2013 Cannes Film Festival Recap: Reviews of Key Films

  • Publish Date: May 27, 2013
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Vive la France!


In what turned out to be a very good year for American films at Cannes, France walked away with the Palme d’Or. The buzz built quickly for Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color after its first screening, and it never dissipated. Some of that buzz was for the film’s wonderful depiction of first love, some for the 10-minute lesbian sex scene, and some for the political scrum being played out in the streets (and media) of France.

As for the American films, the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis was the early favorite of the festival, and the film's lead actor, Oscar Isaac, was thought to have a chance at the acting prize, but Best Actor eventually went to Bruce Dern for his performance in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, a film that received solid critical praise all around. Not playing in competition but featuring another fine performance from a venerable American actor was All Is Lost, J.C. Chandor’s tale of a man (played by Robert Redford in an almost wordless performance) adrift in the Indian Ocean. Going out on a high note was Steven Soderbergh with Behind the Candelabra (which debuted in the U.S. last night on HBO), and making a comeback was Jim Jarmusch with his vampire love story, Only Lovers Left Alive. Other big-name directors received a more muted reception at Cannes: Sofia Coppola with The Bling Ring and James Gray with The Immigrant.

One of the more encouraging signs from this year’s festival was that all of the films mentioned above already have distribution, release dates, or have already appeared on TV (thanks HBO), and many more will be coming. Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, his follow-up to A Separation, will be released by Sony Pictures Classics. In addition to releasing the Palme d’Or winner, Sundance Selects will handle Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Jury Prize-winning Like Father, Like Son, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, and François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful. Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties will come out via Roadside Attractions, and Kino Lorber will take care of Jia Zhang-ke's A Touch of Sin. Now let’s hope Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty gets picked up soon.

Below, find summaries of the reactions from professional film critics to the films that generated the most buzz at this year's festival, including the winners of the three top awards. Click on any hyperlinked publication name to read the full review.

The award winners

Palme d'Or (1st place):
Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adele, ch. 1 & 2)

Drama | France | Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche

Previous winners:
2012: 94 Amour
2011: 85 The Tree of Life
2010: 87 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2009: 82 The White Ribbon
2008: 92 The Class

In a break from normal protocol, the Steven Spielberg-led jury awarded the Palme d’Or not only to writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche but to the stars of the film as well, Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. In the press conference afterward, Spielberg explained that it had to be so, that if the performances were even “3% off” this love story would not have the power that it does. The universality of love storyline was reinforced by other jury members as the press tried to put a political slant on the winning film, tying it to the recent passage (amid protests) of a same-sex marriage law in France. Based on Julie Maroh's graphic novel and taking place in two parts over several years and three hours of film time (ten minutes of which are taken up by an explicit sex scene), this lesbian coming of age drama about the experience of first love between Adele (Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Seydoux) received almost unanimous praise from critics.

One dissenting voice, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, calls the film “wildly undisciplined,” and writes, “Mr. Kechiche ... seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women.” But Ms. Dargis is in the minority among the critics who have seen the film. Jessica Kiang of The Playlist calls Blue “a masterpiece of human warmth, empathy and generosity,” and a film that “steadily and steadfastly refuses to define Adele by her sexual orientation, preferring instead to build a nuanced and detailed portrait of who she is as a person.” THR finds it to be a “deeply moving portrait,” and Indiewire praises Exarchopoulos’ “bold, thoroughly credible breakthrough performance.” Variety believes the sex scene serves a dramatic purpose, arguing, “Audience titillation, though certainly there for the taking, couldn’t be more beside the point; each coupling signifies a deeper level of intimacy, laying an emotional foundation that pays off to shattering effect in the film’s third hour.” Also commenting on the explicit sex, The A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo writes, “Most movie sex scenes function like shorthand—a series of socially approved movements and poses that denote an exchange of fluids. They’re as divorced from the narrative as a travel-map montage. When Exarchopoulos and Seydoux make love, by contrast, the act carries precisely the same emotional weight as do their lengthy conversations about art and literature. It’s communion, not calisthenics.” In addition, The Guardian believes the film is “a devastating mix of eroticism and sadness,” and The Telegraph calls it “an extraordinary, prolonged popping-candy explosion of pleasure, sadness, anger, lust and hope” with two of the best performances of the festival. Lastly, Film.com declares, “It is ... a damn near perfect film.”

