads Mikkelsen as a Best Actor possibility.

The only other film about which I’ve heard word of the jury’s response is Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills,” which apparently prompted a standing ovation from at least two of the nine jurors. The Romanian’s follow-up to the Palme d’Or-winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” has enjoyed a splintered critical reception, opinions ranging from “masterpiece” to “crushing disappointment” — but not a soul seems to think it’s in the same league as “4 Months.” (I’m just about in the pro camp myself, though more on the strength of its formal construction than its slightly self-regarding moral languor ) It’d be a perverse choice of Palme winner — but if the film does indeed have a small core of jury support, Best Director or a Jury Prize seems likely for a film in which Mungiu is really the star.

Abbas Kiarostami is another auteur who has, for many critics, put both feet wrong this time: his enigmatic, Tokyo-set puzzler “Like Someone in Love” was hyped by many as the film to beat before the festival (with many taking note of jury president Nanni Moretti’s on-the-record adoration for the Iranian’s work), but reportedly received the loudest boos of the festival so far. (As my Variety review explains, I found the film a bit of a trifle, though an extraordinarily well-made one.) Even if Moretti’s loyalty to Kiarostami sticks, it’s hard to imagine the majority of the jury agreeing with him.

This morning, 89 year-old Alain Resnais was the second straight veteran in Competition to receive a hard time from the press: the pedigree of “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” made it a mighty Palme d’Or threat until it actually screened, with the consensus this morning being that it’s too specialized, too archly rooted in French theatrical tradition, to win over many non-Gallic viewers. 

Other films already screened in Competition include such as Matteo Garrone’s “Reality,” Ken Loach’s “The Angels’ Share,” Hong Sang-soo’s “In Another Country,” Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise: Love” (for which I seem to have more time than others) and seemingly every Cannes critic’s default choice for worst of the fest, Yousry Nasrallan’s dreary political soap opera “Liberty.” None of them seems much of a threat for the Palme; indeed, it’s the Nasrallah name that has been bandied about most for the annual Cannes critics’ sport of saying who does and doesn’t belong in Competition.

If Nasrallah, most would agree, hasn’t earned a spot in future Competition lineups, one whom many critics would like to see there instead is Pablo Larrain, whose excellent political comedy “No” has been building positive word-of-mouth on the Croisette since its first screening on Thursday. It is one the few notable stories to have emerged from this year’s Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week selections, with critics emphasising the accessibility of its story and a return-to-form performance from Gael Garcia Bernal. Un Certain Regard, meanwhile, is particularly quiet this year — after last year’s impressive selection included “Miss Bala,” “Elena” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” only “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which already had heat from Sundance, is generating equivalent buzz. It’d be nice to see these strands, too, receive a jolt in the next six days, with a little sunshine to go with it. Until then.  

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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