We are at the end of a long Cannes, and jury members have had the opportunity to see all 20 films in the main competition. But who wins the Palme d’Or? I have learned that jury president Steven Spielberg has specifically instructed his colleagues to remain tight-lipped and not provide any clues. Cannes juries anyway are notoriously hard to predict and critical reaction through the festival doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But, jumping into the shark-infested waters of predictions, I would say frontrunners for the Palme d’Or are likely Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s stunning The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Color (thanks to buzz), and possibly Iranian director Asghar Farhardi’s The Past which was shot in Paris and mostly in French. I also would throw in the wonderfully heartfelt Japanese entry Like Father, Like Son, a truly moving film from director Kore-Eda Hirokazu. It’s a long-shot but human emotion goes a long way with juries. I could have picked J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost with a virtuoso performance from Robert Redford but for some reason it was shown out of competition and not eligible. Otherwise it would have been in the top tier of contenders. Watch for a possible sleeper with the Chinese entry (their first in a few years) ,A Touch Of Sin from director Jia Zhangke who is overdue. Reaction was mixed overall to the overlong four-segment story that examines China today warts and all in some cases. Plus it has some pretty extreme violence. But he could win a prize as a statement supporting more honest and open China filmmaking which this seems to represent. Further down the list are Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and James Gray’s beautifully realized period piece The Immigrant, at least in terms of Palme d’Or buzz for both very American directors. The wild card is likely Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra since he said it’s his last film for the forseeable future. But that could be hampered by the fact it premieres on HBO in the U.S. tomorrow and most think it is more likely to win for its acting, specifically Michael Douglas.
The last three days of the festival saw the sun come out on the Croisette and the quality of films particularly impressive. High profile contenders holding premieres included Nebraska, The Immigrant, and the much touted by critics 3-hour French teen lesbian drama Blue Is The Warmest Color. Followed by Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur had its official premiere Saturday night. This entertaining French language adaptation of the hit Broadway play stars his wife Emmanuelle Seigner in an actress audition that turns into a sexual game of cat and mouse with her director portrayed by Mathieu Amalric (who looks uncannily like a younger Polanski – likely on purpose).
The acting categories will provide the most Solomon-like decisions for the jury. Michael Douglas may receive a prize alone or add his equally fine co-star Matt Damon. The actor race is impossibly crowded and also includes the magnificent Toni Servillo of Great Beauty, Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Bruce Dern and Will Forte of Nebraska, and Amalric of Venus In Fur. And if the jury is watching closely there’s a truly moving performance from Masaharu Fukuyama as the flawed parent in Like Father, Like Son. I would also give a shout-out to the excellent Souleymane Deme as Grigris in a film that didn’t get a lot of traction. On the women’s side, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux could be honored together or apart for brave and explicit work in Blue Is The Warmest Color. Seigner’s sly work could win her an acting prize in Cannes tomorrow. Marion Cotillard may be in play for The Immigrant. Also Berenice Bejo in The Past and Marine Vacht for a true ‘star is born’ performance in Francois Ozon’s Young And Beautiful. And maybe, to make up for ignoring her in a tour-de-force performance in We Need To Talk About Kevin two years ago, Tilda Swinton for her marvelously droll turn in Only Lovers Left Alive. After all, her Kevin director Lynne Ramsay is on the jury.
Some people keep asking “what kind of film does Spielberg like,” as if he is going to be one of those presidents who cracks the whip until he gets his way. Judging from the way he has cast many of his films, I would guess he has a strong international bent. After all this is the man who, in 1977, cast Francois Truffaut in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, discovered Christian Bale, and populated Munich with actors from around the world. Of interest to note: I’m told that making this year’s official competition selection was not easy. And that the films competing are the only ones seen as worth competing. Cannes Film Festival general delegate Thierry Fremaux expressed frustration to me there wasn’t more to choose from. But that can happen when your fest is in the spring and not fall when more serious movies are released. “I hope there’s something that just wows us, something we cannot even verbalize about, and we all look at each other and say, ‘My god, that’s the Palme d’Or’,” jury member Ang Lee said on opening day. “If not we will have opinions and rationalize it and try to come to agreement. But that’s second best for me.”