Grand Prix (2nd place):
Inside Llewyn Davis Watch trailer
Drama | USA | Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

Previous winners:
2012: 76 Reality
2011: 82 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and 87 The Kid With a Bike
2010: 86 Of Gods and Men
2009: 90 A Prophet
2008: 87 Gomorrah

The Coens won their fifth award (collectively) in eight years of competition when they picked up the Grand Prix for this look at a down-on-his-luck folk singer making his way in Greenwich Village (with a few detours) in 1961. The Playlist calls it “another excellent study from the filmmakers of an ordinary man caught in a tailspin.” Indiewire praises Oscar Isaac’s lead performance in this “delicate, restrained portrait that results in a different kind of movie than anything else the siblings have produced.” Todd McCarthy of THR claims it is "as stunning and singular as anything in the Coens’ canon,” a sentiment echoed by The Guardian, which writes, “What an intense pleasure this film is, one of the Coens' best.” Variety finds Llewyn Davis to be “a boldly original, highly emotional journey,” and The Telegraph believes it’s “instant A-list Coens; enigmatic, exhilarating, irresistible.”

Two (slightly) dissenting voices are The A.V. Club's Mike D’Angelo, who believes the first hour “fires on all cylinders” but “in the end it lacks the sharp concision of the folk tunes that it so commendably showcases,” and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, who thinks the film “eventually settles for a little less than the Coens' best.” Ending on a high note, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times finds the “wonderful” film to be “an expressive, piercing story about artistic struggle” and “the kind of great work that cuts right through the noise." And Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice writes, “Although the Coens are always consummate craftsmen, they don't always show the lightness of touch, or the depth of feeling, they do here.” American audiences will get a chance to be the film beginning December 6th.

Jury Prize (3rd place):
Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru)

Drama | Japan | Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

Previous winners:
2012: 66 The Angel's Share
2011: 76 Polisse
2010: 71 A Screaming Man
2009: 81 Fish Tank and 73 Thirst
2008: 81 Il Divo

Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s third film to screen in competition at Cannes (after Distance and Nobody Knows 88) is the first to win him an award. The Jury Prize winner is a family drama about babies switched at birth and what their families do when they find out about the mistake. The Playlist loves the film, calling it “a touchingly low key ... wholly charming study of the evolution of parenthood,” and Variety agrees that it’s a “thoughtful exploration of the meaning of parenthood.” But the film wasn't completely successful for other critics. THR likes the “witty combo of humor and human drama,” but believes the film “makes little emotional connection.” Indiewire also thinks Kore-eda “never quite manages to infuse it with the same depth of feeling his main character goes through,” and Time Out London notes, “There’s typical grace and good humour in Kore-eda’s handling of this all-but-impossible situation. But the film’s critical lack of dramatic nuance undercuts its emotional resonance.” While The Guardian admits it has “charm and abundant human sympathy” it is also an “a sweet-natured, but essentially undemanding film from Kore-eda.” Mike D’Angelo of the The A.V. Club is even more critical, writing, “Like Father, Like Son has the overall depth and tenor of a Lifetime movie.”

More awards

The Un Certain Regard competition was topped by The Missing Picture, a Cambodian documentary about the Khmer Rouge. The top prize at Critics' Week (a long-running side competition for new talent) was taken by Salvo, a hitman drama from first-time Italian filmmakers Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. The Directors' Fortnight, another parallel competition, awarded its highest award to the French comedy Me, Myself and Mum. The Caméra d'Or, awarded annually to the best first-time feature film in competition, went to Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen, becoming the first Singaporean feature to ever win an award at the festival.

Other notable films premiering at Cannes

PictureAll Is Lost Watch clip
Action/Drama | USA | Directed by J.C. Chandor

One of the buzziest films at this year's festival, J.C. Chandor's follow-up to Margin Call 76 is a stripped-down, nearly dialogue-free tale of a man, played by Robert Redford, struggling to survive while alone on a yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean. (No, he's not accompanied by a CGI tiger.) Praise for Redford’s solo performance was almost universal. While Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian doesn’t love the film, he admits, “Redford delivers a tour de force performance.” The Telegraph echoes those sentiments, calling Redford “a wonder in the role.” Variety believes the film is an “emotionally resonant one-man showcase” for Redford, and THR is impressed by his “utter naturalism and lack of histrionics or self-regard.” The Playlist believes that while Lost is “a taut, superbly crafted addition to the survival story genre,” the film’s lack of characterization holds it back from being even more successful. However, Mike D’Angelo of the The A.V. Club feels that is precisely what makes it special, writing, “On the whole, though, this is a uniquely thrilling stunt, as well as proof that most backstory is unnecessary bullshit. May Hollywood take note.” Indiewire agrees that it’s “an impressively realized work of minimalist storytelling,” and Film.com is also on board, declaring, “Chandor delivers pure cinema. Thrilling and adventuresome, this is a career highlight from the uniquely sympathetic Robert Redford.” The film will be released in the U.S. on October 25.

