2014 Cannes Film Festival Recap: Reviews of Key Films

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  • Publish Date: May 26, 2014

Plenty of wonders after an inauspicious start

ImageA festival that started out a bit uneasy with the opening screening of Grace of Monaco and the early disappointment of competition selection The Captive soon righted itself as a series of impressive films once again proved there’s no place like Cannes.

While the pre-festival favorite, Winter Sleep, walked away with the Palme d’Or, there were also some surprises among this years honorees. For the first time since 1999, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Son, The Child, Lorna’s Silence, The Kid with a Bike) did not win an award when they had a film in competition, but their latest, Two Days, One Night, was by no means a dud; it just speaks to the overall strength of this year’s lineup.

Below, we collect the reactions from professional film critics to the films that generated the most buzz at this year's festival, including the winners of this year's top awards. Click on any hyperlinked publication name to read the full review. Note that well-received drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is not included below, as that film previously debuted (though in a different format) on last year's fall festival circuit.

So, without further ado, here are a few of the highlights and lowlights from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Adieu!

The award winners

Palme d'Or (1st place):
Winter Sleep Trailer
Turkey/Germany/France | Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

In the end, the film predicted to win the Palme d’Or before the festival began actually won the award. While its 196-minute run time tested the patience, butts, and bladders of some critics, and the extended flurries of Turkish dialogue proved to be a subtitle speed-reading challenge, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 7th feature earned him the top prize at this year’s festival. It was the 4th major Cannes honor of his career, following a Grand Prix in 2011 for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Best Director in 2008 for Three Monkeys, and the Grand Prix in 2003 for Distant.

For Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, this was a well deserved win: “More than any film I've seen this year ‘Winter Sleep’ captures the mystery of living, on its own clock, careening from excoriating psychological drama to a comical drunk scene. The key actors are Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen and Demet Akbag, and they are marvelous. Ceylan has learned with ‘Winter Sleep’ how to balance, precisely, his formidable photographer's eye with an ear for language, and an ever-more-skillful hand with performers.”

Another ardent fan, Justin Chang at Variety calls Winter Sleep “a multifaceted study of human frailty whose moral implications resonate far beyond its remote Turkish setting. Simultaneously vast and intimate, sprawling and incisive, and talky in the best possible sense.” His counterpart at Variety, Scott Foundas, concurs, writing, “It’s tempting to liken the film to a great evening of theater, or being immersed in a sprawling 19th-century novel, except that Ceylan is also one of the most richly cinematic stylists at work today, whether he’s turning his camera upon a muddied, craggy landscape stretching endlessly toward the horizon, or the equally majestic, expressive faces of his marvelous actors.”

In giving the film an “A-” Indiewire’s Eric Kohn writes, “A mesmerizing, superbly acted portrait of a wealthy, self-involved landowner and the various figures impacted by his reign, the movie marks the director's talkiest achievement.” Robbie Collin at The Telegraph doesn’t like the film as much as the director's previous Grand Prix winners, but admits “this is still fiendishly intelligent stuff from the director, nudging back the limits of what we expect of cinema and also what it expects of us: a mighty tale of what becomes of a man when his heart goes into hibernation.” While the filmmaker himself gives a nod to Russian author Anton Chekhov in the film’s credits, The Guardian invokes another famous name: “At its best, Winter Sleep shows Ceylan to be as psychologically rigorous, in his way, as Ingmar Bergman before him.”

A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club is less enamored of the film, giving it a “B-” while still predicting that it would win the Palme d’Or: “It has Big Themes, strong performances, stunning images of the Turkish landscape, and Ceylan’s byline. What it doesn’t have is any good reason to be almost 200 minutes long ... There’s a powerful movie buried in the borderless sprawl of Winter Sleep. I just wish Ceylan had let it be a drama instead of inflating it into a monument to his expanding ambition.” The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo echoes those sentiments while praising lead actor Haluk Bilginer’s “epic portrait of a complete prick ... .Bilginer’s magnificently unsympathetic performance can’t maintain interest throughout Ceylan’s onslaught of subtext-free yakkity-yak. Considered in retrospect, Winter Sleep is an impressive achievement, admirable in every way, but I’d be lying if I claimed it wasn’t frequently an endurance test. Some movies really are just too damn long."

