2016 Cannes Film Festival Recap: Reviews of Key Films

  • Publish Date: May 22, 2016
  • Comments: ↓ 1 user comment

Boos? Outrage? It must be another Cannes

ImageFor the second year in a row, the Cannes jury selected a good film by a revered director that tackled of-the-moment social issues, while ignoring the films preferred by critics.

This year's big winner was Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme d’Or while more critically acclaimed films like Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, and Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle failed to collect a single award.

Leaving the Croisette with two awards (for best actor and best screenplay, a rare double) was The Salesman, a film some reviewers thought was a weaker effort by writer-director Asghar Farhadi (though even his lesser films are still better than many filmmakers' best efforts). In a very strong best actress category, Ma’ Rosa star Jaclyn Jose took home the prize over favorite Sonia Braga (Aquarius) and other highly touted performances by Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann), Ruth Negga (Loving), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper) and Sasha Lane (American Honey).

While critics were also angered and disappointed (though not really surprised) with Xavier Dolan’s Grand Prix win for It’s Only the End of the World (which many believe to be the young director’s worst film), they at least got to take out their frustrations on Sean Penn’s disaster, The Last Face, earlier in the week. That film—along with Nicolas Winding Refn's latest disappointment—was one of several heavily booed by Cannes audiences (an annual tradition that doesn't automatically mean that a film is terrible, though in the case of Penn's film, you can trust the jeers).

While critics debated about the overall quality of this year’s competition slate (THR’s Todd McCarthy found it “very disappointing” while Time’s Stephanie Zacharek believed it be “unusually strong”), there’s no doubt that film lovers everywhere have a lot to look forward to until next May as these movies begin to make their way into theaters.

Here’s our rundown of the highlights and a few of the lowlights of this year’s festival.

The award winners

Palme d'Or (1st place):
. I, Daniel Blake
UK | Directed by Ken Loach

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2015 Dheepan 76
2014 Winter Sleep 87
2013 Blue Is the Warmest Color 88
2012 Amour 94
2011 The Tree of Life 85
Recent Palme d'Or winners

Ken Loach became the eighth filmmaker to collect a second Palme d’Or (his first coming in 2006 for The Wind that Shakes the Barley) for a film Variety’s Owen Gleiberman calls “one of Loach’s finest films, a drama of tender devastation that tells its story with an unblinking neorealist simplicity.” The Daniel of the title, played by comedian Dave Johns, is a carpenter recovering from a heart attack. His doctor won’t let him return to work despite social services determining he is fit for work. This leaves him in a bureaucratic limbo and without welfare, but it also leads him to single mom Katie (Hayley Squires), who recently moved to Newcastle with her two kids. Their friendship forms the heart of this humane and urgent slice of social realist fiction.

Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, who collaborated on Loach’s previous Palme d’Or winner as well as the more recent Jimmy’s Hall and The Angels’ Share, take a direct (and, for some, heavy-handed) approach to the story. Writing for Screen Daily, Wendy Ide admits that the film “might not break new ground” but “there is no denying the potency of the film’s empathetic anguish and fury. THR’s David Rooney writes, “The film is anchored by incisive characterizations rich in integrity and heart, and by an urgent simplicity in its storytelling that's surprisingly powerful.” Detractors include Robbie Collin of The Telegraph who believes the film "too often sands the complications off what you sense should feel like an uncomfortably splintery issue” even though “in its best moments, it’s a quietly fearsome piece of drama." And the A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo, who gives it a B–, adds, “It’s at its worst during its home stretch, when Laverty rains down indignity to a degree that turns the movie into a pity party.”

Grand Prix (2nd place):
. It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)
Canada/France | Directed by Xavier Dolan

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2015 Son of Saul 89
2014 The Wonders 76
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis 92
2012 Reality 76
2011 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia 82
  (tie) The Kid With a Bike 87
Recent Grand Prix winners

That title certainly seemed apropos to some critics. Tweeted Variety's Guy Lodge shortly after the film collected the festival's second-highest honor, "Giving Xavier Dolan the Grand Prix is the worst Cannes jury decision in a very, very long time."

But festival juries love French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan. After sharing (with Jean-Luc Godard) the Jury Prize in 2014 for Mommy and serving on the jury last year, Dolan won over this year's judges with what most critics think is his weakest film to date. It's also his first adaptation of someone else’s work (a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce). World follows a young man returning home for the first time in 12 years to let his bickering family know that he’s terminally ill, but Dolan seems to have lost his way with his self-described “first film as a man.” The starry cast (Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux) and Dolan’s cinematic virtuosity combine to make a “shrieking bore,” according to The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang, who is but one of numerous detractors. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian appears to be the film's sole defender, writing, “It’s Only the End of the World is confrontational absurdism: a fascinating, sustained assault.”