PictureAs I Lay Dying Watch trailer
Drama | USA | Directed by James Franco

James Franco writes, directs, and stars in this adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1930 novel, and THR’s Todd McCarthy thinks he pulls off “a devilishly difficult literary adaptation” with “confident and sure-handed” storytelling. Variety only somewhat likes Franco’s “somewhat somnambulant adaptation,” believing it’s “competently acted” save for Franco’s performance toward the end. The Guardian deems Dying “a worthwhile movie, approached in an intelligent and creative spirit,” but wishes Franco had cast someone else in his role and only directed the film. Writing for Indiewire, Boyd Van Hoeij likes that Franco’s intentions are “clearly artistic rather than commercial, and his ever-growing box of cinematic tricks is used to tell not only a particular story but also approximate a certain style.” The Playlist offers the most negative assessment, concluding that “it never amounts to much more than a curiosity” and “the actual narrative is never as compelling as its visual counterpoint.”

PictureThe Bastards (Les salauds) Watch clip
Drama/Thriller | France | Directed by Claire Denis

There was some surprise when it was announced that Claire Denis’ latest film would play in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival instead of in the main competition, but this psycho-sexual family revenge thriller is a shade different than her typical intimate dramas (35 Shots of Rum, Friday Night). Eric Kohn of Indiewire believes that despite “a strong cast and shadowy mysteries that deepen the plot, The Bastards creates the sour impression of a half-formed work.” Kohn also highlights the flash-forward/flashback structure of the film (as many critics did), claiming that it “pointlessly mixes up its ingredients, creating a distancing effect from the tangible sadness at its core.” The Guardian agrees that the film is “not Denis at her best,” and THR sees “a stylishly made but unyielding drama” that’s “easier to admire than to love” due to Denis’ “unfaltering control, superb manipulation of mood and masterful use of music” but “opaque handling of the characters and situations.” The Playlist thinks Denis “stoops to sensationalism,” and while Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club agrees that the resolution “feels shallowly sordid,” he still gives the film a “B," though he admits that its “formal magnificence obscures content that could kindly be characterized, when viewed head-on, as kinda sorta dumb.”

PictureThe Bling Ring Watch trailer
Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s based-on-a-true-story look at a group of young, wanna-be rich and famous thieves met with mixed reviews upon its premiere. On the plus side, Scott Foundas of Variety finds the film “lively and fascinating,” and The Telegraph calls it “uproarious and bitingly timely.” Indiewire’s Eric Kohn also likes Coppola’s “smart cross-examination of the impact of media exposure on fickle young minds,” but Todd McCarthy of THR believes the film is “beautifully shot but light on social commentary.” The Playlist agrees with the latter view, claiming Ring is “a weightless experience, no matter how many hot tunes ... and gaudy baubles fill the screen. And Mike D’Angelo of the A.V. Club notes, “At a certain point, thematic relevance no longer matters. You’re just plain bored” watching what “amounts to little more than a group portrait of exceedingly shallow teens.” Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice admits her disappointment in sensing “no mystery, no depth” in the picture. Splitting the difference is The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who writes, “The final notes of irony and repudiation may be laboured and obvious, but this is an intriguingly intuitive and atmospheric movie.” American audiences will soon get a chance to decide for themselves when it opens on June 14th.

PictureBlood Ties Watch trailer
Thriller | France/USA | Directed by Guillaume Canet

With an impressive cast (Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana, and James Caan) and a director, Guillaume Canet, with one international success already under his belt (Tell No One 82), one would expect this 1970s-set family crime drama to work. But, according to critics, Canet's English-language debut fails to create a spark despite the director’s familiarity with the story (this is a remake of Les liens du sang, a French film he starred in). The Playlist gives Blood Ties a “C,” claiming that while it “isn't a disaster, it's certainly a mess,” and even though “Canet makes the most and gets a lot out of his cast,” the film “never seems to settle on a tone.” Scott Foundas at Variety calls it “a sluggish, dramatically undernourished saga” in which “the tension rarely rises above a low boil,” and THR's Todd McCarthy concurs, noting the “anemic drama” lacks a sense of pace and visual flair. The Guardian is slightly more positive, concluding that it’s “a lumbering, thunderous journey” that’s “served with such relish that the fun proves infectious.”

