'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' 'In the Fog,' 'The Hunt' take preliminary Cannes awards

Posted by · 5:58 am · May 27th, 2012

We’re only a few hours away from hearing what Nanni Moretti and his motley crew of jurors have decided is the best of the Cannes Film Festival, but in the meantime, a slew of smaller awards announcements have dropped — some more surprising than others.

The most significant of these are the selections of the FIPRESCI jury, a rotating panel of international film journalists whose awards effectively represent the critics’ choice of the festival lineup. As such, their Competition pick tends to fall in line with the established festival buzz that has, by and large, been created by critics. (Sometimes, however, they surprise: “On Tour” wasn’t a critical darling of the fest two years ago, but took the prize anyway.) Rarely, however, do they tap the eventual Palme d’Or winner: they last time they did so was with “The White Ribbon” in 2009, while last year’s FIPRESCI pick, “Le Havre,” received nothing from the festival jury.

This year, one might have expected Michael Haneke’s “Amour” to be a near shoo-in for the FIPRESCI Prize, which has gone to the Austrian twice before at Cannes. His old-age drama is still the critical toast of the festival, topping every poll going — yet the critics instead opted for a lower-profile title, Sergei Loznitsa’s “In the Fog.”

The Belarussian documentary director’s second narrative feature after “My Joy” — which competed here two years ago — is a stately, classical, exquisitely lensed World War Two drama that has received strong reviews since premiering in the later days of the fest. I found it admirable but disappointingly conventional after the spikier black-comic rhythms of “My Joy,” but it’s not hard to see why pundits are now talking it up as a potential Palme spoiler. (My predictions have it taking the Grand Prix.) 

The FIPRESCI jury’s selection from the Un Certain Regard strand was more predictable. In a lineup that didn’t match last year’s for critical hits, established Sundance favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was one of the few titles generating any chatter at all — so it’s no surprise to see it add another trophy to a cabinet that’s going to be very crowded even before it reaches US awards season. (It’s a strong contender for tonight’s Camera d’Or award too.)

Benh Zeitlin’s magical-realist post-Katrina story, however, received no love from the festival’s Un Certain Regard jury headed by Tim Roth, which instead handed its top prize to Mexican director Michel Franco’s “After Lucia,” a study of teen bullying that has been extremely well-reviewed, though I regret to say I haven’t seen it. Indeed, the Un Certain Regard awards are dominated by films I missed (or, in one case, was shut out of): the runner-up Jury Prize went to “Le Grand Soir,” an offbeat comedy from noted Belgian pranksters Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, while Bosnia drama “Children of Sarajevo” received a special mention.

The Un Certain Regard jury doesn’t regularly hand out acting awards, though this time, two Best Actress citations were handed out. One of them was for Emilie Dequenne (who took the festival’s main Best Actress award 13 years ago for “Rosetta”), as a mother-of-four driven to shocking measures in Joachim Lafosse’s highly acclaimed true-life drama “Our Children” — the film I most regret missing at this year’s festival. The second, which can sincerely applaud this time, went to Suzanne Clement, whose performance as a woman in love with a male-to-female transsexual is the standout element of Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways.”

Finally, we have the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury — a body of Christian film professionals whose award purports to recognize “works of artistic quality which witnesses to the power of film to reveal the mysterious depths of human beings through what concerns them, their hurts and failings as well as their hopes.” That’s another prize you might have thought would be an easy get for the Haneke film — but instead it went to Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s comeback effort “The Hunt,” a drama about a schoolteacher falsely accused of paedophilia, that I happen to be catching up with in exactly half an hour.

Join us later today as I’ll be posting the main award winners as they’re announced, along with some commentary. I’m also not done with festival reviews: I’ll be writing up my thoughts on several titles, including “Amour” and my personal festival highlight, “Holy Motors,” in due course.

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

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