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Cannes 2017: The Palme d’Or Contenders

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The 70th Cannes Film Festival kicks off today, and to mark the occasion I’ve decided to evaluate – in my own poor way – the films in contention for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

I have provided synopses for all the contenders and trailers, when available. I have also taken a stab at guessing who’ll actually win the Palme, though my methods in doing so are wholly unscientific (unless you consider hunches to have a science of their own).

Apologies, by the way, for not breaking down the Un Certain Regard contenders and non-competitive screenings. Time and space did not allow.

NOTE: I assembled the synopses and wrote my initial thoughts down before viewing the trailers and sharing my thoughts on them. So you get two opinions for the price of one!

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  • The Beguiled – Dir. Sofia Coppola

At a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.

I’ve seen the original 1971 film with Clint Eastwood, which is excellent. One of his most underrated performances. I’m not sure a remake was totally necessary, but I’ll be interested to see what Coppola does with it. I actually liked The Bling Ring. 

It helps that the cast includes Colin Farrell (as the soldier), Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice (who nearly got a Supporting Actress nod from me last year), and Oona Laurence (whom I nominated for Best Actress last year). Gorgeous poster, too.

Not a huge fan of the trailer, though – it’s trying to play up the thriller aspect, where the original was more of an atmospheric slow-burn. Hopefully Coppola did not take that approach.

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  • The Day After – Dir. Hong Sang-soo

The story follows a woman who begins a job at a publisher, but gets involved in his boss’ affair when the boss’ wife mistakes her for his his mistress, a co-worker who he actually just broke things off with.

Starring Kim Min-hee, whom I nominated for Best Actress for The Handmaiden. I haven’t seen anything by the director.

Story sounds like a generic thriller, but I’ll see what the reviews are like.

Trailer looks okay. I like that it’s in B&W, and hopefully that music is in the film. That said, this still doesn’t really grab me.

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  • A Gentle Creature – Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

A woman lives alone on the outskirts of a village in Russia. One day she receives a parcel she sent to her incarcerated husband, marked ‘return to sender’. Shocked and confused, the woman has no choice but to travel to the prison in a remote region of the country in search of an explanation. So begins the story of a battle against this impenetrable fortress, the prison where the forces of social evil are constantly at work. Braving violence and humiliation, in the face of all opposition, our protagonist embarks on a blind quest for justice.

Another director I’ve never seen anything by. Sounds potentially interesting, albeit grim.

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  • Good Time – Dir. Ben & Joshua Safdie

Constantine “Connie” Nikas goes through a dangerous and desperate journey to get his brother out of jail after a bank robbery goes wrong, while also trying to keep himself from law’s reach.

Starring Robert Pattinson, Barkhad Abdi, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I haven’t seen anything by the Safdies, though I want to see both of their previous films (Daddy Longlegs and Heaven Knows What). The premise could go either way, but the cast has me intrigued enough to give it a shot (and I like the poster).

That looks…strange. Could be really good, could be just plain strange, could tip over into goofiness. But I want to see it. It interests me more than most of the other films here.

  • Happy End – Dir. Michael Haneke

A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Haneke’s back after 5 years. I’m hoping there’s more to the story than this, because this doesn’t sound especially interesting. It does star Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Mathieu Kassovitz (and Toby Jones, apparently), which helps, but I’m wondering if he’s lost his edge (since Amour was comparatively mild for him).

No trailer yet, only a clip. Unfortunately, English subtitles aren’t available for it, and I don’t speak French. So I can’t say much, other than that the acting seems good.

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  • In the Fade – Dir. Faith Akin

I couldn’t find a proper official synopsis for this one; it’s sent in the Turkish immigrant community in Germany, and deals with a man whose experience with prejudice drives him over the edge.

Diane Kruger stars; Numan Acar, presumably, plays the man. I haven’t seen anything by Akin, so I don’t really know what to make of this.

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  • Jupiter’s Moon – Dir. Kornél Mundruczó

A young immigrant is shot down while illegally crossing the border. Terrified and in shock, wounded Aryan can now mysteriously levitate at will. Thrown into a refugee camp, he is smuggled out by Dr. Stern, intent on exploiting his extraordinary secret. Pursued by enraged camp director Laszlo, the fugitives remain on the move in search of safety and money. Inspired by Aryan’s amazing powers, Stern takes a leap of faith in a world where miracles are trafficked for small change.

Mundruczó’s last film was White God, which I thought was well-made but overpraised. I won’t say there isn’t some potential in the premise, but given my lack of enthusiasm for White God I’m not getting my hopes up.

Also, doesn’t it sound like this is set during the Holocaust? It isn’t (thankfully), but the way the synopsis is written it sure sounds like it.

Looks okay, actually. Kind of genre-y for Cannes, but it might be solid enough. And I do like the poster.

  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ last film was The Lobster. I think that says it all. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy (who was really good in Tomorrowland), and Alicia Silverstone.

