Wes Anderson was dining with French friends when he got the call—three months after submitting his resplendent new feature, Moonrise Kingdom, to Cannes—that his eccentrically funny-sad, 1965-set charmer was chosen for opening night at the world’s most prestigious film festival. Sharing such thrilling news with his dinner companions, they all offered up the same reaction: “Better to be in competition.”
Fortunately for Anderson, as the director recalled during an intimate press conference more luxurious than your average hotel junket (the sound of raindrops bouncing softly off an open-air tent on the Riviera beach), Moonrise later rose to a competition slot, and remains this writer’s first and favorite selection seen at this year’s Cannes. It’s for that reason that only now, while fruitlessly waiting for a second film to rank as highly, that MovieMaker checks in at the fest’s midpoint. Which is not at all to say that this has been a “weak year,” as some jaded critics have grumbled, but we haven’t yet seen any cinematic pleasures to collectively knock us out of our chairs (or wildly polarize) à la 2011’s Melancholia, Drive and Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life.
So far, at least, the most universally lauded has been Amour (a/k/a Love)—or “the Haneke,” in the auteur-respecting parlance of a typical Cannes-goer. Austria’s dour provocateur Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) looks death in the face and shoves our noses in it, too, with this bleak yet subtly compassionate portrait of an octogenarian Parisian couple (French screen icons Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both stellar) coping with their own looming decay. Over the excruciating course of two hours, with little psychological backstory so as to represent a middle-class Every-couple, her sudden and quickly debilitating paralysis becomes both his burden and their mutually humiliating, unbearable end to a life of passion and fading memories. While as masterfully structured and crafted as can be objectively judged, Haneke’s characteristically chilly, austere detachment is almost too thick an underscoring to an already stark subject in a claustrophobic, one-apartment setting; here is a film that’s easy to admire, but difficult to, well, love.
Other award contenders from Week One include the two stars of Jacques Audiard’s oddball drama Rust & Bone, with Bullhead‘s Matthias Schoenaerts as a boorish but sometimes well-intentioned dad and part-time street fighter who meets a killer-orca trainer (frontrunner Marion Cotillard), their semi-platonic anti-romance developing after a work accident costs her both her legs… and yet emotionally, he’s the disabled one. Both Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen have been praised for their explosive portrait of dangerous groupthink, The Hunt (Jagten), starring the former James Bond villain as an earnest kindergarten teacher whose life is quickly shattered after a wrongful accusation of child abuse.
On Monday night, The Weinstein Company threw a cocktail reception to promote extended trailers of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master as if this were “Comic-Cannes.” They’ve also apparently cornered the market on entertaining-in-the-moment, forgettable-the-moment-after genre dramas in competition: Andrew Dominik’s stylish bit of criminal-underworld pulp Killing Them Softly (co-starring Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini) is littered with cynical, eye-rollingly on-the-nose references to 2008-era economic desperation, while Lawless—John Hillcoat’s quasi-Western set in Prohibition-era Virginia—is violent, filled with charismatic performances (Tom Hardy as the grunting eldest of three moonshine-bootlegger brothers, Guy Pearce as a corrupt dandy lawman with no eyebrows), and looks like a movie we’ve seen a dozen times before.
But there’s still more wildly anticipated fare to come in what’s looking like a backloaded edition of the fest, as David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, Jeff Nichols’ Mud and Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy have yet to screen. Stay tuned for more updates from the Croisette, if the relentless rainstorms don’t wash us all away.