Grand Prix (2nd place):
The Wonders
Italy | Directed by Alice Rohrwacher

Previous winners:
2013: 92 Inside Llewyn Davis
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

Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s follow-up to Corpo Celeste is a coming of age story focusing on a German-Italian family of beekeepers whose eldest of three daughters enters the family into a tacky TV contest called Countryside Wonders. This somewhat surprising winner of the Grand Prix is fully embraced by The Telegraph, which deems the film “a mesmerising coming-of-age tale: small and sweet in every good way, but alive with a power that seems to surge up from deep beneath its sun-roughened landscape.” CineVue is also a fan of this “gripping coming-of-age drama,” and THR declares it “a wistful but no-tears swan song recounting the disappearance of traditional rural life-style in Italy.” The Dissolve believes it’s a “minor work, but thoroughly enjoyable,” while Variety feels it “has intermittent rewards yet isn’t weighty enough to justify a Cannes competition slot.”

Jury Prize (3rd place):
(tie) Mommy Trailer
Canada | Directed by Xavier Dolan

Previous winners:
2013: 73 Like Father, Like Son
2012: 66 The Angel's Share
2011: 76 Polisse
2010: 71 A Screaming Man
2009: 81 Fish Tank and 73 Thirst

Sharing the Jury Prize this year are 25-year-old Xavier Dolan’s fifth film, Mommy, and 83-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D feature, Goodbye to Language. The paring was not coincidental, according to jury president Jane Campion. Both films have passionate supporters and a few detractors. Dolan’s film focuses on the relationship of a mother (obviously), her troubled son, and their patient neighbor. Loving the film and it’s three stars, The Playlist gives the film an “A,” noting, “Centered on an incredible performance from Ann Dorval ... and a no less revelatory one from Antoine Olivier Pilon as her son, the film is brimming with the kind of directorial tics and tricks that would in most other contexts be loathsome, but practically every single one of them works here.”

One of those tics is utilizing a 1:1 aspect ratio for a large majority of the film. This technique works for CineVue by “confining the characters to a vertical space which is at once claustrophobic but also forces the trio into cheek-to-jowl intimacy,” but not for The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo, who complains, “I spent most of the excessively lengthy film (two hours, 15 minutes) trying to determine what this ratio achieves, apart from a general sense of constriction,” or The Telegraph: “Bouncing off its own square walls, his movie has all the reckless faults its people do, which you suspect is exactly how he wants it.” The A.V. Club is also disappointed, believing the film “represents the first case in which his seductive style—pop-music cues, scenes of ferociously heated verbal conflict, operatic slow-motion, etc.—seems at odds with his material.” On the other hand, and more in line with the Cannes jury, THR finds it to be a “strong step forward, striking his most considered balance yet between style and substance, drama-queen posturing and real heartfelt depth.”

(tie) Goodbye to Language 3D Trailer
Switzerland | Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard’s first-ever (!) Cannes award is a 70-minute burst of experimental energy that earned both applause and shrugs. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips finds it to be a “bracing riddle, more buoyant in spirit than Film Socialisme” with some “wondrous” images. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times calls it a “thrilling cinematic experience” that is “deeply, excitingly challenging,” and TimeOut New York's Keith Uhlich writes, “It’s nice to see this great filmmaker sculpting something that feels genuinely revelatory.” On the other end of the spectrum is THR: “As usual, there are only fragments of thoughts, nothing is developed, and it will be left only to the tiny band of die-hard Godardians to try to make any meaningful sense of the disparate fragments stitched together here.” Somewhere in the middle is A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club, who gives the film a “???” grade while admitting, “Visually, it’s a compelling experiment, even when the content is a typically dense clutter of ideas. Similarly, Mike D’Angelo of The Dissolve acknowledges that he feels “unqualified to evaluate it” but still declares it “easily my favorite Godard film in a long time ... . What makes Goodbye To Language extraordinary, in a way accessible even to an avant-garde ignoramus like myself, is Godard’s revolutionary use of 3-D, a gimmick I’ve always had little to no use for.”