PictureBorgman Watch trailer
Thriller | Netherlands | Directed by Alex van Warmerdam

The first Dutch film to play in competition at Cannes in 38 years is a surreal story about the mysterious title character, first seen living in a underground forest dwelling, and his impact (with the help of some unexplained powers and two accomplices) on a bourgeois family with whom he seeks refuge. The Playlist gives the film an “A-” and labels it “caustic, surreal, creepy, and blackly funny ... with pitch-perfect performances across the board.” Indiewire gives the “twisted take on an upper class household gradually destroyed by a mysterious evil” a “B+,” describing it as “a real jolt of a movie.” Variety likes the “sly, insidious and intermittently hilarious domestic thriller,” as does THR for the most part, concluding, “The film is beautifully made, though stronger in its intriguing setup than its muddy resolution. Still, this is an engrossing and original work.” The A.V. Club embraces the film’s “arrestingly weird premise” but believes “any real-world resonance gets badly muddled by Borgman’s supernatural influence.” The Guardian is also unsatisfied, noting “there's the frustrating sense of ideas bubbling too low beneath the surface, of mordant jokes serving as an end rather than a means. Also a bit disappointed is Time Out London, declaring, “Beyond the shocks and games, there's not a great deal to take away in the form of meaty ideas or lingering themes, and its catchy premise doesn't really deliver in the end.”

PictureA Castle in Italy (Un château en Italie)
Drama/Comedy | France | Directed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

This year's sole competition entry from a female director, this tale of a family struggling to decide what to do with their house in Italy (sell it? open it to the public?) stars the director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi in the lead role of the family’s daughter, a retired movie star. Pulling from her personal history as well as that of her family’s, the director-star’s third film received mostly negative notices from critics, with The Guardian's review being the harshest: “The most insidiously awful film in the entire festival: a strained jeu d'ésprit which is smug, precious, carelessly constructed, emotionally negligible, and above all fantastically annoying.” Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club also had few kind words, suggesting, “Imagine Summer Hours stripped of beauty, tenderness, grace, intelligence, and coherence.” THR believes the film “drowns its sincerity in self-consciousness” and “sacrifices emotional verisimilitude in favor of artsy mannerism.” The Playlist thinks the film has “pretty but fleeting pleasures ... which become in retrospect increasingly empty.” Minor supporters include Time Out London, which faintly praises it as “a very decent effort in many respects ... a modest but surprisingly substantial delight.” Scott Foundas of Variety also finds it “low-key but pleasing,” and praises the cast over the story: “Above all, this is an actors’ showcase in which the helmer keeps her strong ensemble (including herself) front and center throughout.”

PictureThe Congress Watch trailer
Sci-Fi/Animation/Comedy | (multiple) | Directed by Ari Folman

Director Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir 91) mixes live-action and animation in this loose adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress; the result is one of the stranger films of this year's festival, and one that isn't fully successful. Robin Wright plays “Robin Wright” in a fictional future Hollywood where the studios purchase an actor's rights and scan an image of that actor to do with what they please. THR’s Todd McCarthy likes the setup of this “venturesome and provocative piece with a great deal on its mind” but feels the animation, a strength of Folman’s first feature, is neither “attractive or enchanting.” The Guardian laments, “The Congress contains tricks aplenty and ideas in abundance. The problem comes in herding these scattered, floating elements towards a satisfying whole.” The Playlist admits that “as messy and convoluted, as overwritten and overstuffed and overcooked as the whole thing is, it's certainly unique,” though Variety complains that the film “doesn’t have much insight to offer.” On the other hand, Film.com believes the filmmaking is “wonderful, bold and idiosyncratic. And fully embracing the film is Indiewire's Eric Kohn, who gives the “ode to wonders of cinematic invention” an “A” grade, adding, “Folman's beguiling project amounts to a stinging indictment of mainstream culture's unending commodification.”

PictureThe Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)
Comedy/Drama | Italy | Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

Director Paolo Sorrentino won the Jury Prize in 2008 for Il Divo 81, and this year he returned to the main competition for the fifth time (the last being in 2011 with the divisive This Must Be the Place 61) with a look at modern Rome through the eyes of a 65-year-old writer played by Il Divo’s Toni Servillo. The Telegraph gives the film five stars, calling it “a shimmering coup de cinema to make your heart burst, your mind swim and your soul roar.” Time Out London also loves the “heady, beautiful, entrancing film.” Variety praises the “densely packed, often astonishing” film, and The Guardian calls it a “gorgeous movie” with an award-worthy performance by Servillo. THR also likes the film but feels “an overly indulgent running time undercuts some of the fun,” and The A.V. Club seconds those sentiments while admitting, “There are so many alternately hilarious and (yes) beautiful interludes dotting the film’s landscape that you can’t entirely begrudge its apparent aimlessness.”

