Cannes 2012, Day 10: Cronenberg meets DeLillo, Matthew McConaughey's name is Mud, and our critic plays the jury 

Cannes 2012, Day 10: Cronenberg meets DeLillo, Matthew McConaughey's name is Mud, and our critic plays the jury 

So it’s all over here at Cannes save for the awardin’. And actually even that has already begun: I’m just back from catching up with the winner of the top prize in the Directors’ Fortnight (which you’ll recall is technically a completely separate festival that takes place down the street). Given that I only saw a handful of the films, I can’t say whether Pablo Larraín’s NO was the right choice, but it’s hands down the funniest movie I’ve seen all year—not remotely what I expected, given that the director’s two previous films (Tony Manero and Post Mortem) are both unrelenting grimmobiles and that NO concerns the 1988 referendum that finally forced Augusto Pinochet to step down as Chile’s dictator-president. In an effort to appear fair and balanced, the Chilean government, which obviously controlled the media top to bottom, allotted 15 minutes of daily late-night television airtime to the opposition; Gael García Bernal (who’s Mexican, but never mind) plays the advertising exec in charge of the NO campaign, which he feels should aim for upbeat sentiment rather than risk depressing voters with details of Pinochet’s atrocities. The result is an uproarious examination of how the methods used to sell soft drinks and soap operas can also be used to sell…not a candidate, understand (the actual election was a year later), but just the idea “freakin’ anybody but this guy.” Deliberately making the film as ugly and tacky as possible, Larraín expertly reproduces the most laughable excesses of ‘80s advertising, which was apparently much the same everywhere. I looked in vain for a hint of contemporary relevance, and couldn’t work up any real interest in García Bernal’s relationship with his semi-militant ex-wife and his young son, but was generally laughing too hard to focus on the flaws. Grade: B

Whether the Competition jury will hand any prizes to Cosmopolis remains to be seen, but Robert Pattinson clearly deserves this year’s award for Best Career Move. Indeed, he’s among the half of David Cronenberg’s eclectic cast that completely nails the very tricky, precise tone demanded by Don DeLillo’s unapologetically inhuman dialogue. Like the book, the film follows affectless billionaire Eric Packer (Pattinson, who’s perfectly robotic) as he undergoes a day-long odyssey across Manhattan in a gigantic stretch limo in order to get a haircut he doesn’t even need, encountering a gaggle of employees, assassins, and random hot chicks en route. There’s no story to speak of, just a series of financial and philosophical conversations delivered at rapid-fire speed; at times I was reminded of Shane Carruth’s brilliant low-budget sci-fi mindbender Primer, in which it’s not important that you understand what’s being said so much as recognize how a particular mode of communication can both reflect and influence the way people think. The more abstract and overtly stylized Cosmopolis is, the more it thrills, as in a lengthy discussion between Packer and his “chief of theory,” Samantha Morton, in which they never acknowledge that the limo is being assaulted by protesters to the point where it’s threatening to tip over. Overall, the English and Canadian actors get it but the Americans don’t quite, which becomes especially problematic in the film’s long final scene, featuring Paul Giamatti at his most irascible. His character is admittedly intended as a contrast to the others, but introducing genuine human feeling into this antiseptic bubble-world doesn’t provide the intended catharsis. Only slow deflation. Grade: B-

The last Competition title to screen for the press was Jeff Nichols’ Mud, which I would not have guessed features a titular role. Yes, Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a ne’er-do-well holing up on a small island off the Southern coast after killing a man in anger. He’s discovered there by a couple of teen boys (Tye Sheridan, from The Tree of Life, and Jacob Lofland), one of whom idealizes Mud’s ostensibly pure love for his childhood girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and decides to help bring them back together, even if that puts him and his family at risk from the dead man’s vengeful father (Joe Don Baker) and a team of hired thugs. Because Nichols’ previous film was the offbeat, heavily metaphorical Take Shelter, some are bridling at his unapologetic embrace of the Hollywood three-act structure, and it’s true that Mud neither breaks new ground in the coming-of-age genre nor feels compelled to disguise its familiar story beats. It’s just a reasonably good yarn, heavier on incident than psychological acuity, and I suspect it’ll get a kinder reception once it’s not weighted down with the lofty expectations of Cannes’ Competition slate. The film’s real problem is its decidedly iffy gender politics, as every single woman onscreen—Juniper, our boy hero’s mom, the older girl he’s started dating at school—proves fickle and faithless, ready to abandon a devoted man at a moment’s notice. Nichols works hard to counteract this impression, inserting lines of dialogue that play like disclaimers, but the ickiness remains. Grade: B-

