What a long, strange week it’s been. My first visit to the Cannes Film Festival was one of the greatest experiences of my life, but also one of the most surreal. For those who haven’t experienced it, it’s almost impossible to explain the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion that comes from rushing from theater to theater, from movie to movie; from attempting to engage fully with each film you see while running on four hours of sleep and at most two meals a day. The emotional extremes are tiring. You can go from the red carpet, certain in your belief that your life will never get any better, to furious three hours later because the panini stand put mustard on your sandwich when you specifically asked them not to. Any little thing can send you spiraling from joy to despair and back again. Such is the nature of Cannes; even when you hate it, you fucking love it.
And now it’s over.
Tonight is the closing ceremony, where Barry Levinson’s Hollywood satire What Just Happened? will play and Robert De Niro will announce the awards. So right now, I am going to try my hand at predicting what those awards will be, because it’s standard practice for some reason. I know that it’s pointless; no one knows how the jury will respond except the jury, and there’s really no way to gauge their reactions to a film without just blindly guessing. Critical and popular response have no bearing on the awards, so my predictions might just as well have been gotten at by picking names out of a hat.
This will not be my last post on the festival at the House. I am working hard on finishing up my final reports on the Competition films, so you will get to find out what I thought about the incestuous-siblings drama from Hungary or why Wim Wenders’ Palermo Shooting is the worst film I’ve seen in years. Exciting, I know.
So here goes. First in each category will be my personal choice for what should win; second will be my prediction on what could actually win. The first pick will usually be accurate. The second will never be. I must also preface these predictions by saying that I didn’t manage to see Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City, Walter Salles’ Linha de Passe, or Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra, so there could be some holes in my predictions. Gomorra in particular seems like a possibility in several categories.
My pick: Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman). I’m not sure whether Kaufman’s film is a masterpiece or a disaster; by the end of the grueling week, it was hard to tell the difference. What I am sure about is that Synecdoche, New York is one of the most ambitious, radical and forward-thinking narrative films I’ve ever seen. It’s Kaufman’s 8 1/2, his All That Jazz, his Inland Empire - and it’s his directorial debut. No other film at Cannes left me so exhausted, so shell-shocked at the sheer deluge of ideas and experimentation, both formally and thematically, on display. It may or may not be the “best” film I saw at the festival, but I’m convinced that it’s the most essential.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman). The predicted front-runner is Steven Soderbergh’s Che, but if there’s one thing following the festival for several years has taught me it’s that the front-runner never wins (except for when it does, of course). Or it could be Clint Eastwood’s inexplicably over-praised Changeling, but I’m not sure it’s political enough for the jury’s douchebag president. So I settle on the equally over-praised Waltz with Bashir, which has the political engagement, the visual inventiveness and the accessible thematic simplicity that seem to make it a perfect fit for awards.
My pick: Adoration (Atom Egoyan). It seems like no one else shares my enthusiasm for this film, in my estimation easily Egoyan’s strongest since his twin mid-90’s masterpieces Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. Adoration isn’t a masterpiece, but it was one of the few films at this year’s festival with more on its mind than a simplistic political or moral message. Primarily concerned with how people seek connection and identity in our internet age, the film also touches on issues of how truth is created from fiction and how individuals and communities deal with grief (shades of The Sweet Hereafter) with refreshing grace and subtlety.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan). One of the favorites among the high-brow critical community at Cannes, the jury will likely try to find a way to honor Ceylan’s film, and it will probably either be here or in the Director category. I flipped a coin, and heads meant Grand Prix, so here we are.
My pick: Che (Steven Soderbergh). I’m choosing this over the probably “better” Three Monkeys as way of celebrating the existence of an American film this passionate and ambitious. It is, in its way, Soderbergh’s Apocalypse Now, premiering at Cannes in an unfinished and imperfect yet thoroughly exciting vision. Seperately, we’d be looking at one great film (part two, the downbeat and Malickian Guerrilla) and one decent one (part one, the more straightforward The Argentine). As one film, in how they interesect and rhyme, reflect and contrast each other’s themes, they are a testament to a unique and brilliant American director finally finding his voice once again.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Lorna’s Silence (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne). While not as good as their previous films, the Dardenne brothers’ Le Silence de Lorna is nonetheless one of the better movies to play at the festival. And since Cannes loves the Dardennes, I have a hard time imagining that another successful work from them won’t win at least something.
My pick: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Three Monkeys. I’ve already discussed the visual splendor of this film, by far the most formally accomplished work I saw for the entire festival. It can, at times, feel like a collection of stunning paintings, but it is the ways in which Ceylan works his compositions into his narrative and thematic framework that make the film extraordinary.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Steven Soderbergh, Che. Choosing to screen both of Che’s two segments together could prove to be one of the best decisions Soderbergh has ever made, as it allowed audiences to see how he so cannily matched form and content in each of the two films. The Argentine is an account of the successful Cuban rebellion, represented here as a somewhat traditional war movie. Guerrilla, which recounts the failed Bolivian campaign that eventually led to Guevara’s death, is a much grimmer, more poetic work. Individually, Guerrilla is the stronger film; together, they added up to the event of the festival.
My pick: Benicio del Toro, Che. Not so much acting as inhabiting, del Toro is not allowed much of a chance in Che to delve into Guevara’s background or motivations. It’s an immediate performace, predicated on primal emotion and force of charisma, and the effect is stunning. In The Argentine we can feel the man’s pride and strength, in Guerrilla his exhaustion and disbelief in the face of defeat, and both come together in a vision of the man much “truer” than any in-depth psychological profile could be.
The jury’s pick, maybe: If it doesn’t go to del Toro, it will go to François Bégaudeau for The Class. The stand-out in an extraordinary cast of non-professional actors, Bégaudeau carries the film on his shoulders. It is in no way a showy performance (which del Toro’s, to some extent, is), just a magnificently lived-in one. His is a complicated and fully-considered character, and never for a moment is he anything less than fully believable.
My pick: Maria Gusman, Leonera. I already covered Gusman’s work in my review of Leonera, so I’ll just reiterate that she should take this prize in a walk.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Angelina Jolie, Changeling. If Sean Penn doesn’t award Clint Eastwood with the Palme d’Or or the Director prize, his chance to honor Changeling comes here. Jolie’s performance is already the most praised of her career, and it’s similarities to Penn’s frequently powerful but overwrought Mystic River work (she even has her own “Is that my daughter in there?!” moment when she gets to scream at her son’s possible killer for a good five minutes) make it an easy target for Penn’s praise.
My pick: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York, for all the reasons that I stated in my write-up above. It is, quite possibly, the most ambitious screenplay I’ve ever seen transferred to the screen.
The jury’s pick, maybe: Paolo Sorrentino, Il Divo. Sorrentino’s popular but deeply annoying Il Divo struck me as a foreign version of Smokin’ Aces, with its oppressively showy visual style and snidely dismissive attitude toward its serious subject matter. But everyone else seems to love it, praising especially the rather unimpressive screenplay, which just throws names and information at the screen without ever giving an uninformed viewer any reason to care.
Matt Noller lives and studies film and journalism in Athens, Georgia. You can also read him at Uh, movies.