Jury Prize (3rd place):
. American Honey
UK | Directed by Andrea Arnold

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2015 The Lobster 81
2014 Goodbye to Language 75
  (tie) Mommy 74
2013 Like Father, Like Son 73
2012 The Angel's Share 66
2011 Polisse 76
Recent Jury Prize winners

In her first America-set feature, writer-director Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights) combines two classic American teen movie genres: the coming-of-age story and the road trip movie. In doing do, she nabbed her third Jury Prize after previously winning in 2006 for Red Road and in 2009 for Fish Tank. Starring newcomer Sasha Lane as a wild child who leaves her troubled home when she falls for a magazine subscription salesman played by Shia LaBeouf (in an unsurprisingly divisive performance), the film, which takes its title from a Lady Antebellum song, split critics, though it has more fans than enemies. In the former category is The Film Stage, which awards Honey an “A” and deems it “visually astonishing and often devastating,” contracting with Uproxx’s Charles Bramesco, who finds it to be a “nearly three-hour Everest of hot garbage.”

More awards

Other winners in the main competition this year include:

Outside of the main competition, Juho Kuosmanen’s Finnish boxing film The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival. Mimosas, Oliver Laxe’s follow-up to You All Are Captains won the top prize at the Critics’ Week festival that runs parallel to Cannes, where Mehmet Can Mertoglu‘s debut feature, Albüm, a Turkish comedy about adoption, picked up the France 4 Visionary Award. Over at the 48th Directors’ Fortnight, Shahrbanoo Sadat’s Afghan drama Wolf and Sheep won the top Art Cinema Award, beating out strong competition from Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Laura Poitras Risk and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry (all detailed below). Finally, the Palm Dog (presented for the best canine performance) went to Nellie, a British Bulldog from Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Sadly, Nellie is the first posthumous winner of this cherished award.

Other notable films premiering at Cannes

. After the Storm (Umi yorimo Mada Fukaku)
Japan | Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

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At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Jury Prize for Like Father, Like Son. Last year, Our Little Sister (finally coming to North American theaters on July 7th) also played in competition. But his latest, the story of a struggling writer trying to reconnect with his mother, ex-wife and son, played in the Un Certain Regard section of this year's festival. As with the director’s previous efforts, it was praised by critics (The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin claims, “No filmmaker today is watching ordinary human life more closely than Kore-eda, or is more unfailingly generous with what they find”), with some likening the gentle family story to the director’s Still Walking.

. Aquarius
Brazil | Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho

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According to the A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo, “Sonia Braga gives the performance of her long, storied career” in writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to Neighboring Sounds. Braga stars as Clara, a 65 year old widow and retired music critic, who refuses to sell her apartment to developers despite the fact that she’s the final tenant in the titular apartment building. Helped by his star, Filho has crafted what Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls “a richly detailed character study, immersing the audience in the life and mind of its imperious main character.”

. The BFG Watch trailer
USA | Directed by Steven Spielberg

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Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book about a friendly, vegetarian giant (played via performance-capture by Bridge of Spies Oscar-winner Mark Rylance) earned mixed reviews despite the seemingly perfect fit of director and material. Many critics are comparing it (unfavorably) to Spielberg’s previous collaboration with late screenwriter Melissa Mathison, E.T., but it does have its supporters, including Variety’s Peter Debruge, who calls it an “instant classic.”

. Blood Father
France | Directed by Jean-François Richet

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The first Cannes entry for the French director (a pair of Mesrine films, Assault on Precinct 13) is better known as "Mel Gibson's comeback film." The pulpy revenge thriller stars the former A-lister as an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who has lost everything important in his life. (Sound familiar?) He attempts to reconcile with and save his estranged teenage daughter, who is on the run from murderous drug dealers. William H. Macy, Michael Parks, and Diego Luna also star. It's definitely a B-movie, and only an adequate one, at best. Variety's Owen Gleiberman thinks the film works as an audition reel for Gibson's career revival, though finds the movie as a whole "trash."

