Well, I think it’s safe to say that 2010 won’t be remembered as one of Cannes’ stronger years. “Comfortably the worst Competition that I can remember,” sighed someone at The Guardian; judging from conversations I’ve had with various colleagues, that’s not an uncommon sentiment. Certainly, if you measure the worth of a festival by the average quality of its lineup, this edition looks pretty wretched—every day brought at least one clunker, and the last few films to screen, including Kornél Mundruczó’s gorgeous but moronic Tender Son — The Frankenstein Project and Nikita Mikhalkov’s painfully overwrought sequel to Burnt by the Sun (which runs 2½ hours and turns out to be just part one!), aren’t even worth addressing in any detail. (I haven't yet seen Rachid Bouchareb’s controversial Outside the Law, but it seems as if the hullabaloo is strictly political; reviews have ranged from the politely dismissive to outright pans.)
On the other hand, since when is art well served by mathematical precision? (Asks the guy who rates films on a 100-point scale. Pre-emptive touché.) Average schmaverage, frankly—given the choice between a lineup featuring 20 solid but largely forgettable diversions and a lineup featuring two masterpieces and 18 dogs, I’d take the latter every single time. By that standard, Cannes absolutely delivered for me this year, resuscitating the career of an old master and all but officially coronating world cinema’s new king. Whether tomorrow’s awards will reflect that assessment is anybody’s guess (especially with notable iconoclast Tim Burton as president of the jury), but here’s how they would shake down if I were handing them out, along with my best guess ( = wrongo! if my batting average over the past eight years is any guide) regarding the actual winners. Bear in mind that the Cannes jury is strongly encouraged to spread the wealth rather than bestow multiple trophies on an overwhelming favorite; I’ll therefore be doing the same.
My pick: Certified Copy. Kiarostami has won before (in 1997, for Taste of Cherry), but enough time has passed, and this European-set and —influenced film represents such a radical departure for him, that I wouldn’t be inclined to invoke the not-again clause even if I thought that clause made any sense. The tepid critical response to this structurally audacious, formally masterful, and philosophically ambitious return to form has me baffled…though I must say that several of the less enthusiastic reviews strongly suggest that the writer did not quite “get it,” as he (they’re all men) works to construct a boring rational explanation for a wondrous mid-film shift that Kiarostami clearly intends to transcend sense, and then proceeds to judge the movie by his own lack of imagination. Fortunately, it’s already been picked up by IFC, so you’ll be able to see for yourself.
My guess: Of Gods & Men. This somber, noble drama doesn’t seem very Burtonesque, but I’ve been surprised on that account enough times to avoid ascribing too much influence to the jury president’s sensibility. Of the two overwhelming critical favorites, it’s by far the more Important choice, and with Iranian director Jafar Panahi (who was supposed to be on the jury, and in whose honor a seat remains empty at every screening) still behind bars, jurors may feel inclined to give their top prize to a movie about a group of men who were killed because they chose to follow their conscience. The only real question is whether it’s “too soon” for another French winner after 2008’s The Class.
Grand Prix (basically second prize)
My pick: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. One day I may regret selling this stunner short, but right now, after just one viewing, there’s still too much about it I don’t remotely understand for me to feel confident about its greatness. In particular, I’ve been waiting to see whether any of the early reviews would address the bizarre ending, which I think I really like (again, it “feels right”) but doesn’t seem to fit my tentative interpretation about porous inter-world borders. No luck so far, but the fact that Uncle Boonmee is the film I most want to see again right this second has to count for a lot.
My guess: Another Year. It’s the other overwhelming critical favorite, but perhaps a bit too minor for the enchilada grande. (Wait, which country am I in again?) Also, Mike Leigh, like Kiarostami, has already won, and in his case it was for a film (1996’s Secrets & Lies) in precisely the same vein as his latest. So I suspect he’ll have to settle for runner-up this time, as well as one of the acting prizes (see below).
My pick: Sergei Loznitsa, My Joy. This is a spread-the-wealth choice, as I’d otherwise have a tough choice between Kiarostami and Joe. But since they’re already accounted for, I’d like to call further attention to one of this year’s most arresting pictures—one distinguished almost entirely by Loznitsa’s aggressively roving eye. My Joy’s mid-film rupture pushed it too far into the wholly random for my taste, but its formal control remained impressive; I’ll be eager to see what this exciting new talent does next.