With the exception of Im Sang-soo’s poorly received The Taste of Money,which I’ll be seeing after the awards are announced, I’ve now covered the entire Competition lineup…which means that your guess about what will win is as good as mine, and probably better. I’ve always been lousy at predicting even relatively sure things like the Oscars (which has a dozen precursors), and trying to divine what nine diverse jury members will think seems like an exercise in futility. Instead, as is customary, I’ll leave you with the prizes that I’d hand out as a jury of one, which conveniently doubles as a list of the films and performances you should most hope will eventually turn up at some festival or multiplex near you.

(NOTE: Because Cannes juries are strongly encouraged to spread their love around rather than heap multiple prizes on one runaway favorite, I’ll be doing the same. Doubling up a film with one acting award and one general award is permissible, though, judging from history, and I’ll be doing that as well.)

Best Screenplay: Reality. Few seemed to recognize that Matteo Garrone’s broad satire wasn’t about reality TV but about the nature of reality itself, and the human tendency to ignore it in favor of a fanciful, idealized dream world. Which predates Survivor and Big Brother by, oh, just a few millennia.

Best Director: Alain Resnais. Some will find this choice bizarre, as the main knock on You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! was that it’s far too theatrical and wordy. But Resnais juggles several different iterations of the same text in a way that couldn’t be more intensely cinematic. Indeed, the film boldly uses theater as a means of demonstrating what only the movies can achieve.

Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva. Part of me hesitates, because this is superficially the “Oscar” choice: As Amour’s gradually deteriorating octogenarian, Riva plays severely disabled, which can be seen as a gimme. But what makes Haneke’s film so intensely moving is the sense she provides of the character’s remarkable mind and strength of character, making us grieve for what’s gradually lost.

Best Actor: Denis Lavant. Another ostensible gimme, as he plays no fewer than 11 characters in Holy Motors,most of them in heavy makeup. But this is truly a case where it’s hard to imagine any other actor on the planet who could have made the movie work. “If Denis had said no, I would have offered the part to Lon Chaney or to Chaplin,” director Leos Carax quipped, and that about sums it up.

Jury Prize: Moonrise Kingdom. This can theoretically go to various parties, including actors, but for my purposes it’s just third place. Wes Anderson’s latest deceptively precious human diorama opened the festival in high style and has already been rapturously received at home; if the frenetic second half were as consistently wonderful as the freewheeling first, it’d be up with Rushmore.

Grand Prix: Amour. Just to be French, Cannes calls its runner-up award the Grand Prize. And I’m not made of stone, so like everyone else I’m helpless in the face of Michael Haneke’s unexpectedly tender (but still typically grueling) portrait of devotion in the face of life’s most implacable cruelty. Sony Pictures Classics has U.S. distribution and plans to release Amour sometime this fall. Steel yourself.

Palme d’Or: Holy Motors. I watched this again the other night and was flabbergasted anew. Of all the films that premiered here over the past two weeks, it’s the one I’m most confident will still be revived (whatever that will mean), talked about, and shoved at the unsuspecting 50 or 100 years from now. Seeing Leos Carax emerge from the wilderness with such a dizzy marvel was the joy of Cannes 2012.

In short, there’s a lot for you to look forward to in months to come (and I’m eager to see what my pals Noel Murray and Scott Tobias will think when most of these films play at the Toronto fest in September). Thanks for joining me in this annual adventure, and sorry I was totally inactive in the comments—there’s some Disqus bug that currently thinks I’m not logged in even when I am, which proved impossible to fix because you have to delete cookies and I’m using a shared network in the festival’s press office. If you have questions, stick ‘em/repeat ‘em here and I’ll reply when I’m back in the States on Tuesday.

More Cannes Film Festival