Cannes 2014 - Frontrunners start to emerge


I haven’t really been covering Cannes 2014 on my site, partly as I have a staff of zero except for myself and there is just too much news coming out of there, and also because I myself am not actually there this year.

Nevertheless I have attempted here to bring together some impressions of where the festival’s Competition strand is going, and with most of the films in competition now screened and reviewed, some kind of vague consensus seems to me to be forming across the web as to which directors will be going home either gong-laden or empty handed.

Though not in competition it would be remiss of me to ignore Grace of Monaco, the festival opener directed by Olivier Dahan, which seems to have inspired excoriating reviews on a truly epic scale. The Guardian even published an article entitled ‘Cannes 2014: Grace of Monaco – is there a critic who liked it?’.  That same paper’s Peter Bradshaw wrote: “A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital to have their toes uncurled.” The Telegraph might be The Guardian’s bete noir, but on this film both paper’s critics were united, with Robbie Collin of The Telegraph calling the film "fantastically silly." Variety likewise dismissed it as a mere “cornball melodrama.” As for the Hollywood Reporter, it concluded that “It drags where it should dazzle.” Ouch! 

Grace of Monaco

Grace of Monaco

Arriving as if to offset the bitter taste of Dahan’s film, one of the first competition films to screen, Timbuktu, seems to have won wide approval. Director Abderrahmane Sissako’s film about jihadis in the West african state of Mali had The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw laying four stars upon it: “ …a passionate and visually beautiful film Timbuktu is a cry from the heart – with all the more moral authority for being expressed with such grace and such care.” Jay Weissberg of Variety gushed: “…a stunningly shot and deeply empathetic drama.” Likewise, The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young called it: “Superbly evocative and heart-breaking.”

Timbuktu

Timbuktu

The Artist was a serious award winner in 2011 (five Oscars) and remains the most awarded French film in that nation’s history, but its director, Michel Hazanavicius, seems not to have hit pay dirt a second time with his 2014 Cannes film The Search. The reviews I’ve seen have largely been expressing disappointment.

The Search

The Search

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian sensed it was “desperately well-meaning” but cornily executed. Justin Chang of Variety laid into it with: “a gruelling, lumbering, two-and-a-half-hour humanitarian tract that all but collapses under the weight of its own moral indignation”. The Hollywood Reporter did have some praise to offer up, but still branded the film “laborious.”

One film that does seem to be uniting critics is The Dardenne Brother’s Two Days, One Night, starring Marion Cotillard as a factory worker forced to plead with her colleagues to forgo their bonuses so she can keep her job. Catherine Shoard of The Guardian wrote that their “employment rights fable looks likely to beat off stiff competition and bag them their third Palme d’Or.”

Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night

She adds: “no film-maker has won the Palme d'Or three times. But if ever there were men to do it, those men would be Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian brothers and Cannes perennials who previously triumphed with Rosetta in 1999 and in 2005 with The Child.The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin had four stars to dish out: “ thoughtful, humane and superbly composed.” Collin too muses that a third Cannes win is not out of reach for the brothers, and Cotillard is “ the strongest contender yet for this year’s Best Actress award at Cannes.”

Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep proved almost as epic in length as his previous acclaimed film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, to the point where critics complained the run time was messing with their schedules. The film focuses on a wealthy Turkish hotel owner and landlord who lords over a small town, and the conflicts between him and his wife that are driven by his arrogance and selfishness. Peter Bradshaw praised the film’s psychological rigour and the performances, but admitted: “it does risk wandering off the track and even doubling back on itself during the course of its gruelling 196-minute running time.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young also warned of the effort involved in sticking with such a lengthy "Chekovian" drama. Justin Chang of Variety was less put off by losing 190 minutes of his life, declaring the director was at the peak of his powers with this “ richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made.” Everyone seemed to have praise for the cinematography.

Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller can’t seem to put a foot wrong. His Cannes contender Foxcatcher has got critics raving, particularly over actor Steve Carrrell’s against-type casting as a billionaire-turned-wrestling manager who gets tangled up with a pair of US wrestling squad brothers played by Channing Tatum and Marc Ruffalo.

Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher

Catherine Shoard from The Guardian noted: “Amid a shower of five star reviews, it was Carell's revelatory performance which drew the best notices.” That paper’s critic Peter Bradshaw concurred with a review praising it as: “…a superb tragicomedy… a piercing insight into toxic mentor-ism, into competitive men and their terrible emotional need to find a father-figure to hate and to disappoint.” The Telegraph splurged all its five stars on Miller’s film, Robbie Collin haling it as an “exceptional new true-crime thriller, which played to sustained cheers at the Cannes Festival this morning.” As for the acting, Collin declares “The performances by the three leads are astonishing: prepare yourselves for a world in which the phrase ‘Academy Award-nominee Channing Tatum’ exists.”

Definitely a competition favourite, Mike Leigh, teamed once again with Timothy Spall, has delighted a good number of critics with his biopic of British landscape painter JMW Turner. His Mr Turner earned five stars from The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who praised it as a glorious effort from Leigh with a strong central performance from Spall, a film that was “richly and immediately enjoyable, hitting its satisfying stride straight away.” The Hollywood Reporter called the film luminous and moving: “anchored by a masterful performance by Timothy Spall in a role he was born to play, and gilded by career-best effort from DoP Dick Pope.” Scott Foundas at Variety had nothing but praise for Leigh and company also.