I’ll be rooting for this to win, even though it probably won’t. Awesome poster, too.

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  • L’Amant Double – Dir. François Ozon

Chloé, a fragile young woman, falls in love with her psychoanalyst, Paul. A few months later she moves in with him, but soon discovers that her lover is concealing a part of his identity.

Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Marine Vacth, and Jérémie Renier.

I’m familiar with Ozon’s films, but haven’t seen any of them, nor have I been all that motivated to. This isn’t really an exception; if this was the logline for some random dead-zone-released thriller, I doubt you’d question it.

(Trailer NSFW)

It looks okay. Marine Vacth seems to be giving a decent performance. But again, if this wasn’t already playing at Cannes, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was. Also, is Jacqueline Bisset actually in this? Are my sources correct? (She’s listed on the poster, but she isn’t even named in the trailer, which is weird.)

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  • Loveless – Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

A couple going through a divorce must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their bitter arguments.

Zvyagintsev’s last film was Leviathan, which I was really excited to see, and pretty underwhelmed by. Mostly because it seemed to take a long time to make a pretty elementary point about the corruption of modern Russia.

Anyway, this sounds like it could be a little better, especially if it sticks with the family drama and doesn’t try to get fancy with the allegory.

No subtitles. If anyone reading this speaks Russian, your assistance would be much appreciated.

It does look like it could be good. Some good cinematography and acting on display for sure.

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  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Dir. Noah Baumbach

An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.

Starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen, and Rebecca Miller.

I’ve only seen one Baumbach, and that was Frances Ha, which I quite liked. From what I’ve seen of his other work (mostly trailers), he’s always on the verge of getting too indie-quirky for his own good (though that’s very much a your-mileage-may-vary scenario). I don’t know if this will maintain the proper balance, but the basic premise is a bit yawny.

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  • Okja – Dir. Bong Joon-ho

A young girl named Mija risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend — a massive animal named Okja.

Joon-ho’s last film was Snowpiercer, which I absolutely loved. This…I don’t know, maybe it could be good? A lot depends on how they depict Okja. Because this could easily get preachy and/or cutesy. Or it could be devastating and/or uplifting. Hopefully the latter.

It stars Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, and others.

Technically, there’s another, more official teaser, but I liked this far more. We’ve got some of that offbeat humor which helped make Snowpiercer so much fun – hopefully some of that makes into the film proper.

  • 120 Beats Per Minute – Dir. Robin Campillo

“Early 1990s. With AIDS having already claimed countless lives for nearly ten years, Act Up-Paris activists multiply actions to fight general indifference. Nathan, a newcomer to the group, has his world shaken up by Sean, a radical militant.”

I haven’t seen anything by Campillo. Premise sounds like it could be okay.

It’s 140 minutes, though, which seems potentially excessive.

I kind of like this clip, though. Spraying blood everywhere to protest the malefactions of Big Pharma? I can dig it.

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  • Radiance – Dir. Naomi Kawase

Misako is a passionate writer of film versions for the visually impaired. At a screening, she meets Masaya, an older photographer who is slowly losing his eyesight. Misako soon discovers Masaya’s photographs, who will strangely bring her back to her past. Together, they will learn to see the radiant world that was invisible to her eyes.

Again, I haven’t seen anything by Kawase.

I like the premise, though. Hopefully it doesn’t get too sappy.

No subtitles again. Quelle domage.

I like what I see, though. Maybe the music is a little heavy, but I’m really curious to see how this turns out. It could be a nice little gem.

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  • Redoubtable – Dir. Michel Hazanavicius

During the making of one of his films, French film director Jean-Luc Godard falls in love with 17-year old actress Anne Wiazemsky and later marries her.

Hazanavicius has had kind of a rough post-Oscar career, no? I don’t think The Search even got into theaters over here (and it was apparently not that good). And I’m not sure winning Best Picture and Director has really made The Artist into a modern classic, enjoyable though it was.

This…I don’t know. It could be solid enough, and it does have a good cast (Louis Garrel as Godard, Stacy Martin (my Best Supporting Actress of 2014 for Nymphomaniac) as Wiazemsky, and Bérénice Bejo). But it could also be too much enamored with its subjects and their revolutionary activities. Or it could totally defang them. It’s got a lot of room to go wrong.

Not much to go on, though Garrel seems suitably smug. It does seem potentially too pleased with itself, though.

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  • Rodin – Dir. Jacques Doillon

An account of the famous French sculptor’s romance with Camille Claudel.

I’ve never seen anything by Doillon (though Ponette sounds good).

This doesn’t interest me much at all. It just sounds like a generic biopic. Not sure why this got a competition slot, but okay.

Yeah, it looks fine, in that “prestigious biopic” way. I just can’t imagine this having any shot at the Palme, or anyone being that excited about it. Nice score, though.

