News Column

Palme d'Or race wide open

May 27, 2013


CANNES, May 27 -- After two weeks, 20 films and parade after parade down the red carpet, the Cannes Film Festival has not produced a clear-cut frontrunner for the Palme d'Or. The prestigious award, given to the best film in competition, will be handed out Sunday night, decided upon by a jury headed by Steven Spielberg.

At least half a dozen films seem to have a realistic chance of winning Cannes' top prize, including the Coen brothers' 1960s folk tale Inside Llewyn Davis, Paolo Sorrentino's rollicking Roman party The Great Beauty, Asghar Farhadi's domestic drama The Past, James Gray's 1920s Ellis Island melodrama The Immigrant and Abdellatif Kechiche's lesbian coming-of-age tale Blue is the Warmest Color.

Consensus is always hard to come by in Cannes, but it does happen. Last year, Michael Haneke's Amour was the far-and-away favourite. In 2011, Terrence Malick's cosmic rumination The Tree of Life too was obvious Palme material. But the year before, Cannes was fairly shocked when Tim Burton's jury picked the existential Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Palme d'Or oddsmaker Neil Young currently has Farhadi in the lead with 5-to-2 odds to win. The Iranian director, whose film is in French, was honoured as the best foreign language film two years ago at the Academy Awards for another domestic drama, A Separation.

The American entries this year have been very strong as well. Perhaps no film was better received at Cannes than Inside Llewyn Davis, along with its newcomer star, Oscar Isaac, who performed live songs for the film. The Coens won the Palme in 1991 for Barton Fink.

Gray's The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, divided critics between those hailing it as a classically made masterpiece and those unmoved by its operatic emotions. But the handsomely photographed, finely acted New York period piece may have played well with Spielberg's jury.

"I'm trying to live in the bubble as best I can," Gray said Saturday. "If a film's reception is great, then you believe your own hype. If it goes poorly, then you think of yourself as a bum- neither of which is usually the case. Usually the case is you're either hostage to or a beneficiary of a certain kind of festival gestalt." Alexander Payne's father-and-son story Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, could also stir the jury with its austere, black-and-white Midwest road trip.

Psychological guesswork of jury presidents is de rigueur at Cannes. This year, many expect Spielberg will steer away from rewarding a filmmaker from his native country. He leads a starry, international group of eight others: Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman, Christoph Waltz, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, French actor Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood star Vidya Balan.

One of the boldest, most ambitious films in competition was Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, which stars Toni Servillo as a Rome journalist who begins to question a lifetime of late nights. Wildly stylistic but also emotionally personal, it was one of the biggest critical hits at Cannes.

On the outside are wild cards like Steven Soderbergh's Liberace melodrama Behind the Candelabra, Kore-eda Hirokazu's switched-at- birth drama Like Father, Like Son and Chad-born Mahamat-Saleh's disabled dancer tale Grigris.

On the first day of the festival, jury member Lee said he was praying the jury would be overwhelmed by a self-evident Palme winner, so they wouldn't need to "rationalise" their choice through debate. Perhaps the jury was hit by a thunderbolt that didn't resound as clearly for festivalgoers. But most likely, Lee's prayers went unanswered.

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