The Cannes Film Festival isn’t the Oscars, but there’s still a certain formula that often defines the recipients of its first-place-finishing Palme d’Or. These films, in recent years especially, tend to have a sense of importance about them (Fahrenheit 9/11), frequently due to their sociopolitical awareness of the world (The Class), or of specific societal ills (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Very occasionally, the Palme goes to a bold, experimental, and divisive vision from a well-liked auteur (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but more often it’s awarded to a film in the lineup that the most people on the Cannes jury can probably agree is good (I, Daniel Blake).
This year, Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute has seemed like the one to beat from the moment it premiered, ticking off almost all the boxes. It’s a social-issues film, specifically about ACT UP Paris’s fight against AIDS, and while its auteur isn’t as highly regarded as other recent Palme winners, he does have an established career as a screenwriter, and even co-wrote the screenplay for 2008’s Palme winner, Laurent Cantet’s The Class. 120 Beats Per Minute also boasts an epic two-and-a-half hour runtime, and features emotional performances. It’s basically an uncommonly good prestige film.
There’s a wrinkle, though, and it has to do with one of Cannes’s own sociopolitical issues. You may or may not have noticed a picture circulating around social media during the festival. Taken during the 70th-anniversary celebration this year, it features the still-living winners of the Palme, and its demographics are plain: lots of old white dudes, one woman. That’s been an image problem for Cannes for a while, but now it literally has an image—and also some very good shade from Cannes darling Isabelle Huppert. There may finally be enough pressure to award a woman the Palme again, and the fact is that the jury has good options this year: Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a mostly strong remake of Don Siegel’s Civil War-era neo-western, with a more feminist take on its material, and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is the best film in competition, a fiercely engaging feat of direction with a strong performance from a celebrated actor (Joaquin Phoenix).
Neither of these really fit the bill of a typical Palme though. The same would seem to go for Radiance, the low-key romantic drama from Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, who’s the only other woman director in competition this year. But Kawase has at least become something of a perennial favorite of this fest’s programmers, even as she’s been widely disliked by critics. The Cannes jury tends to spurn the opinion, and influence, of critics (see last year’s Toni Erdmann loss), which makes Kawase something of a dark horse.
The Palme isn’t the only award for best film that will be given out at tonight’s ceremony, of course: There’s also the Grand Prix and the Jury Prize, which are essentially second and third place. The latter spot could go to a film that’s more polarizing, to appease an extremist wing of the voting body. (It’s hard to imagine that everyone last year liked Andrea Arnold’s Jury Prize-winning ramble of a three-hour road movie, American Honey, or Yorgos Lanthimos’s alien-speak parable The Lobster, which won in 2015.) This year that could be the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s miserabalist panorama A Gentle Creature, which is challenging and difficult in the way that, say, Italian director and jury member Paolo Sorrentino might stand for.
Cannes isn’t the Oscars, but there’s still a certain formula that often defines the recipients of the Palme d’Or.
Or it might just go to a more fun confection, like François Ozon’s loopy Dead Ringers riff L’amant Double, which has proven divisive here. Or the jury that’s led by Pedro Almodóvar may choose to finish the fest by rebuilding a bridge it burned at the start, awarding one of the Netflix films (Bong Joon-ho’s fantasy adventure Okja or Noah Baumbach’s family comedy The Meyerowtiz Stories), which Almodóvar seemed to suggest would not be considered, to much consternation from the press. (Worth noting: Almodóvar has just signed a deal of his own with Netflix, which paradoxically probably makes it even less likely for one of the company’s films to win anything this year.)
The second-place Grand Prix prize is something like a secret heart for the jury: Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World won it last year, Oldboy in 2004, Life Is Beautiful in 1998, and Cinema Paradiso in 1989. Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck might well be the best suited candidate in that case—an auteurist vision with an emotional center. But so, too, could one of the genre movies, like Ozon’s or Ramsay’s or even the Safdie brothers’ Good Time, though that one seems more likely to pop up in the acting category.
Indeed, Robert Pattinson does feel like the most probable victor for Cannes’s best actor award, because his is such a transformative performance, and feels like it will mark a shift in his career that being awarded here would nicely kick off. There are plenty of other candidates though, among them even more celebrities (Adam Sandler in The Meyerowtiz Stories, Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here and Colin Farrell in both The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Beguiled), and some lesser known stars that stood out (Nahuel Perez Biscayart in 120 Beats Per Minute and Claes Bang in The Square).
For best actress, the favorite is likewise a big name: Nicole Kidman, who has two films in competition (Sacred Deer and The Beguiled), as well as one more out of competition (John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties). Of the bunch, her Sacred Deer performance is the most impressive, and the most central, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the jury to award Kidman for both of her competition performances (though there’s some uncertainty about whether that’s actually allowed anymore). Either way, the good will for all three Kidman roles might give her a leg-up over other hotly tipped performances, such as Maryana Spivak for Loveless or Diane Kruger for Fatih Akin’s In the Fade. One performance that isn’t getting talked about enough is Vasilina Makovtseva’s in A Gentle Creature. While the actress is generally quiet and reserved for most of that film’s nearly three-hour running time, she has a few harrowing moments toward the end that are profoundly striking.
Best director is often where Cannes awards the boldest film in competition, like Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux, Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys. This year that would seem to be Ramsay’s elliptical genre exercise, which uses a montage approach to filmmaking to convey its lead character’s psychological instability. Other possibilities: Campillo’s Palme favorite could get pushed to this category, or it could go to Lanthimos for his Kubrickian horror effort.
Perhaps even Coppola could get it, though it might be interesting instead to see her win for best screenplay. The Beguiled’s changes to Siegel’s original are small but carry intention, and awarding it would speak specifically to her more feminist take on the material. But a better choice for the prize is probably Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, if only because it’s been one of the better received films by international critics in competition this year, and it doesn’t seem like the frontrunner in any other awards category.
My predictions below:
120 Beats Per Minute
Radiance (Runner Up)
A Gentle Creature
Loveless (Runner Up)
You Were Never Really Here (Runner Up)
Robert Pattinson, Good Time
Nahuel Perez Biscayart, 120 Beats Per Minute (Runner Up)
Nicole Kidman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Vasillina Makovtseva, A Gentle Creature (Runner Up)
Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Runner Up)
Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled
Oleg Negin, Loveless (Runner Up)