. Cafe Society Watch trailer
USA | Directed by Woody Allen

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Once again, Woody Allen has gathered a stellar cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Paul Schneider, Blake Lively) for a film critics deem watchable, enjoyable, charming, and ... mediocre. Not his best but also far from his worst, Allen’s 47th film follows Eisenberg’s Bobby Dorfman as he moves from New York to Los Angeles to work for his uncle (Carell), a top agent to the stars. There, he falls in love with Stewart’s Vonnie. The A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo finds it “sneakily ambitious,” while likening it to “listening to a formerly great pianist whose fingers are now gnarled with arthritis. The notes are right, and played in the correct order, but the tempo is way, way off.”

. Clash
Egypt/France | Directed by Mohamed Diab

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Set in Cairo, two years after the Egyptian revolution, Mohamed Diab’s second film (following Cairo 678, a look at sexual harassment in Egypt that did not get a U.S. release) takes place in a police van full of detained demonstrators. As the van moves through the riots, the pandemonium outside impacts the passengers, who represent all facets of Egyptian society. Screen Daily’s Lee Marshall calls it “intensely cinematic,” while Deborah Young of THR claims it’s “an original, often quite disturbing experience to watch.”

. Dog Eat Dog
USA | Directed by Paul Schrader

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Paul Schrader’s last film, Dying of the Light, was released under protest after final cut was taken away from the director. As a response, Schrader has gone low budget with this adaptation of a crime novel by Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs) starring Willem Dafoe, Nicolas Cage and Christopher Matthew Cook as desperate ex-cons who botch a baby kidnapping and become fugitives from the mob and the cops. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw thinks Dog Eat Dog is “Schrader’s best for years: a lairy, nasty, tasty crime thriller built on black-comic chaos,” but Peter Debruge of Variety warns that “its infrequent bursts of gonzo brilliance are all in service of such an uninteresting premise.”

. Elle
France | Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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Paul Verhoeven seems to find his greatest success with sci-fi action (RoboCop, Total Recall) or racy psychological thrillers (Basic Instinct). Elle, his first French-language film, falls partly into the latter group, and while it isn't without its controversy—for one thing, it attempts to blend dark comedy with multiple scenes of rape—it does seem to be the director's most lauded film in ages. Based on a French novel by Philippe Djian, the unpredictable and complex film touches on the #Gamergate controversy and centers on the female head of a videogame company, played (to much acclaim) by Isabelle Huppert, who searches for the man who assaults her as the film begins. Indiewire's Eric Kohn is impressed with the film's star, writing, "Face[d] with the challenge of carrying a lighthearted comedy about rape, Huppert imbues Michéle with terrific ambiguity." The Film Stage is similarly taken: "Elle would be unimaginable without Huppert, who delivers a performance of such virtuosity that she turns what is essentially a raving sociopath into one of the most alluring protagonists in recent memory." The Guardian's Xan Brooks calls the film as a whole "electrifying," though CineVue's John Bleasdale finds the film ultimately let down by its detachment and its ending. Despite the controversial subject matter, Elle was actually one of the few Cannes films not to receive boos from its audience this year.

. Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin)
Chile | Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s second autobiographical feature (following The Dance of Reality)—in a planned series of five—shows that the 87-year-old director isn’t slowing down. Picking up where his last film left off, Jodorowsky, with the help of Christopher Doyle’s cinematography, re-imagines his young adulthood in 1940s and 50s Santiago, where he wanted to become a poet. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman considers the film a “work of transporting charm and feeling.”

. From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres)
France/Belgium | Directed by Nicole Garcia

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One of the least-liked films of the competition was Going Away director Nicole Garcia’s adaptation of Sicilian author Melena Agus’ 2006 novella. The film stars Marion Cotillard as Gabrielle, a young woman from a small village in the South of France who is obsessed with true love but is married off to José (Alex Brendemühl), a good, hard-working farmer who’s no match for the injured war veteran André Sauvage (Louis Garrel). Some critics think that Cotillard’s performance elevates the material, but for others, like The Playlist’s Nikola Grozdanovic, “not even the presence of the usually magnetic Marion Cotillard will stave off the boredom of Garcia and Jacques Fieschi‘s screenplay.”

. Gimme Danger
USA | Directed by Jim Jarmusch

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Considered Jim Jarmusch’s “other film” at Cannes (after the rapturous reception for Paterson, below), this documentary about legendary rock band The Stooges surprised with its simple, straightforward approach to form but not with its obvious love of the band and lead singer Iggy Pop. Critics suggest the film is a must for fans of the band, but maybe not as revealing as many had hoped.