Drama | France | Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

After winning the Jury Prize in 2010 for A Screaming Man 72, director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun returned to Cannes with this tale of a dancer with a partially paralyzed leg struggling to carve out a living in N'Djamena, Chad and coming into conflict with a local gangster. Overall, the reception has been lukewarm at best for what Indiewire calls “a basic character study.” The Guardian believes the “calm, lucid drama” is a “slight and contrived piece” compared to Haroun's previous work, and Variety agrees, claiming “wan characterization makes it less immediately engaging” than A Screaming Man. A slightly more positive THR writes, “The sleepy-paced, elementally simple plot initially requires a degree of patience, but the story ends up gently absorbing,” while The A.V. Club finds the “tired storylines” enlivened by the “vivid imagery,” but thinks the film is ultimately too ordinary for Cannes.

Drama | Mexico | Directed by Amat Escalante

Amat Escalante’s violent look at the impact of poverty, crime, and drugs on a Mexican family won him the festival's Best Director prize while impressing some critics with its formal rigor and turning others off with its harsh, unsparing vision. Time Out London believes the film is “winningly provocative and always compelling,” while “Escalante's control of his storytelling is exemplary.” The Guardian agrees, concluding that “the film functions as clammy thriller as well as poetic agitprop.” The Telegraph is less enamored due to a third act that “didn’t quite knit” despite consistently arresting images. The Playlist also praises cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman and Escalante’s ability “to create one startlingly composed shot after another,” even though “Heli is a despairing, bleak watch.” THR agrees that “Heli has a painterly beauty that belies its dark subject matter,” but finds the result “unfocused” and “curiously uninvolving.” Mike D’Angelo of the A.V. Club concludes, “Heli is quite impressive formally and rhythmically, but it’s dispiriting to see such talent squandered on a narrative that’s neither entertaining nor in any way illuminating. Variety echoes these sentiments, admitting the film is “accomplished” but “this clearly talented helmer has gone to this particular well one too many times.” And Manohla Dargis of The N.Y. Times believes “Heli manages only to offer up one gory reminder after another of how easily filmmakers can lose control of screen violence.”

PictureThe Immigrant Watch clip
Drama | USA | Directed by James Gray

The French love James Gray, so much so that this is the fourth of the director’s five films to have played in competition at Cannes. As the title indicates, Gray’s latest concerns the plight of a Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) and her relationship with a low-level opportunist (Joaquin Phoenix) and his magician cousin (Jeremy Renner). An enthusiastic Village Voice believes The Immigrant is “one of the strongest films in the festival competition” with a great performance by Marion Cotillard. Other critics haven't praised the film quite as highly, though they agree about the performance: Variety writes that “this rich, beautifully rendered film boasts an arrestingly soulful performance from Marion Cotillard,” and THR goes as far as saying “Cotillard makes the movie.” Indiewire gives the film a “B+” calling it “admirable and powerfully executed in parts, cold and meandering in others.” The Playlist focuses on the “deeply felt performances” as well in this example of “contained, restrained, thoughtful filmmaking that satisfies on nearly every level, except for the desire for a little chaos,” and The A.V. Club also gives the “reasonably compelling” film a “B”. The British publications, on the other hand, do not find much to like, with all of them scoring the film at just two out of five stars. The Telegraph calls the film “disappointing and dreary,” The Guardian labels it “a gloomy and baffling period drama,” and Time Out London says it’s a “well-meaning but unpersuasive and fatally lifeless melodrama.”

PictureJimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)Watch clip
Drama | USA | Directed by Arnaud Desplechin

French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen, A Christmas Tale) sets his latest film in post-WWII America (it's his second English-language feature) to look at the relationship between Georges Deveraux (Mathieu Amalric), a Hungarian psychoanalyst whose reports are the basis of the film, and a Native American war vet (Benicio Del Toro) suffering from headaches, dizziness, and other ailments leading to a diagnosis (incorrect, as it turns out) of schizophrenia. Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice loves the film and Benicio del Toro’s performance, writing, “This is a superb, engrossing picture, strange in all the right ways, and I long to see it again.” Scott Foundas of Variety also praises del Toro’s “impeccable performance” in this “demanding but highly absorbing closeup on the analyst/analysand relationship.” A somewhat less enthusiastic THR believes, “The whole project is saved largely thanks to the subtext of ethnic discrimination that runs through the film, and two riveting central performances, which overcome a wobbly start to find emotional balance by the final reel.” Less enamored is Time Out London claiming “the film is undoubtedly less engagingly eccentric and original than Desplechin’s best work,” and The Playlist, which calls Jimmy P. “A picture that meanders and focuses far too heavily on its subtitle, rather than on its two lead characters, who are presented with promise, but are ultimately left underdeveloped.” Among the biggest naysayers, The A.V. Club labels the film a “laborious misfire,” and The Guardian can only find a few kind words for del Toro, who alone “emerges with a few shreds of dignity.”