More awards

This year's Caméra d'Or prize, given to the best first-time feature film in the main competition, went to Party Girl. Hungarian drama White God (detailed below) took top honors in the Un Certain Regard section, which is the festival's secondary competition. Parallel competition International Critics' Week (where the focus is on new talent) gave its top award to Ukrainian film The Tribe, which features an all-deaf cast. And French drama Love at First Fight was the top pick in the Directors' Fortnight section.

Other notable films premiering at Cannes

PictureBird People Trailer
USA | Directed by Pascale Ferran

With her first feature since 2007's Lady Chatterley, director Pascale Ferran looks at the isolated lives of an American engineer (Josh Charles) and a hotel chambermaid (Anais Demoustier) at an airport Hyatt. With a narrative twist that won’t be given away here, the film became a favorite of many critics. The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis calls it “delightful, and delightfully eccentric,” and The A.V. Club believes it’s “mostly a singular, beguiling experience, its source of interest simply shifting from the mystery of character motivation to the daft delights that follow.” One week into the festival, Wesley Morris of Grantland declared it “the most inspired thing I’ve seen,” going on to write: “Bird People has ideas about nature, human and otherwise. It’s got a sense of romantic wonder. It’s as interested in unfixed spiritualism as Naomi Kawase’s main-competition film. It’s got wordplay and philosophical questions equal to Atom Egoyan’s. The difference is that Ferran’s movie is actually good.” And The Dissolve agrees, concluding, “Bird People ... is exactly the kind of ambitious lunacy Cannes needs.”

PictureThe Captive Trailer
Canada | Directed by Atom Egoyan

The first competition film to be roundly scorned by Cannes audiences was Atom Egoyan’s latest drama, starring Ryan Reynolds as a father whose 9-year-old daughter is abducted. Mireille Enos plays Reynolds' wife, and Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman co-star as the detectives working the case. Indiewire calls The Captive a “lazily plotted and largely generic thriller,” and The Guardian dismisses the film as “offensively preposterous and crass.” THR echoes those words, claiming Egoyan “renders an already bogus story more preposterous by lathering it in portentous solemnity.” Variety calls the film a “ludicrous abduction thriller that finds a once-great filmmaker slipping into previously unentered realms of self-parody." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune feels The Captive is “unworthy of a main competition festival spot,” as does The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo, who writes, “It’s hard, I must admit, to see how anything other than misplaced loyalty could have inspired its selection for Cannes.” But the film does have a few defenders. The Telegraph declares it “Egoyan’s best film for a very long time,” while The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd assigns it a “B” grade, writing, “The Captive gets dumber as it goes, leaping into sleazy contrivance in its home stretch, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t keep me invested.”

PictureClouds of Sils Maria Trailer
France/Germany/Switzerland | Directed by Olivier Assayas

In Olivier Assayas’ latest, Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a legendary film actress who agrees to star in a revival of the play that made her famous, but this time she will play the role of Helena, an older woman driven to suicide by Sigrid, a young woman who will be played by Hollywood starlet Jo-Anne Ellis (Chloe Moretz). While Binoche’s performance earned plenty of praise, it is actually Kristen Stewart (as her assistant Val) who critics have been singling out for praise most often. The Dissolve believes “the movie ultimately belongs to Stewart ... it’s a relaxed and unshowy yet deeply felt performance, conveying volumes with fleeting gestures." The Telegraph agrees, stating, “It’s Stewart who really shines here.” CineVue thinks the film “features two exceptional performances from Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart,” while HitFix feels Stewart delivers the “film's most touching, textured performance.” Variety calls the film “a multi-layered, femme-driven meta-fiction that pushes all involved — including next-gen starlets Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz — to new heights,” but The Playlist claims the film is “at best a handful of transitory pleasures.”