My guess: Im Sang-soo, The Housemaid. Best Director often tends to come from out of left field, and I’ve heard rumors that Burton’s a big Housemaid fan. In truth, the film is beautifully directed (and art-directed), provided you don’t have indelible images from Kim Ki-young’s superior original rattling around in your head. And how likely is it that even one juror has seen that relative obscurity? I hold out a sliver of hope that they might give Joe this award, but I fear no film that bizarre could manage much better than the generic, kinda meaningless “Jury Prize,” which is what Tropical Malady received. Also a distinct possibility: A Screaming Man’s Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.
My pick: Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, Fair Game. Again, this would go to Certified Copy were I not constrained, and that was really the only film in this year’s Competition that qualifies as wonderfully written. (The current wave of art movies, obsessed with authenticity, tends to sneer at the page.) But I was very pleasurably surprised by how ably the first half of Fair Game managed to lay out the convoluted details of the Plame affair, all while maintaining the interest of those who’d followed the story closely at the time and knew where each scene was heading. (The Butterworths are Brits, incidentally—Jez is a director in his own right, best known for the minor but enjoyable Nicole Kidman vehicle Birthday Girl. Not sure where John-Henry came from.)
My guess: Lee Chang-dong, Poetry. To repeat verbatim my remarks about last year’s guess in this category, Bright Star: There’s lots of, y’know, poetry and shit. However, Bright Star didn’t win—the prize went, inexplicably, to Lou Ye’s Spring Fever, which even its most ardent supporters would likely admit is primarily a visual achievement. So who the hell knows, really. I wouldn’t be shocked to see A Screaming Man turn up here, even though, [regretful but honest generalization withheld to forestall the reappearance of angry humanist in comments section], it’s simplistic to the point of banality.
My pick: Yun Jung-hee, Poetry. It’s been a terrific twelve months for elderly Korean actresses. Following in the footsteps of Kim Hye-ja, who might have won this prize last year had Bong Joon-ho’s Mother been in Competition where it clearly belonged, Yun demonstrates remarkable range and versatility as a woman intent on living all of her years to the fullest, even if that means returning to school and learning a new discipline. (One detail I’ve learned since writing my review of this film is that poetry is akin to integral calculus in Korea, as it’s often written in Classical Chinese rather than Korean.) My fear that the film would amount to feel-good treacle was allayed after just a few minutes of her sweet-natured, oft-distracted but nonetheless flinty performance.
My guess: Lesley Manville, Another Year. She’s just too flashy to ignore, and Leigh’s actors have been winning awards (usually for good reason, though I dissent in this case) ever since he made his permanent move from TV to theatrical features. I just wish she’d internalized some of Mary’s stricken moments a little bit more—her pain is so transparent that I found it impossible to believe that the expression wouldn’t stop all conversation, or at least inspire a concerned “Are you all right?” (Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day remains the gold standard for projecting his feelings to the audience while credibly appearing to conceal them from the other characters in the room.)
My pick: Javier Bardem, Biutiful. By default, frankly—the only other possible contender, as far as I can tell (though I haven’t yet seen Outside the Law or Chongqing Blues), would be Mathieu Amalric in On Tour, and he’s more solid than revelatory. Or maybe screaming man Youssouf Djaoro, but he’s given little to do apart from stare solemnly into the distance while the camera slowly tracks into his haggard face. (It’s a silent scream.) That Biutiful works as well as it does, in spite of its misery overload, is a testament to Bardem’s subtlety and passion; he takes a designated punching bag and makes him a human being.
My guess: Javier Bardem, Biutiful. Again, by default. Though I could possibly see the jury giving the award jointly to the entire principal cast of Of Gods & Men, in the event that it doesn’t win one of the major prizes.
I never attempt to guess these, as they tend to be somewhat random. (They can go to films, actors, technicians, anything.) So let me use this space to list my favorite films not cited above: Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas; Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe; Gregg Araki’s Kaboom; Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats (those last two have also already been picked up by IFC, which has impeccable taste); Hong Sang-soo’s Hahaha (which I hope to review tomorrow), Robert David Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover; and the hour-plus OPEC-raid sequence from Olivier Assayas’ Carlos. Not such a terrible year, really, if you look past the almighty Competition slate.
Tomorrow: One final post, in which I’ll tackle any stragglers (I’m seeing several more films before the awards ceremony, mostly prizewinners in the sidebars) and jot down my thoughts on the prizewinners in something like real time (for me, not you).