And so the dust settles on another grueling Cannes. I now longer know where I am, who you are or what day it is, but I dimly recall something about a Palme D'Or last night. On reflection, the decision to award it to Michael Haneke's Amour was, like The Artist at the Oscars, something of a dead cert, with critics trying to roll back the tide by positioning several other movies as the one that could and would beat it. I wasn't completely sold on it, because I never am fully sold on Haneke's films (with the exception of The White Ribbon), but there was never any doubt that this was Palme D'Or material. Though I would dearly have loved to have seen Holy Motors take the prize (even though it is weirdly similar in its themes), it would have seemed a bit silly and even a bit mean in the face of Amour's seriousness and power, notably from its excellent two leads.
I always stay for the awards since it is a stark reminder of the gulf between the press and the jury. Chris Hewitt last week claimed that I usually get the Palme D'Or winner wrong, but my predictions are based purely from what I can gather on this side of the fence. From this position, Amour was a very popular choice, but the decision to give Best Director to Carlos Reygadas for his baffling Post Tenebras Lux split the critics in two. Some found it brilliant, edgy and unsettling. I left after half an hour, not because I couldn't stand it (I couldn't) or because there was a completely unnecessary (offscreen) dog beating, but because Reygadas's weird lens thing (like looking through a Coke bottle) was giving me a headache. It reminded me of Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, which I didn't like either. Interestingly, Arnold was on the jury, so maybe she saw the similarities too.
I'll fess up to not having seen Christian Mungiu's Beyond The Hills or Matteo Garrone's Reality, the former because it was just so long (the festival gives me a blue pass, which means I have to add 40 minutes for queuing – not great for a 2hr 30 movie on a busy day), and the latter because I was warned off it. Mungiu took best screenplay and his two female leads – who gave hilarious, charmingly artless speeches – shared best actress, while Garrone won the Grand Prix (a prestigious prize previously given to the likes of Jacques Audiard's A Prophete). Mungiu's film was a popular choice, Garrone's less so, raising immediate (and unfounded) accusations of cronyism towards jury head and fellow Italian Nanni Moretti.
The most “meh” reaction of the night was reserved for Ken Loach's The Angels' Share, a film so slight that it's really just the use of the word “cunt” that distinguishes it from an episode of Last Of The Summer Wine. Loach has made much better films that this, and if there was a resounding criticism of the festival this year it was that so many directors were simply doing what they always do. Often very well, but no one seemed to want to raise their own bar. The only prize I really cheered -- with the exception of Camera D'Or for Benh Zeitlin's tremendous debut Beasts Of The Southern Wild, which played in Un Certain Regard -- was Best Actor for Mads Mikkelsen in Thomas Vinterberg's Jagten (The Hunt). Mikkelsen is a great actor and deserves this kind of kudos; his portrayal of a kindergarten worker accused of being a paedophile was a festival high spot, and hopefully this award will restore some sheen to Vinterberg's unfairly tarnished reputation, which was forged here in 1998 with the groundbreaking Dogme film Festen.
The performance prizes must have been the hardest for the jury, since this was an amazing year for actors. There was Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, Denis Lavant in Holy Motors, Margarethe Tiesel in Ulrich Seidl's jaw-dropping Paradise: Love. Especially left out was Rust And Bone's Matthias Schoenaerts, not because he didn't get an award but because more people talked about his co-star Marion Cotillard being in the awards frame, when it is his excellent performance that steers the film. Something tells me, though, that Rust And Bone's awards potential won't end here, and with the right push, both in the UK and US, it will have a very long life.
In summary? It was a pretty good year but without the breakouts everyone sorely wanted. In around 30 films, most of what I saw was good to excellent, and with the exception of The Paperboy the standard of film craft was really very high. Could it have been better? Of course. But that's always the problem with Cannes: what can you realistically pack into 12 days of world cinema? There may have been few surprises but very little felt superfluous and – crucially for a festival that often feels like it's on auto-select – almost nothing that felt like it really shouldn't be there.
Miikesmama Posted on Tuesday May 29, 2012, 18:39
Interesting. Being Austrian myself I am truly proud to see my fellow countrymen Haneke and Ulrich Seidl get that kind of recognition.
The thing Damon Wise wrote about Haneke ("I never am fully sold on Haneke's films...") is something I feel similar about. Well, I respect the man and his films, have seem them multiple times, but he seems to be kind of "one-note". Always violence, videotapes, conservative parents and their curly-haired boys, and so on (up until White Ribbon and Amour that was, seems Haneke has entered his Cronenbergian I'm-making-slightly-different-films-now phase).
Always wondered what qualifies Haneke to give us such statements about violence and how it impacts our life, but found out: he has none! Yes, he once saw a farmer cut the head off of a chicken when he was five (Haneke, not the farmer, not the chicken either), but that's about it. What was that with "write about what you know" ?
Also, for someone who is so afraid of violence in real life and warns us about it, Haneke himself could be accused of creating images and scenes that exploit these acts... And I am still baffled there wasn't some sick bastard that tried to simulate Benny's Video, or even worse, Funny Games.