PictureComing Home Trailer
China | Directed by Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou reunites with his 8-time muse, Gong Li, for this adaptation of the novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi by Yan Geling, whose The 13 Flowers of Nanjing served as the basis for Zhang’s last film, Flowers of War. Set in China during the final years of the Cultural Revolution, the story follows Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) as he’s imprisoned for three years, eventually returning to discover that his wife Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) has selective amnesia and does not remember him. Variety believes the film has “an epic gravity that recalls another great historical romance, ‘Doctor Zhivago,’” but other critics didn’t fall under its spell. The Playlist praises the performances of the two leads but admits “not even they can save the film’s last-act devolution into full-on maudlin melodrama,” while The Guardian echoes those sentiments, claiming Zhang “coaxes some affecting performances from Chen and Gong ... But the film is also sentimental and faintly evasive.” THR calls Coming Home a “meandering and frequently tepid love story that also wants to be an important commentary but is too weightless to be effective as either,” though The Dissolve finds a little more to like in this “enjoyably cornball tearjerker.”

PictureFoxcatcher  Trailer
USA | Directed by Bennett Miller

With two well regarded films (Capote and Moneyball) already under his belt, Bennett Miller came to Cannes hoping to add a third. And he did just that, earning the best director award for his take on the strange true story of millionaire eccentric John du Pont (Steve Carell, now an instant Oscar frontrunner) and his relationship with Olympic wrestling champions Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).

All three actors earned praise from The Guardian for their “wonderful performances,” while THR claims the film is a “superbly modulated study of a twisted mind with a career-changing performance by Steve Carell.” Carell “proves himself as accomplished at tragedy as he is at comedy,” notes CineVue, but “it's Ruffalo who ultimately steals the film.” Variety continues the accolades, stating, “While Carell may deliver the most transformative turn here, it’s merely one of three supremely accomplished performances that connect thrillingly onscreen.” Indiewire also singles out the actors: “Though anchored by a affecting and sullen turn by Channing Tatum, the movie derives its primary discomfiting power from Steve Carell in a revelatory performance as a monster of American wealth. And The Telegraph simply calls all three leads “astonishing.”

While there were plenty of raves for Foxcatcher (which will reach American theaters on November 14th of this year), the film did have its share of less-enthusiastic appraisals. TimeOut New York feels it is “arrestingly made yet oppressively morbid” and “feeble-brained.” Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune finds it “less wholly successful than Miller’s previous films,” and The A.V. Club believes it’s an “interesting but ultimately simplistic attempt to make sense of a senseless act.”

PictureGrace of Monaco Trailer
USA/France | Directed by Olivier Dahan

Cannes audiences are not shy about booing films they don't like, and they certainly didn't like this one. Nor did critics. The worst-reviewed film of the festival was this opening night selection, Olivier Dahan’s look at Grace Kelly’s life in Monaco that stars Nicole Kidman as the actress-turned-princess. As the dispute over which cut U.S. audiences will see continues between director Dahan and Harvey Weinstein, it seems that Weinstein’s couldn’t be much worse. The Guardian savages the film as “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk,” and THR labels it “a glitzy royal soap opera that drags where it should dazzle.” Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice doesn’t think it’s quite that bad, but admits Dahan “just doesn’t know what to do with actors.” Indiewire’s Eric Kohn also goes easy on the film and its star: “Both soft and fierce in every scene, Nicole Kidman skillfully embodies the paradox of Kelly's public life.” But The Playlist assigns the film an “F,” and CineVue warns that the film “isn't just bad - it's awful - ineptly directed (Olivier Dahan), terribly written (Arash Amel) and bafflingly acted by an assortment of miscast faces.”

PictureThe Homesman
USA | Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones returned to Cannes for the first time since 2005 when The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada earned him a best actor award and Guillermo Arriaga the award for best screenplay. The Homesman, starring Jones as a claim jumper who joins Hilary Swank’s pioneer woman in transporting three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa, did not win any awards in France, but critics have been embracing the dark western. THR calls it a “beautifully crafted film,” and CineVue believes it’s an “original and cantankerously offbeat western.” The Telegraph feels “Swank and Jones are a sensational pairing,” while Manohla Dargis of The N.Y. Times writes, “Ms. Swank reminds you that her greatness as an actor is her gift for unforced sincerity. She brings a depth of feeling to the movie, which goes astray when its focus shifts from her character to Mr. Jones’s.” The Playlist finds the film fascinating even though “it’s an awkward, uneven picture,” and The Guardian likes it as well: “There are some broad emotional flourishes and ripe performances in The Homesman — maybe bordering on the over-ripe. But it is put over with such richness and verve.”