. Graduation (Bacalaureat)
Romania | Directed by Cristian Mungiu

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Cristian Mungiu shared the Best Director prize with Olivier Assayas for this drama about a doctor who compromises his values to help his daughter keep her scholarship to study in the UK. Critics are finding Mungiu’s latest to be a bit schematic and familiar, not reaching the heights of his Palme D’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or his Cannes best actress and screenplay winner Beyond the Hills. The AV Club’s Mike D’Angelo admits, “Had I seen Graduation in, say, 2004, I’m pretty sure that it would have mightily impressed me, as it’s an expertly calibrated portrait of what happens when someone starts down a slippery slope of well-intentioned malfeasance. Watching it this morning, however, I found myself sort of nodding along with every uncertain step the protagonist takes, as each one conforms to what I now think of as the Romanian New Wave template.”

. The Handmaiden (Agassi)
South Korea | Directed by Chan-wook Park

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Winner of the Grand Prix in 2003 for Oldboy and the Jury Prize in 2009 for Thirst, Park Chan-wook returned to Cannes with an adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith. Transplanting the action from Victorian England to Korea and Japan and upping the explicit sex and violence, Park delivers an erotic thriller that Indiewire’s Eric Kohn calls a hugely enjoyable dose of grotesque escapism,” and John Bleasdale of CineVue praises as “consummate filmmaking with all the performances pitch perfect and all departments delivering the goods.”

. Hell or High Water Watch trailer
USA | Directed by David Mackenzie

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Written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (Starred Up), this story of West Texas brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who rob from the bank that’s foreclosing on their family farm shows that the writer and director’s previous outings were no fluke. Throw in a Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges at his grizzled best and all of a sudden there’s a nice little crime thriller to look forward to in August.

. Julieta
Spain | Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

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The veteran Spanish director’s latest, his first since 2013‘s disappointing I’m So Excited, is an adaptation of three short stories by Alice Munro, presented as a time-jumping study of a mother’s grief, guilt, and relationship to the daughter who abandoned her, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw captures the general consensus when he writes, “This is not as richly compelling as other Almodóvar films, but it’s a fluent and engaging work.” Multiple critics find the film's ending to be worth the wait.

. The Last Face
USA | Directed by Sean Penn

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It looks like there's no saving Face. This year’s award for total, unmitigated disaster goes to Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort, the tale of “...a man...and a woman" (a doctor and an aid worker played by Javier Bardem and Charlize Theron) set against the backdrop (yes, it’s used as the background) of war-torn Liberia. Whether Penn’s first film as director since 2007’s Into the Wild factored into the end of his relationship with Theron is unknown, but it is definitely giving critics plenty of material. Not that they need any help. TheWrap’s Ben Croll calls the film a “spectacularly misjudged mix of humanitarian intentions and gonzo-terrible execution,” and David Rooney of THR dismisses it as a “stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn.”

. Loving Watch trailer
USA | Directed by Jeff Nichols

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The second 2016 film from Nichols following Midnight Special, Loving (scheduled for release on November 4) is based on the true story of Virginia couple Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who were sentenced to prison for their interracial marriage in 1958. Eventually, their case would work its way up to the Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision allowing interracial marriage in all 50 states. Several critics find Nichols' approach too restrained and tasteful, but others admire those very same traits (described more approvingly as "delicacy," "tact" and "steadiness"). A few reviewers are even more impressed, however. Time's Stephanie Zacharek notes that the storytelling "feels immediate and modern," and The Playlist's Jessica Kiang agrees, admiring "how subtly it reworks and refreshes the tired conceits of the historical biopic."

. Ma’ Rosa
Philippines | Directed by Brillante Mendoza

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Mostly unknown outside of Asia, veteran Filipino actress Jaclyn Jose managed to outdo her better known competition (including much talked-about performances from Isabelle Huppert, Kristen Stewart, Marion Cotillard, Sonia Braga, and Ruth Negga, among others) to win the festival's award for best actress. Ma' Rosa is another gritty drama from director Mendoza, who previously directed Cannes entries Kinatay and Service (Serbis), and it finds Jose playing a convenience store owner who begins selling drugs on the side to help support her four children. (It doesn't go well.) Many reviewers are praising the film's authenticity and atmosphere (the director employs a quasi-cinéma vérité style) while lamenting a lack of insight and originality.

