Cannes heat

Coens and Kore-Eda are the favourites midway through the fest


CANNES – Everything at the Cannes Film Festival stems from the 20 films in the Competition. They supply the red carpet with the stars who walk it they are the foundation on which the other 70-plus officially sanctioned new films are laid. And they power the thousands of worshipping fans who wait for hours on the street overlooking the red carpet for a glimpse of their idols.

As I write this, the festival has just passed the midway point, and a critical consensus has emerged now that 12 Competition films have been screened. At least half look like prize contenders. But the jury – five directors and four actors, headed by Steven Spielberg – is the final arbiter, so predictions are a mug’s game. Critics and the jury rarely intersect squarely.

Joel and Ethan Coen’s captivating Inside Llewyn Davis affectionately depicts the hard-travelling artistic life of a folksinger struggling to get by in New York City in the winter of 1961. It’s the clear critics’ favourite, heading polls in both French and English daily trade papers.

Continuing the light and dark humour of A Serious Man, the latest from the Coens is filled with colourful characters (John Goodman as an acerbic performer contemptuous of folksingers is a standout) and references to the scene of the time, from Tom Paxton and Folkways Records’ Moe Asch to Albert Grossman, manager-to-be of Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.

The Past, Asghar Farhadi’s French-language follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, is a complex, layered story of secrets and misconceptions that takes off from a woman’s need to divorce her ex in order to remarry. What really happened in the past is in doubt right to the very last shot. A prize, perhaps for scenario, seems likely.

In Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s exquisitely composed Like Father, Like Son, two families from opposite sides of the economic tracks deal with their six-year-old boys having been switched at birth. Nobody knows better than Kore-Eda how to get natural performances from children no one would be surprised to see him get a prize.

Sometimes playful, often angry, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch Of Sin mixes genres to address the strains in Chinese society that lead to four acts of individual violence. Skilfully assembled, it’s high on critics’ lists.

A burst of sustained applause greeted The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s return to his Il Divo form. This witty Felliniesque tour of Rome’s nightlife and aristocratic dinner parties, guided by a sophisticated, world-weary journalist (the remarkable Toni Servillo), jumps off the screen with an outrageousness that justifiably announces itself as special. The jury may agree.

Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian, set in 1948 and based on a real case, is a stimulating venture into Freudian analysis dominated by two prize-worthy performances. Benicio Del Toro artfully reveals his battle-scarred army vet with finely honed emotional subtlety, while Mathieu Almaric’s open engagement as his analyst is reflected in his wide-eyed view of the world.

Montreal-based, 25-year-old Chloé Robichaud’s smartly directed first feature, Sarah Prefers To Run, debuted to strong applause in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Robichaud’s knowing tale of a single-minded McGill middle-distance runner captures the dedication and guilelessness of its protagonist. Two other juries, including that of the prestigious Caméra d’Or, will determine its fate.

The energy at the festival is inescapable, whether it comes from the anticipation of more than 2,000 film professionals about to watch a world premiere in the Palais or from the sensation of seemingly defying the laws of physics while moving through the thousands who clog the streets.

There’s an added rush when the cast and crew sit and watch their movie with you. By chance, I was just a few feet from two of French cinema’s hottest young stars, Léa Seydoux and Tahar Rahim, for the Un Certain Regard screening of Rebecca Zlotowski’s toxic love story, Grand Central.

For a few moments, with everyone standing under the bright lights at the screening’s end, art and idolatry converged.

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