It Follows
USA | Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) returned for a second time to Cannes’ Critics’ Week festival with this suburban horror tale with a clever premise. The Telegraph declares It Follows to be the “most exciting film in Cannes,” describing it as “tender, remarkably ingenious and scalp-pricklingly scary.” THR claims, “The reliance on solid storytelling, a brooding soundscape and old-fashioned film craft rather than pumped-up visual effects heightens the fear factor,” and The Dissolve believes the film “confirms Mitchell’s promise and then some.” The Playlist feels that the movie works “like gangbusters as an exercise in atmosphere and allusion, but a little less so as an out-and-out supernatural horror," though in his “B+” assessment, A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club reveals, “It gave me chills.”

PictureJimmy’s Hall  Trailer
UK/Ireland/France | Directed by Ken Loach

Ken Loach’s 12th film to play in competition at Cannes is based on the life of Irish communist Jimmy Gralton, who was deported from Ireland in the 1920s only to return in the 30s to reopen the hall of the film’s title. Since a priest’s distaste for dancing factors into the story, many critics were instantly reminded of the same movie. THR notes that it’s an “odd, only fitfully engaging hybrid of The Quiet Man and Footloose, which neither packs much of a punch nor is particularly nimble on its feet,” and The Playlist calls it a “twee and tweedy period ‘Footloose,’ into which Loach’s trademark left wing sympathies are not so much woven as photocopied and stapled onto alternate pages of the script.” The Dissolve declares Hall a “historical trifle,” and The A.V. Club dismisses it as “fluff." But both Variety and Indiewire find the film to be a minor but enjoyable work.

PictureLeviathan Trailer
Russia | Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Garnering some of the best reviews of the festival, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s follow-up to Elena picked up the best screenplay award. Set in a small town in northwest Russia, the story follows Kolia, an auto mechanic struggling to hold onto his house and business despite the maneuverings of the town’s mayor. The Playlist calls Leviathan “absolutely fantastic,” and Variety claims it is a “stunning satire.” Eric Kohn of Indiewire gives this “beautifully layered epic” an “A+,” while THR writes, “Drill down deep enough and just about every detail in the film feels freighted with deeper meaning.” The Dissolve’s Mike D’Angelo finds “less subtlety” than he’d hoped for, but Leviathan is still his favorite among the director's films. For The Guardian, the film "is a forbidding and intimidating work, a return to Zvyagintsev's earlier themes ... .So much cinema is content with small fry – minor themes and manageable topics. Leviathan is hunting bigger game. It is a movie with real grandeur.”

PictureLost River Trailer
USA | Directed by Ryan Gosling

Anticipation was high for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, a fantasy starring Christina Hendricks as a mother of two boys struggling to save her home. Then the first critical reactions hit Twitter, and it was all downhill from there. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn laments, “Rather than making his own movie, Gosling has composed a messy love letter to countless others.” TimeOut New York compares Gosling's film to “a peep show—a chimeric stroke job that leaves you utterly unfulfilled.” The Guardian calls it a “kind of ruin-porn gothic fantasy,” and THR declares it a “strikingly derivative directorial debut.” The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd writes, “It’s less a coherent movie than a wild collage, its creator cutting and pasting from the cinematic visions that haunt his dreams ... . Lost River displays almost no distinctive personality of its own, beyond the hero worship that clearly fueled its construction.”

After the critical drubbing, Deadline reported that Warner Bros. was seeking to unload the film to a smaller specialty distributor if it could only find a buyer. But with Gosling’s name attached, it will surely find a home, and possibly even wind up in the rotation of midnight movie houses across America. Writes Grantland's Wesley Morris, “This movie must work for some people, and they must have gotten the day off from the video store. The reason it’s here is obvious. A star made a fart, and the festival choose to ignore the 'f.' But Cannes is the most Something Happens festival on earth. The bummer of the Gosling is that nothing does — in the film or to the audience."

