Coming into this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it looked like the programmers had whipped up one of the festival’s strongest lineups in a long time, and for the most part, that turned out to be true: There may have been no one masterpiece on the order of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin from last year, but there were also hardly any outright bad films; even the two worst in competition (Sean Penn’s The Last Face and Brilliante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa) aren’t quite the catastrophes some have made them out to be.
Two themes stuck out, neither necessarily expected: the prevalence of women’s narratives, both strong and empowered like those in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and Kleber Mendoça Filho’s Aquarius and deeply vulnerable like the central figures of Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta and Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. The other common factor shared between many of this year’s competition films was their sense of humor; Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann and Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay are both essentially comedies, and even Romanian heavyweight Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada makes room for a lot of laughs in its chaotic portrait of family dysfunction.
Whether this year’s jury, headed by action auteur George Miller, will respond to the films that most represented the slate, or if they’ll instead embrace outliers like The Last Face or Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World—both roundly rejected by critics—remains to be seen. It seems overly optimistic, though, to say that the far and away critical favorite, Toni Erdmann, will take the top prize. Industry people don’t often think the same way critics do, and, in fact, the relationship between them isn’t always amiable. Still, the level of love that Toni Erdmann has received from the festival would make it seem like a safe bet to get some kind of award from the jury.
Likewise, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson was received with such uniform affection that it seems as safe a bet as any that one could make. But if there’s one film that brought with it a kind of movement, something bigger than itself, it might be Aquarius, which got everyone talking about the politics behind the recent impeachment of Brazil’s president. Assuming the film takes the Palme d’Or, the Grand Prix, or the directing prize, its star, Sonia Braga, will likely be unable to take the actress prize. If so, then it-girl Kristen Stewart, who gave a wonderful performance in Personal Shopper, would seem a lot more likely for a win. As for actor, there are no obvious choices; assuming Paterson indeed gets one of the top three prizes, even its impressive Adam Driver performance would be ruled out. The next best call, then, is Dave Johns, who had the good fortune to star in a Ken Loach movie, and Ken Loach movies almost always come away from these things with a trophy.
Palme d’Or: Aquarius
Grand Prix: Toni Erdmann
Jury Prize: Paterson
Director: Andrea Arnold (American Honey)
Actor: Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake)
Actress: Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper)
Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar (Julieta)