Mr Turner

Mr Turner

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis seemed to divide audiences a few years back, but he seems to have landed on stronger ground here with his competition film Maps to the Stars (again starring Robert Pattinson from Cosmopolis). A brutal satire on fame and Hollywood, Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian awarded it four stars, calling it: “a brilliant nightmare.”

Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars

Eric Kohn at Indiewire gave it a B+ and noted: “while not the director's canniest piece of filmmaking, it's unquestionably his angriest, politically motivated achievement.” The Hollywood Reporter was less effusive, judging it a more scattershot affair reminiscent of 70s Hollywood satires, with some crumbs of greatness: “it comes off like a prank more than a coherent take on 21st century Hollywood, even if there are crumbs of truth and wit scattered throughout it.”

The Homesman, I judged from the trailer, seemed like a real oddity. With Tommy Lee Jones returning to the directors chair for the first time since Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), my curiosity was piqued.  Jones was really all hands on deck on this American West-set tale of a surly old bandit escorting a group of women across Nebraska in the 1800s : not only starring, but directing and co-authoring the screenplay.

The Homesman

The Homesman

The overall consensus seems to be that it remains a pleasant curiosity which refreshingly foregrounds female characters (including a starring role for Hilary Swank), though it might fall short of being an awards-winner. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave it four starspraising it as quasi-feminist western with real punch. Tommy Lee Jones shows some true storytelling grit in this superbly watchable frontier western; he has a muscular and confident command of narrative, driving the plot onward with a real whip-crack, and easily handles the tonal swings between brutal shock, black comedy and sentimentality.” Bradshaw raved. Peter DeBruge of Variety called it a “sturdy cross-country Western.” 


Atom Egoyan’s The Captive appears to have hit with a thud the size of Kansas; this has had some of the worst reviews I have seen out of Cannes 2014. And it is a shame from my point of view, as I really admired the director’s earlier work such as Felicia’s Journey (starring the late Bob Hoskins) and The Sweet Hereafter. The Captive won just one star from Peter Bradshaw, who’s Guardian review lambasted it as “crass…bizarrely acted, bizarrely written, bizarrely directed and bizarrely, completely and culpably misjudged.” Eric Kohn at Indiewire called it “lazily plotted and largely generic.” “In terms of lame movies being given a prestigious Cannes berth, Grace of Monaco suddenly doesn't look so embarrassing,” concluded The Hollywood Reporter.

The Captive

The Captive

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Outside of the Competition, some news nuggets came to my attention:

The hot ticket of the festival (one of my friends at Cannes tried twice to get tickets and failed) - was Ryan Gosling’s debut The Lost River, but that film seems to have either baffled or disappointed most critics, with more than a few accusations of derivativeness. The Guardian felt it wore its influences too obviously on its sleeve, with writer Peter Bradshaw offering up only two stars out of five. “The result clunks. It is colossally indulgent, shapeless, often fantastically and unthinkingly offensive and at all times insufferably conceited,” Bradshaw concluded. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph was equally underwhelmed, with only one star bestowed.  Allison Willmore of Indiewire (and co-host of my second-favourite podcast Filmspotting SVU) was slightly kinder on her Twitter feed: “Yeah, LOST RIVER's inchoate and indulgent, but at least Ryan Gosling's interested in visuals and cribbing from edgier filmmakers.”


Enfant terrible and director Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York is an over the top epic drenched in power, money and sex, who’s main character is a thinly disguised take on one-time French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The film was in part inspired by the story of Strauss-Kahn, who quit as head of the International Monetary Fund in 2011 after being arrested for the sexual assault of a maid in a Manhattan hotel. The charges were eventually dropped.Gerard Depardieu’s larger than life performance in the main role was not the only thing getting buzz during the festival, as news broke that the real-life ‘DSK’ was planning to sue the filmmakers for defamation. Critics seem to have warmed to this tale of excess nevertheless, Variety praising Depardieu’s performance as a powerhouse turn. The Hollwood Reporter also had praise to dish out for Ferrara’s “uproarious and racy’ film.”

I was surprised at the middling reviews that David Michôd’s The Rover received, being a huge fan of his earlier Animal Kingdom (see my review here for Eyeforfilm) I expected fireworks to fly. Playing in the midnight screenings seemed appropriate for a film dealing with a post apocalyptic Australia, but Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian awarded it only three stars, claiming: that despite being “atmospheric and brutal“  the film loses its punch towards the end. Robbie Collin at The Telegraph called it a “dirge” which felt workmanlike and measured, and he wondered if the film could do with “losing control a little more often – and with establishing the dangers of its dog-eat-dog world more precisely.”

Overall, things seems to have eased into a three way contest between Mr Turner, Two Days, One Night, Foxcatcher, with Winter’s Sleep possibly hovering outside the edges of the ring too. But Cannes's Competition isn't over yet, so I will return with a post-festival round up next week once the awards have been bestowed.


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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.