PictureMaps to the Stars  Trailer
USA/Canada | Directed by David Cronenberg

In a performance that wasn’t quite as polarizing as the film it appeared in, Julianne Moore walked away with this year's best actress prize for her depiction of an aging actress in David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire. Critics seemed to agree with the jury's choice. Indiewire believes Moore is “terrific” in an “icky performance” that’s her best since Magnolia. While HitFix gives the film a “C,” Moore is singled out as “the one person in the film that truly gets the tone right,” Film.com also finds Moore “hilarious” in a film that “has so many problems” but is still “watchable.” THR agrees that Moore “gives her all” in a film that “comes off like a prank more than a coherent take on 21st century Hollywood, even if there are crumbs of truth and wit scattered throughout it. And Variety praises her for a “fearless performance far more gonzo than the out-of-touch satire that contains it.” As for that satire, The A.V. Club calls the film “broad and aggressively obvious” and “as shallow as its characters." But The Guardian awards it four out of five stars, claiming Maps is “a gripping and exquisitely horrible movie about contemporary Hollywood – positively vivisectional in its sadism and scorn.” Heaping the most praise on the film is The Telegraph, which declares it “extraordinary.”

PictureMr. Turner  Trailer
UK | Directed by Mike Leigh

Timothy Spall won the festival's best actor award for his portrayal of British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s lauded biopic. The Telegraph believes Spall gives “what’s probably the finest performance of his career,” while The Village Voice states definitively, “Spall has always been a terrific actor, but this is the performance of his career.” Indiewire feels “Spall imbues his performance with grace and humanity, even if it's most often indicated with an extensive vocabulary of squints and grunts,” and THR calls the performance “masterful” in a movie that “manages to illuminate that nexus between biography and art with elegant understatement.” The Playlist believes Mr. Turner might be Leigh’s “richest” film to date and certainly ranks “as one of his very best,” and The Guardian claims, “Every scene in this film is expertly managed; every comic line and funny moment adroitly presented and every performance given with intelligence and love. It is another triumph for Mike Leigh and for Timothy Spall.”

PictureThe Rover 
Australia | Directed by David Michôd

David Michôd’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2010 debut feature Animal Kingdom is set in the future, a decade after the collapse of society, and follows Guy Pearce as he tracks down the gang who stole his car with the reluctant help of a wounded man (Robert Pattinson) left behind after the theft. The film received a mixed reaction from critics, with The Playlist calling The Rover a “fascinating movie, flawed but occasionally brilliant,” and Film.com labeling it “a dark, dreary and dull ‘Mad Max in Neutral.’” However, critics did mostly agree on the performances of the two leads. The A.V. Club believes both stars to be “quite good,” while The Guardian admiring Pearce’s “simmering presence” and Variety finding Pearce “fiercely impressive,” though it is Pattinson “who turns out to be the film’s greatest surprise.”

PictureSaint Laurent
France | Directed by Bertrand Bonello

Bertrand Bonello’s follow-up to House of Pleasure is the second Yves Saint Laurent biopic to come out this year (Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent is scheduled for a June 25th release in the U.S.). While many critics seem to prefer this to Lespert’s film, it still comes as a disappointment to fans of Bonello’s previous work. Film.com praises the film and “Bonello's decision to show rather than tell,” but Variety feels the film is “seductively silly and largely unmoving,” though it “does a better job than its predecessor of celebrating Saint Laurent’s flamboyant artistry.” The Telegraph claims it’s “simultaneously far better and much, much worse” that Lespert’s film, while The A.V. Club allows that there are some “striking sequences” but, as a whole, it is merely “biopic business as usual.” The Dissolve also finds individual moments that are “beguiling and amusing ... but they don’t add up to a coherent vision.” CineVue summarizes, “Bonello's Saint Laurent remains a stylish portrait of a man struggling with a lack of struggle; it's gorgeous to look at, whilst at the same time conceding its own vacuous heart.