. The Neon Demon Watch trailer
USA/France/Denmark | Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

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After the relative disaster of 2013’s Only God Forgives, critics were hoping for a return to the form of Drive from director Nicolas Winding Refn. Instead, they got something better than his worst but not as good as his best—basically, another disappointment. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a model whose youth and vitality are preyed upon by the Los Angeles fashion industry. It's mostly a case of style over substance, what Time's Stephanie Zacharek calls "visual hard candy." Featuring plenty of Refn’s hyper-stylized imagery (as well as necrophilia), this beautiful conundrum comes across as “a gorgeously grotty little number without a thought in its pretty little head” according to The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang, and “gorgeous, obvious, vapid, beautiful, a bit boring” to Dave Calhoun of TimeOut London.

. Neruda
Chile | Directed by Pablo Larraín

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Chilean director Pablo Larraín (No) is no stranger to the festival circuit, but in Neruda he seems to have his most impressive film to date, even if it failed to win the big prize in the Directors’ Fortnight section as some critics had expected. On the surface, it may be a biopic about exiled poet/politician Pablo Neruda (with Gael Garcia Bernal starring as a detective on his trail), but don't expect a straightforward take. Instead, critics find Neruda to be a playful and intelligent (though challenging) subversion of form. The Film Stage deems it "as radical a reinvention of the biopic as Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There." The Guardian also admires Larraín's unconventional approach: "Dizzily constructed and full of more life and meaning than most 'real' biopics, it’s a risk worth taking." Not everyone is entirely convinced, however. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney finds the film "riveting" but also advises that it's "a strange film that tonally is sometimes hard to pin down."

. Paterson
USA | Directed by Jim Jarmusch

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The higher profile of Jarmusch's two Cannes entries this year is a project that has been gestating for two decades. Don't expect a lot of action, as Jarmusch gives us a portrait of one week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver (played by Adam Driver) who writes poems in his spare time. In his A– review, The AV Club's Mike D'Angelo writes that Paterson "may be the most existential movie Jim Jarmusch has ever made—and that’s saying a lot." (Indeed.) But the critic adds that the film's very ordinariness becomes "transcendent through repetition, point of view, and poetry." Other critics are similarly taken with the director's artistry and the film's beauty, and the result may just be the best reviews of an already impressive career.

. Personal Shopper
France | Directed by Olivier Assayas

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Sure, it was booed, but this existential ghost story starring Kristen Stewart as the titular personal shopper (who doubles as a medium with a dead twin brother) earned Olivier Assayas his first award at Cannes: a best director prize he shared with Cristian Mungiu. More in the vein of Demonlover and Boarding Gate than Summer Hours or Clouds of Sils Maria, the film split critics in addition to audiences. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw calls it “Assayas’s best film for a long time,” while Todd McCarthy of THR claims that even Kristen Stewart “can’t elevate such a vapid, undeveloped screenplay.”

. The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge)
France/Belgium | Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit

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Showing in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival (where director Michael Dudok de Wit won a Special Jury Prize), Studio Ghibli’s first international co-production has been collecting excellent reviews. A wordless animated fable about a man marooned on an island, Dudok de Wit’s first feature-length work is a “quiet little masterpiece” according to Eric Kohn of Indiewire.

. Risk
USA/Germany | Directed by Laura Poitras

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In her Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour, Laura Poitras profiled CIA document leaker Edward Snowden. For her follow-up, the filmmaker turns to another key figure in the Snowden scandal: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. While a few critics lament that Poitras fails to capitalize on her unprecedented access to the controversial Assange to offer any revelations that haven't already been reported, most reviewers feel that the director has another winner. CineVue calls Risk "a superb character study," while The Telegraph admires how "Risk doesn’t burnish the Assange myth – it injects you into the bloodstream of the Assange story."

. The Salesman (Forushande)
Iran/France | Directed by Asghar Farhadi

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The latest from writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) was a victim of expectations. The jury still awarded best actor to Shahab Hosseini and best screenplay to Farhadi, but critics did not warm to this story of a couple in conflict as much as they did to his previous work. The high standard to which Farhadi is held is evident in Mike D’Angelo’s review: “Farhadi is, for my money, the greatest dramatist in the world at the moment (at least among those working in film). The Salesman (Grade: B+) seems to me a lesser work than A Separation or The Past, but that might be in part because I’d expected something akin to Death Of A Salesman and instead got the low-key Iranian version of Death Wish.”