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  • The Square – Dir. Ruben Östlund

Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for ”The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.

Östlund’s last film was Force Majeure, which I adored.

Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West are both in this.

This sounds great. It’s 142 minutes, which might be pushing it, but it could also be time well-spent. I’m hoping this comes out here in a timely fashion.

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  • Wonderstruck – Dir. Todd Haynes

It unfolds in two different time periods, with one storyline taking place in 1927 and the other set in 1977. In the earlier time frame, Rose escapes her home in New Jersey to catch a glimpse of her idol Lillian Mayhew. In the other, Ben runs away to New York to find his long-lost father after his mother dies.

Oh, fuck yeah.

Haynes’ last film, of course, was Carol, which was wonderful.

Starring Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore.

I can’t wait to see this. This is one of my most anticipated films of the year, bar none.

I suppose you could argue it all looks a touch precious, but I’m still excited for it. Visually, at least, it should be quite impressive.

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  • You Were Never Really Here – Dir. Lynne Ramsay

A war veteran’s attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring goes horribly wrong.

Joaquin Phoenix stars; presumably, he plays the veteran.

I’ve actually never seen anything by Ramsay (I never got around to We Need to Talk About Kevin).

This is the kind of film I want to see a trailer for before I decide what to expect. Because the tone and the overall approach are pretty crucial with this kind of material.

Okay, looking at this list, there are three films I’m personally rooting for: The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Square, and Wonderstruck.  The Beguiled and Good Time round out my top 5.

Now we have to ask – what’s going to win the Palme d’Or? I’m not even going to try and guess what’ll win the other awards. That way lies madness.

Let’s consider the last five Palme winners:

  • 2016: I, Daniel Blake
  • 2015: Dheepan
  • 2014: Winter Sleep
  • 2013: Blue is the Warmest Color
  • 2012: Amour

In the last couple of years, there’s been a definite tendency towards topicality in their choices; Dheepan is about the struggles of refugees in France and I, Daniel Blake is about the bureaucracy of the British health care system. And all five of these films are essentially contemporary pieces – 2011’s The Tree of Life is the last true period piece to win.

So let’s say that we first set aside The Beguiled (period piece), The Day After (not topical), Good Time (not topical), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (not topical, possibly too strange), L’Amant Double (not topical), Loveless (not that topical), The Meyerowitz Stories (not topical), Okja (they don’t often go for fantasy or science fiction), Radiance (not topical), Rodin (extremely untopical), and Wonderstruck (not topical/fantastical).

That leaves A Gentle Creature, Happy End, In the Fade, Jupiter’s Moon, 120 Beats Per Minute, Redoubtable, The Square, and You Were Never Really Here.

Now I’m going to rule a few more of these out:

  • Happy End: Haneke has two Palmes already. No one has ever won three. I doubt this’ll make him the first.
  • In the Fade: It just doesn’t sound that interesting. Akin did win Best Screenplay here in 2007, but since then most of his films have seemingly come and gone.
  • Jupiter’s Moon: Probably should’ve taken this off to start with. It’s a magical realist piece, and they haven’t gone for those recently (though they have in the past).
  • Redoubtable: Period piece, director in possible decline, not really a topical subject…another one I should’ve ruled out to start with. But it does center around a legendary figure in French cinema, which might give it an outside chance.

So that leaves the last four.

  • A Gentle Creature is a Ukrainian/French co-production. It deals with societal injustice, incarceration, and a personal journey. It’s set in Russia, which means it could serve up some critiques of the Putin regime, which could score it points. But no Russian or FSR-produced film has won the Palme since 1958 (The Cranes are Flying).
  • 120 Beats Per Minute is French, deals with AIDS activism (with, it would seem, a romantic component), and its running time could impart some epic gravitas. Odds are it’ll run away with the Queer Palm; it could easily win the big prize as well.
  • The Square: It’s not as topical as the others, but Östlund won the Jury Prize with Force Majeure, the premise is really fascinating, and it sounds compellingly ambitious. It’s not the likeliest choice, but it could possibly gain more consensus than some of the others.
  • You Were Never Really There: Ramsay is a respected director and her film deals with an issue that might not be topical, but is instead eternally relevant. I’d say it’s the fourth-likeliest of these four to win, but consider it a contender.

For me, it comes down to A Gentle Creature and The Square. And, considering nothing but my own hunches and rudimentary analysis…I think A Gentle Creature will take it.

But remember that Cannes is very unpredictable, that a lot depends on the jury, and a lot depends on the atmosphere on the Croisette. I spoke with a friend earlier who thought the prize would go to Happy End or The Day After. So who really knows?

We all will, come May 28th. Until then.

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3 thoughts on “Cannes 2017: The Palme d’Or Contenders

  1. ‘Happy End’ clip with English subtitles 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owI7DyaKDto

  2. Pingback: Cannes 2017 Results | If you want the gravy...

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