PictureThe Salvation
Denmark | Directed by Kristian Levring

Former Dogme 95 director Kristian Levring (The King Is Alive) reverses course with this western starring Mads Mikkelsen as a Danish pioneer whose wife and young son are murdered, propelling him on a path of revenge that leads to a faceoff with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s town terror. Eva Green factors into the proceedings as a scarred mute hoping for freedom. Variety singles out Green as the memorable ingredient of this “highly stylized widescreen revenge picture,” and CineVue calls her “striking,” while suggesting that the cast of characters as a whole is the reason the film is “never less than a fun watch.” THR praises the combination of a “strong visual style that evinces a great affinity for the genre” and a “forbidding -- one might say fundamentalist Nordic -- temperament that well suits the themes of punishment, suffering, vengeance and redemption.” The Playlist declares that as an “ersatz western, it will do in a pinch until a real one comes along,” while The Dissolve admits, “There’s no revisionism here, and no originality, either,” but “it’s a thoroughly entertaining throwback, moving at a brisk clip and giving its impressive cast ... the opportunity to embody cherished archetypes.”

PictureThe Search Trailer
France | Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

Michel Hazanavicius returned to Cannes with this follow-up to his best picture Oscar winner, The Artist. A loose remake of Fred Zinnemann's 1948 Academy Award-winning movie of the same name, The Search looks at the impact of the Second Chechen War on four lives, including those of Bérénice Bejo’s Carole, a European Union delegate, and Hadji, a 9-year-old refugee. Simply put, The Search will not be in this year's race for best picture. The New York Times believes Hazanavicius “paves a road to hell with good intentions, miscasting, reductive politics and dreadful writing.” The Telegraph observes, “The self-importance factor is so high, and the reward so low, that it’s the first film in this year’s Cannes competition to invite a hearty chorus of indignant booing.” Indiewire dismisses the film as a “humorless effort devoid of fresh ideas,” and The A.V. Club agrees that it “exhibits no real sense of authorship, just sentimentality and canned outrage.” Similarly, Variety denounces The Search as “a grueling, lumbering, two-and-a-half-hour humanitarian tract that all but collapses under the weight of its own moral indignation.” Last word goes to Mike D’Angelo of The Dissolve, who concludes, “Hazanavicius, who also wrote the screenplay, is unquestionably sincere, but subtlety is not his forte, to say the least; The Search rolls over its thinly conceived characters like a Russian tank, flattening each one into a didactic position paper.”

PictureStill the Water Trailer
Japan | Directed by Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase continues to get invited to Cannes despite little international exposure (Suzaku won the Camera d’Or in 1997 and The Mourning Forest took the Grand Jury Prize in 2007), and she continues to divide critics. Her latest is a coming of age story set on the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima. The Playlist and CineVue both praise the film, calling it “a spectacle for the senses” and “a fluid, dreamlike tone poem,” respectively. However, Variety feels that Water is a “soporific drama devoted to thrashing out the meaning of love, life and death,” and THR warns the “visual splendor is weighed down by a chunky, underdeveloped script.” The A.V. Club doesn’t even see that visual splendor, only the “graceless handheld” camerawork that's one of many faults in a “meandering bore, grasping for a profundity it rarely achieves.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw falls somewhere in the middle: “Kawase's film is sometimes beautiful and moving but I couldn't help occasionally finding it a little contrived and self-conscious.”

PictureTimbuktu Trailer
Mauritania/France | Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

Abderrahmane Sissako’s follow-up film to 2006’s Bamako is his first film to play in competition in Cannes. Timbuktu concerns the impact of Jihadists and their enforcement of sharia law on the people of Timbuktu in Mali. Many critics feel it's his best work yet. CineVue calls it a “beautiful drama fueled by a sense of urgent and righteous anger,” and THR deems it “superbly evocative and heart-breaking.” The Telegraph believes this “wrenching tragic fable” is “full of life, irony, poetry and bitter unfairness,” but a less-enthused A.V. Club calls it “bluntly single-minded in its aims, ultimately amounting to little more than a loud lament.”

PictureTwo Days, One Night Trailer 
Belgium/France/Italy | Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the festival was that the Dardenne brothers' latest did not receive an award. Many thought Marion Cotillard would at least get the best actress prize for her performance as Sandra, a woman trying to convince her co-workers to decline their bonuses so she can keep her job. Praising the Dardennes, Mike D’Angelo of The Dissolve feels these “deeply empathetic automatons of cinematic excellence” have produced their “best film to date,” with a performance by Cotillard that “eclipses her Oscar-winning work in La Vie En Rose.” The A.V. Club also raves about the “A-” film, claiming “There’s an emotional clarity here uncommon even to these great filmmakers.” The Playlist calls it a “deeply lovable film, satisfying, nourishing and accessible,” and The Guardian terms it “outstanding,” with Cotillard showing “what a marvelous technical actor she is: every nuance and detail is readably present on her face. She is compelling and moving – and so is the film.” Indiewire also praises “Cotillard's jittery expressions as she veers from tentatively hopeful to despondent and back again, sometimes within a matter of minutes,” while The Telegraph simply states she is “superb.”