. Sieranevada
Romania | Directed by Cristi Puiu

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While the title might be misspelled (and meaningless), Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s return to Cannes is still a thoughtful, multi-layered drama. But unlike his Un Certain Regard winning The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, it is a film that deals with the aftermath of a death, specifically the bustling family gathering to commemorate the family patriarch. Puiu once again goes long (173 minutes), but it’s worth the sit according to The Telegraph’s Tim Robey, who calls it a “commanding and intellectually gratifying piece of work.”

. Slack Bay (Ma Loute)
France/Germany | Directed by Bruno Dumont

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After the success of Li’l Quinquin, writer-director Bruno Dumont fell back to earth with his latest, another comedy for a director previously known for his extreme dramas. Dumont gathered a number of French stars for his 1910 Channel Coast-set farce, including Juliette Binoche and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, but CineVue’s John Bleasdale finds it only “occasionally funny” and “as bloated and windy as its comedy policeman Inspector Machin (Didier Després).”

. Staying Vertical (Rester vertical)
France | Directed by Alain Guiraudie

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In 2013, Guiraudie won best director in the Un Certain Regard competition for Stranger by the Lake, but his latest Cannes entry baffled many critics. Vertical follows a filmmaker with writers block through a series of surreal episodes, including a scene of death by sodomy (you read that right). The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw dismisses the film as an “incoherent, inconsequential picture,” but Mike D’Angelo of the A.V. Club actually prefers it to Stranger, giving Vertical an A– for its “ideal balance between light surrealism and formal precision, so that nearly every scene fulfills the standard criterion for a great ending: surprising plus inevitable.”

. The Student (Uchenik)
Russia | Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov

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Writer-director Kirill Serebrennikov’s Cannes debut, an adaptation of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg's Martyr, is an examination of religious fanaticism through Veniamin, a troubled teenager whose embrace of Christian doctrine leads to a confrontation with his biology teacher. Like Serebrennikov’s previous film, Betrayl, this mix of explosive drama and biting satire might not get an official U.S. release, but keep an eye out for it in festivals.

. Toni Erdmann
Germany | Directed by Maren Ade

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A week ago, this was the film to beat in this year's festival. But despite receiving the highest average of any film in the history of the Screen Jury Grid, Maren Ade’s directorial follow-up to Everyone Else couldn’t convince the jury it was worthy of an award. But critics came out in (almost) complete support of this 162-minute German comedy about a father (Peter Simonischek) who tries to improve his workaholic daughter’s (Sandra Hüller) life through an escalating series of practical jokes (including taking on the persona of the “life coach” of the title). While the plot inspired references to Adam Sandler That’s My Boy and the recently released The Meddler, Ade’s vision is unique, hilarious, and messily human. Giving the film his only A of the festival, Mike D’Angelo writes, “As in her equally magnificent previous film, Everyone Else, Ade begins with a fairly simple dynamic and then proceeds to tease out every possible facet, taking her characters to truly unexpected places and ending on a note of disarming irresolution.”

. Two Lovers and a Bear
Canada | Directed by Kim Nguyen

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Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany plays just one character (and no, it isn't the bear, who is voiced by Gordon Pinsent) in the latest from War Witch director Kim Nguyen. Set in remote northern Canada, the drama follows two young lovers (Maslany and Dane DeHaan) leading a very difficult life in a tiny, frigid town. The Playlist warns that the "tonally off-kilter" result plays like "a pretentious exercise in pseudo-spiritual surrealism," with only the leads' performances worthy of admiration. Variety's Peter Debruge, however, is more accepting of the film's inconsistencies, thanks to "a series of astonishing set pieces" that provide a "totally unpredictable" conclusion to a film begins so generically.

. The Unknown Girl (La fille inconnue)
Belgium/France | Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

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Rarely do the Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne leave Cannes empty-handed, but now it has happened in consecutive visits. In 2014, the very well received Two Days, One Night was a favorite going into the closing ceremony (only to fail to win over the jury), but their latest, a quasi-detective story centered around a young doctor’s (Adèle Haenel of Love at First Fight) search for the identity of a woman whom she mistakenly failed to let into the hospital, failed to generate any awards buzz for one simple reason: It is easily the worst-reviewed movie in the Dardennes’ stellar career.


Comments (1)

  • DanBurrito  

    I know critics weren't mad about Café Society and The BFG, but a 68/100 and a 70/100 are hardly "mediocre". Decent, yes. Mediocre, no.

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    2. katezoe : List needs updating. Thank you. Read »
  4. /feature/now-streaming-on-apple-tv-plus Image
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  5. /feature/new-free-games-playstation-xbox-pc-switch Image
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