PictureMichael Kohlhaas
Drama | France | Directed by Arnaud des Pallières

Based on Heinrich von Kleist’s 1811 novella of the same name, this adaptation by Arnaud de Pallières tells the story of a 16th century merchant (Mads Mikkelsen, currently starring on NBC's Hannibal) who seeks violent justice after a wealthy baron steals two of his horses. Time Out London expresses disappointment in this adaptation of a “remarkably readable and remarkably relevant” story, lamenting that in the film, “dullness prevails.” Variety, also a fan of the original material, believes the “loss of narrative cohesion” is due to “conception and editing, since the helmer is at a loss to coax out the many subthemes, such as the Protestant-Catholic divide, that give the book such understated richness.” THR finds the film “low on dramatic thrills,” and unable to “build sufficiently interesting characters, and a dramatic enough arc, to carry it through a rather plodding two-hour running time.” Mike D’Angelo is somewhat surprised to be “more impressed than most” even though the “staid, overly sedate film['s] ... highs wouldn’t be nearly as effective were they not offset by corresponding lows.”

PictureNebraska Watch clip
Drama | USA | Directed by Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne’s black-and-white movie about a father and son (Bruce Dern and Will Forte) who take a road trip from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, in order to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize earned Dern the Best Actor prize at this year’s festival. Variety’s Scott Foundas calls Dern “simply marvelous” in “a wistful ode to small-town Midwestern life and the quixotic dreams of stubborn old men.” The Guardian agrees that “Dern gives a terrific performance” in a movie with “hard truths” and a “soft heart” that is ultimately “sweet and charming.” Another fan of Dern’s is Todd McCarthy at THR, who believes Dern “underplays without a trace of neurosis or mannerism,” while Time Out London agrees that Dern has a “real unshowiness.” As for the movie, The Telegraph sees “a bittersweet elegy for the American extended family,” and The New York Times believes “Mr. Payne draws an emotionally vivid, insistently unsentimentalized portrait of America and forgotten men.” The A.V. Club thinks Nebraska builds “to a resolution that’s simultaneously touching and deeply, almost unbearably sad.” Slightly less enthused are The Playlist (“Dern is great for this role, but again kind of feels almost destined to be overpraised for a performance that doesn’t require a huge amount from him.”) and Indiewire; the latter believes the film “might be [Payne's] least essential work, but it's also notably distinct from the rest of it.” Nebraska opens in the U.S. on November 22nd.

PictureOnly God Forgives Watch trailer
Action/Drama | USA | Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

In 2011, Nicolas Winding Refn won the Best Director prize at Cannes for Drive 79. While his receiving of that award was somewhat divisive, it paled in comparison to the wide range of reactions to his latest film, a Thailand-set revenge drama starring Ryan Gosling and Kristen Scott Thomas that was one of the most anticipated and most disappointing films of this year's festival. Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club, a fan of Drive, sees in Only God Forgives “a movie that amplifies the most off-putting aspects of [Refn's] earlier work: the gratuitous sadism, the canned portentousness, the sub-Lynchian pools of red light, the nihilistic emptiness,” and goes as far as concluding that it's “the worst movie I’ve seen this year, by a good margin; it does have the courage of its moronic convictions, though, and that does count for something. Better striking garbage like this than tasteful mediocrities.” Other detractors include Time Out London (“A dread-filled electronic score, neon, zombie-like performances and violent scenes of amputation – all fail to distract from the emptiness and sheer silliness.”) and Variety (“As hyper-aggressive revenge fantasies go, it’s curious to see one so devoid of feeling.”). On the opposite side of the critical spectrum is Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who gives the film a five-star rating and deems it “ultraviolent, creepy and scary, an enriched-uranium cake of pulp, with a neon sheen,” while adding, “Every scene, every frame, is executed with pure formal brilliance.” Somewhere in the middle are David Rooney of THR who, like most others, finds “way more style than subtext,” and Eric Kohn at Indiewire, who believes it’s “too bogged down by rudimentary style gags to leave room for anything else.” Final word goes to Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, who calls it “a beautiful disaster.” Judge for yourself when Refn's film arrives in American theaters on July 19th.

