Cannes 2019: Awards, predictions and highlights from the festival
As Cannes 2019 draws to a close, Sam Gray and Joseph Owen share with us their predictions and highlights from the festival.
I missed Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which seems to be a consensus hit, and I was disappointed by Pedro Almodóvar’s muted Pain and Glory, which nonetheless garnered critical praise and will probably appeal to the several filmmakers on Iñárritu’s jury. It’s otherwise been a weird year, where – apart from Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant Parasite, which is too much fun to win the big prize – there hasn’t been much consensus. If the festival wants to go for the tradition of rewarding one of the worst films in competition, then Les Misérables would make a fine choice.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the most exquisitely rendered film in competition. The central love story is almost subordinate to the interrogation of art and aesthetics. It is a remarkably wrought work. If Celine Sciamma wins she will be only the second women director since Jane Campion to the win the Palme. It should win. I didn’t see Bong Joon-ho’s darkly comic Parasite but it elicited a lot of excitement and goodwill on the Croisette. The accompanying, viral #BONGHIVE organically burst out of the press pack. There are whispers that Pedro Almodóvar may snatch it – perhaps in the manner of a lifetime achievement award – for his autobiographical Pain & Glory.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau. It’s uneven, and runs out of steam towards the end, but it’s also madly ambitious and features some utterly unforgettable images and moments. Quentin Tarantino is an obvious shoe-in for such a prize – his Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood contains some of the most carefully measured work of his career – though I’d also give a big shout-out to Jessica Hausner’s pristinely controlled, creepy Little Joe as an example of exemplary direction. And Bertrand Bonello’s Zombi Child in the Director’s Fortnight contains a climactic sequence that might be the best-directed thing I’ve seen at this year’s festival.
Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life amounts to a qualified return to form for the increasingly prolific director. Malick reproduces his distinct style and pacing for the story of real life conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, a peasant farmer who resisted the Nazis during World War II. His singular wide-angle and repetitions frame a grand set of theological questions. It’s portentous, and sort of brilliant. Quentin Tarantino may feel he is in the running for his deliriously received, painstakingly detailed nostalgia trip Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.
It’s easy for him to get lost in the shuffle, but Song Kang-ho is wonderful as a deadbeat Dad in Parasite – he’s the De Niro to Joon-ho’s Scorsese. I was also very impressed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Tarantino film, which uses his boyishness to improbably moving effect – his big scene, where he discovers the power of method acting, is one of the best in his career. The prize will probably end up in Antonio Banderas’s hands for his solid work in Pain and Glory.
I didn’t find too many outstanding performances from men in competition. There is useful work in both the melodramas (Dolan’s Matthias and Maxime) and so-called social realisms (Loach’s Sorry We Missed You). Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio lent humour and charisma to their respective roles of Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time.., and their relationship formed the film’s earnest centre. I think Pitt just shades it through his pure articulation of deadpan amusement.
Emily Beecham in Little Joe jumps to mind, and Valerie Pachner tries her best in Terrence Malick’s uneven but moving A Hidden Life. Sandra Hüller shows up for about 15 minutes in Justine Triet’s Sibyl and is absolutely hysterical, a perfect balance between comedy and pathos – her not winning anything for Toni Erdmann three years ago is one of the festival’s greatest failures. Ophélie Bau deserves some kind of prize for being forced to twerk for three hours in Abdellatif Kechiche’s abysmal Mektoub My Love: Intermezzo, not to mention being on the receiving end of one of the longest, least attractive sex scenes in cinema history.
This may be a case of which award goes where and to whom. If Portrait doesn’t take the Palme then either one or both of the leads, Noémie Merlant and Adele Haenel, must win. I often return to the word “simmering” when describing any prolonged state of tense, erotic gazing. Enough of my failings but simmer this does. Haenel is particularly excellent as the enigmatic portrait sitter Héloïse. Otherwise Valerie Pachner is a force as the stoic Franziska Jägerstätter in a supporting role in A Hidden Life.
Parasite was the best film I saw this year by a country mile, though I’m also a reluctant member of the Gaspar Noé fan club, whose Lux Æterna was a thrilling, funny experiment that said more about the nature of art than most films at the festival. More directors should try and make a film under an hour long. I also really liked Michael Covino’s The Climb, a toxic bromantic comedy that transcended cliché through imaginative direction and good comedic timing. And I’m unlikely to forget Willem Dafoe giving a fierce monologue about Neptune’s wrath in Robert Eggers’s grimy The Lighthouse any time soon.
Un Certain Regard usually produces one astonishing film per festival. This year it was Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov’s beautifully composed, harrowing observation of two women – entwined through a child and through vacancy – in Leningrad at the end of World War II. It is a phenomenal film, deserving to be in competition from which it is was rumoured to have been withdrawn. It sticks with you – a wonderful work that acknowledges the horrors of personal and national rebirth.
I spend most of my time in Cannes worrying about food, queues and sleep, so finding the Palais’ secret underground cafeteria was legitimately life changing. At one point Bong Joon-ho said I had nice skin, and Udo Kier told me stories about Fassbinder that were unprintable. The Parasite screening had an electric atmosphere, with two applause breaks in the middle – realising in a room full of people that you’re watching some kind of masterpiece unfold in front of you is a genuinely thrilling experience. Conversely, sitting through three-and-a-half hours of Mektoub was like a traumatic bonding experience with my fellow journalists. We all needed several drinks afterwards to come to terms with what had just happened. The magic of cinema.
A great Cannes. Discovered the secret downstairs canteen and new friends. The press terrace was moved downstairs with more space and more wine. Lovely to have Sam back as a colleague – an intellectual force and useful ally. Only had to split up one fight in the Debussy, having put my best deep, guttural voice on. Optimistically named myself the “hero of Cannes” thereafter. Looking forward to collecting the Palme d’Héros this evening. I didn’t see or review as much as in previous years, which is both a shame and a blessing. Kept my sanity and think some of the reviews are more substantial as a result. The stag do in Prague halfway through was slightly detrimental, however. My fourth year now and I’ve really settled in – to many more!
Sam Gray and Joseph Owen
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.