Industry insiders are fretting over an unusually quiet year for sensational films and backstage deals. Jane Campion’s jury ultimately played it safe in awarding their big prizes. But behind the safe choices and staid veterans, this year’s Cannes still offered plenty of fresh blood and promising young talent. Some of it of the furry, four-legged kind.
Nobody was surprised when the Palme d’Or went to Winter Sleep (HHHH) by Cannes veteran Nuri Bilge Ceylan, an epic-length novelistic portrait of social and marital tension in the snowy Turkish highlands. Best Screenplay prize was won by Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan (HHH), a tragic tale of power, corruption and lies in Putin’s Russia. One of very few Americans competing in Cannes, Bennett Miller also earned the Best Director award for Foxcatcher, a macabre real-life murder story featuring Steve Carrell in a rare serious role.
But while most of the major prizes went to sombre dramas by middle-aged men, this was a pretty good Cannes for younger directors with more dynamic, colourful stories to tell. The 33-year-old Italian Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prize with her bittersweet rural family saga The Wonders (HHH) while French director Celine Sciamma, also 33, dazzled in the Directors’ Fortnight section with her multiracial female teen-gang drama Girlhood (HHHH). The flamboyant 25-year-old Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan also had a great Cannes, earning the best reviews of his meteoric career for his explosively emotional, hugely stylish mother-son story Mommy (HHHH), which won the Jury Prize.
Although the official Cannes selection was top-heavy with elderly directing legends, many looked tired and stale alongside the likes of Dolan, Rohrmacher and Sciamma. The 77-year-old Ken Loach and 81-year-old John Boorman both unveiled flat, predictable period pieces: Jimmy’s Hall (HH) and Queen and Country (HH). In fairness, 71-year-old David Cronenberg’s sour anti-Hollywood comedy Maps To The Stars (HHH) had sharp lines and strong performances, while 83-year-old New Wave veteran Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye To Language (HHH) was a visually arresting experiment in 3D, mostly featuring home movie footage of the director’s dog Roxy.
Dogs featured heavily in several Cannes movies, notably the Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s dystopian thriller White God (HHH). Featuring more than 200 dogs in the cast, Mundruczo’s bold anti-racist allegory won top prize in the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand. Its handsome mongrel star Body also picked up the unofficial “Palm Dog” award for best canine actor. Next year, festival insiders predict at least one dog will serve on the jury. That may just be a shaggy dog’s tale, but stranger things have happened in Cannes.