PictureOnly Lovers Left Alive
Horror(ish)/Comedy | USA | Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch’s long relationship with the Cannes Film Festival (Stranger Than Paradise won the Camera d’Or in 1984, and Broken Flowers won the Grand Prix in 2005) continued after an eight-year break with this tale of vampires, played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, who have been in love for centuries. According to critics, It’s a step in the right direction for the director after 2009’s misfire The Limits of Control 41. Indiewire likes Jarmusch’s “return to the realm of deadpan comedies that put his work on the map in the first place.” THR’s Todd McCarthy calls the “addictive mood and tone piece” his “best work in many years,” and Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club reveals that, “For nearly an hour, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive looked as if it was shaping up to be not merely the best film of Cannes 2013, but one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.” In the end, he gives the film an “A-”. The Playlist assigns the “offbeat, fun, and frequently very funny film” a “B+” grade, praising the performances of the two stars. The Telegraph also believes “the real reason to see this is Swinton and Hiddleston’s sexy, pallid double act.” Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian doesn’t like the film as much as his colleagues, though he agrees that the “nice performances from Hiddleston and Swinton” fit the film. Variety sums up the “sweet but slight love story” by describing it as “a light comedy of social mores set among a bunch of bohemians whose drug of choice just happens to be human blood, rather than cocaine or heroin.” Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film at Cannes, though they have not yet announced a release date.

PictureThe Past (Le passé) Watch trailer
Drama | France/Iran | Directed by Asghar Farhadi

After winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with A Separation 95, writer-director Asghar Farhadi came to Cannes with his first film set in France. Bérénice Bejo won the festival's Best Actress award for her performance as a woman who wants to finalize her divorce with her husband (Ali Mosaffa)—who has been in Iran for four years—so she can marry another man (Tahar Rahim). Caught in the middle of this family drama are three children. As The Playlist writes, “It's an intricate narrative, with numerous relationships that are deeply layered and complex” with a performance by Bejo that “finds all the right notes.” THR has more praise for the film, calling it a “superbly written, directed and acted drama that commands attention every step of the way” with a “surprisingly dynamic, unsentimental central performance” by Bejo. Variety believes Bejo “embodies a particular brand of hotheaded, hopelessly romantic Gallic femininity without tilting into cliche,” and the film “maintains a microscopic attention to character, performance and theme” creating an “indelible tapestry of carefully engineered revelations and deeper human truths.” The Guardian likes the “intricate and often brilliant drama, with restrained and intelligent performances” but admits that the narrative structure is “perhaps a little over-determined.” In one of the few negative reviews, Time Out London claims “the film’s increasing reliance on extreme events drowns out the work that Farhadi does to extract meaning from the smallest of gestures and glances.” Indiewire gives the film an “A-” because “Farhadi's nuanced storytelling results in an overlong and sometimes lethargic feel, occasionally to the detriment of its seriously fascinating plot, but for that same reason its set of surprises continually resonate.” Falling for the film completely is Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club, who believes “Farhadi may be the greatest pure dramatist in the world right now,” and his latest film “is a magnificent achievement, so dense with the weight of shared history that it’s a wonder it doesn’t collapse into a singularity.”

The Selfish Giant
Drama | UK | Directed by Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard earned great reviews for her last film, The Arbor 88. Her follow-up, which played in the Director’s Fortnight and is a very loose adaptation of an Oscar Wilde story, tells of the friendship of two 13-year-old boys in Bradford (a Northern England town and the setting of her previous film) who are ignored by their parents and try to earn money by illegally gathering scrap metal. It appears to be another winner with critics. The Telegraph calls Giant “a brilliant and soul-scouring fable” that is “hauntingly perfect.” Stephanie Zacharek of the The Village Voice believes, “The Selfish Giant earns all of its emotion the honest way ... It’s generous and steadfast, like true friendship itself.” Variety finds the film “boldly, broodingly cinematic,” and THR sees “a film whose most consistent strength is its unvarnished directness.” The A.V. Club likes how “Barnard patiently accumulates vivid details of this impoverished milieu, perpetually overcast yet vibrant, bringing the film to a slow boil that culminates in tragedy,” and The Guardian thinks the film “cements Barnard's growing reputation as one of Britain's best film-makers.”