PictureWhite God
Hungary/Germany/Sweden | Directed by Kornél Mundruczó

Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó took home the the Un Certain Regard Prize for this drama about a young girl’s separation from her beloved dog, leading to a canine uprising. CineVue believes this “sort of canine Rise of Planet of the Apes” lacks “coherence and simply makes no sense,” but Variety calls it a “moving, technically masterful film.” The Guardian is on board as well: “It is a fantasia of canine madness that looks sometimes like a horror-thriller based on something by James Herbert or Stephen King – and sometimes like a tribute to Hitchcock's The Birds. Except that this time it's The Dogs.” The Playlist admires that White God is “a triumphantly idiosyncratic film with smarts and visceral impact in equal measure,” but notes that it could do with some trimming: “This could be a really sharp and nasty 90-minute film.” THR agrees, suggesting that “much of the overlong human subplot could be safely trimmed or cut, bringing the canine story into sharper focus.”

PictureWild Tales Trailer
Argentina/Spain | Directed by Damián Szifron

Argentinian director Damián Szifron’s film stood out from other competition entries thanks to its omnibus structure of six short films loosely tied together by the theme of revenge, and its embrace of explosive violence and black comedy. As with many anthologies, some segments were judged to be more successful than others, but most critics agree with The A.V. Club in believing that the film’s “energy never flags.” The Dissolve enthuses that “each [segment] features a grabber of a concept, some amusing complications, and a final sting,” and Indiewire calls Wild Tales as a whole a “marvelous satire” that is “impeccably edited with fluid camerawork.” Lastly, Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice writes, “Wild Tales is loose-limbed, rowdy and exhilarating -- in its vibrant lunacy, and with its cartoonishly brash violence, it's a little bit Almodovar, a little bit Tarantino.”

Short takes

PictureSundance Selects picked up The Blue Room, actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s 76-minute adaptation of Georges Simenon's 1964 novel about adultery. The Telegraph calls it “a great little film,” and Indiewire believes it’s Amalric’s “most polished feature yet.”

PictureLooking at the after effects of an avalanche on a family of four, Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy, won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. HitFix calls it “impressive ... bracing and intelligent,” and Variety believes it’s “visually stunning ... and emotionally perceptive almost to a fault.”

PictureGirlhood, the latest coming-of-age drama from Water Lilies and Tomboy director Céline Sciamma, might be her best yet. “Driven by a magnetic central performance from stunning newcomer Karidja Toure,” the film is deemed "riveting" by THR, while Variety calls it a “vital, nonjudgmental character study.”

PictureNational Gallery, Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, looks at one of London’s art institutions, and it’s another impressive film from the 84-year-old director, and “beautifully organised,” according to The Telegraph. Even with a 3-hour running time, CineVue notes, “every frame seems to illuminate some distinctive element of the ethereal nature of the place.”

PictureParty Girl won the Camera d’Or for Best First Feature and an Un Certain Regard Ensemble Prize for its cast. With three credited writer-directors (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis), the film examines a 60-year-old bar hostess’ attempt at marriage. The A.V. Club writes, “There’s something disarmingly moving about Party Girl’s vision of compromise, and of adult children pulling for a mother they’ve long feared would never find happiness.”

Comments (3)

  • BobbyPeru  

    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is unbelievable so bring on Winter Sleep. It Follows sounds fun, and I'm intrigued by Bird People.

  • MarcDoyle  

    Bring me The Rover - now. Loved Animal Kingdom - highly anticipating this one.

  • LamontRaymond  

    The trailers for The Captive and Foxcatcher make those films look phenomenal. Cannes is often a collection of overrated crap, but I'm guessing, when we look back at this year's festival, we'll see some real gems among these films.

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