PictureShield of Straw (Wara no tate)
Thriller | Japan | Directed by Takashi Miike

Recently in competition in 2011 with his 3D remake Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai 76, director Takashi Miike returns to Cannes with this thriller about a killer with a billion-yen bounty on his head who is trying to make it to Tokyo under police custody. Sophisticated it's not, but some critics enjoyed it. Mike D’Angelo of The A.V. Club calls it “schlock” that's “reasonably skillful and inventive” and “an exhausting good time.” The Telegraph also finds Shield to be “an enjoyably silly police thriller” while THR admits it is “sleek and engrossing, though awfully drawn out and short on psychological complexity.” Variety sees “considerable script problems” in “an enticing blockbuster concept” that “gets a lackluster execution,” and Time Out London labels it a “should-be-more-thrilling thriller.” Liking it the least are The Guardian (“It is put together with technical competence, but is entirely cliched and preposterous, and it implodes into its own fundamental narrative implausibility") and The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth, who dismisses “this tedious, dumb, so-bad-it's-almost-funny procedural" as "an overstuffed thriller that offers one single idea, and proceeds to beat it to death, without much of anything to say.”

PictureA Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding)
Drama | China | Directed by Zhangke Jia

Director Jia Zhang-ke (Unknown Pleasures, The World, 24 City) is known for his long-take, documentary-like examinations of contemporary Chinese society, but for this visit to Cannes, he has added moments of shocking violence to the mix. The four stories that comprise Sin's narrative take place in different regions of China, were inspired by real-life headlines, and focus on a drifter, a coal mine worker, a spa receptionist, and a factory worker. Jia’s handling of these various strands earned him the festival's Best Screenplay prize, but praise for the film from critics was somewhat muted. THR warns “Jia Zhang-ke only occasionally strikes chords that resonate,” concluding, “Despite solid performances and many haunting images, there’s a disappointing banality to the film overall.” The Playlist thinks the film is “a rather misshapen attempt to add drama and narrative intrigue to Jia’s stylistic repertoire,” and Variety finds it to be an “arresting but unpersuasive change of pace for a filmmaker hitherto lauded for his placid, perceptive snapshots of contemporary China.” At Time Out London, Guy Lodge writes, “If the final effect is somewhat less nuanced than his previous work, it's a good deal more vigorous,” and The A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo notes, “Encouraging though it is to see Jia stretching himself, he hasn’t quite made a successful transition to populism yet.” Fans of the film include The Telegraph and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times; the latter calls the “emotionally, horrifyingly realistic and visually baroque” film “his finest since his 2006 feature, Still Life.”

PictureVenus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure)
Drama | France/Poland | Directed by Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the David Ives play Venus in Fur (itself an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel) is his second play adaptation in a row (following 2011’s Carnage 61), but most critics feel it’s an improvement on that previous film. Venus takes place in a theater and stars Emmanuelle Seigner as the last actress to audition for Mathieu Amalric, the writer and director of the play. Their relationship develops throughout the audition process as sadomasochistic themes come to the surface. Variety finds it to be a “delightfully intricate battle of wits and wills in which the question of who’s directing/seducing/torturing whom remains constantly shifting open to interpretation,” bolstered by a “juicy comic performance” from Seigner. THR concurs, calling Seigner a “fresh revelation, putting her own cunning, carnal spin on the mystery woman as avenging goddess.” The Playlist gives the film a mere “C” but believes, “Seigner is terrifically good and deserves all the great notices coming her way.” The actress also impresses The A.V. Club with the “speed and dexterity” with which she “moves back and forth between the multiple personae this role provides/demands.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw thinks Polanski brings a “certain elegance and wit” to the somewhat “dated’ material, and The Telegraph calls the film a “slight, spry comedy of sex and power.”

PictureYoung & Beautiful (Jeune & jolie) Watch trailer
Drama | France | Directed by François Ozon

With this follow-up to In the House 72, François Ozon examines the sexuality of a 17-year-old girl over the course of four seasons, ending each with a Françoise Hardy song. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn writes, “At times a rich, intimate observation of emerging sexuality, the movie also maintains a quiet, observational rhythm that peaks around wintertime when things grow dark for the character and then more or less watches her grow up.” Mike D’Angelo of the A.V. Club likes the “dispassionate character study” and praises lead actress Marine Vacth, who “gives a remarkably assured and subtle performance.” The Playlist also had kind words for the young star, writing, “Vacth is strong in the role, requiring her to fill in much of what Ozon leaves open.” Variety is also a fan of the “nuanced, emotionally temperate study of a precocious youth” and of Vacth, who “really owns the film.” Time Out London believes the film “marks the arrival of a genuine new star,” and THR agrees. Liking the film less than the others, however, is New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, who calls it “staggeringly obtuse.”

Comments (1)

  • ChuckPalantine  

    Today is my birthday, and out of everything I received this is the greatest present of all. Thanks metacritic.

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