Best & Worst Films at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival

  • Publish Date: July 17, 2021
  • Comments: ↓ 0 user comments

Better late than never

Berlinale 2019

Though it missed its original May window, the 74th Annual Cannes FIlm Festival managed to complete its 12-day run on Saturday. That's certainly an improvement over the 73rd installment, which was canceled altogether in the early days of the pandemic.

And there were certainly plenty of films debuting within those 12 days to whet the appetites of film fans seeking new and interesting fare, including the latest films from notable directors Wes Anderson, Andrea Arnold, Kogonada, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Gaspar Noé, Leos Carax, Paul Verhoeven, Joachim Trier, Sean Baker, and Mia Hansen-Løve. Many of their films received a strong reception from critics, but the Spike Lee-led Cannes jury came to its own conclusion about the best film at the festival. And it resulted in just the second woman to win the Palme d'Or in Cannes history, following Jane Campion's groundbreaking win (for The Piano) way back in 1993. The jury named Titane, the highly stylized, violent, and polarizing second film from Raw director Julia Ducournau, the Cannes winner despite good rather than great reviews. The second- and third-place awards were each split between two films, but even with the extra winners some of the festival's best-reviewed titles were denied top awards. Of course, that's nothing new.

Which films actually did impress reviewers the most? Below, find out what film critics have been saying about all of this year's notable Cannes debuts (including out-of-competition premieres), divided into three categories—great, good, and everything else—based on the critical consensus. First, however, here's a closer look at this year's award winners.

Major award winners

Palme d'Or (1st place):
Titane
Drama/Horror | France/Belgium | Directed by Julia Ducournau

movie still

2020 (festival canceled)  
2019 Parasite 96
2018 Shoplifters 93
2017 The Square 73
2016 I, Daniel Blake 77
2015 Dheepan 76
Recent Palme d'Or winners

At the previous Cannes two years ago, Parasite took home the Palme d'Or on its way to becoming just the third Cannes winner in history to go on to win the best picture Oscar. Can Titane repeat the feat?

It doesn't seem likely, given that praise for the film is far less uniform than that for Parasite, which finished 2019 as that year's highest-scoring film. And Titane is even more of a violent horror film than Parasite, which should effectively disqualify it from the best picture race.

Still, many reviewers liked the new film, and while director Julia Ducournau may or may not be a provocateur, she is definitely a Palme d’Or winner—and just the second female recipient of the award in its history. Her sophomore feature (following Raw) is, in the inimitable words of The Playlist's Jessica Kiang, “roughly seven horror movies plus one bizarrely tender parent-child romance soldered into one machine and painted all over with flames: it’s so replete with startling ideas, suggestive ellipses, transgressive reversals and preposterous propositions that it ought to be a godforsaken mess. But while God has almost certainly forsaken this movie, He wouldn’t have been much needed around it anyway. Ducournau’s filmmaking is as pure as her themes are profane: to add insult to the very many injuries inflicted throughout, Titane is gorgeous to look at, to listen to, to obsess over, and fetishize.”  BBC's Nicholas Barber adds, “Ducournau's beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy is a nightmarish yet mischievously comic barrage of sex, violence, lurid lighting and pounding music. It's also impossible to predict where it's going to go next.”

Screen Daily critic Jonathan Romney praises star Agathe Rousselle, “who physically and emotionally pushes herself to audacious limits – and who barely utters a word throughout.” He misses “the combination of bravado and control that made Raw work so well, but the deranged cocktail of outrage, excess, conceptual ferocity and sheer silliness on display here will make you gasp – and occasionally flinch.” Over at IndieWire, David Ehrlich begins the final paragraph of his A– review thusly, “The magic of Titane (at least one very major component of which has been omitted from this review, even if it’s sure to become the defining element of the movie) is also owed to the grace with which Ducournau threads the needle between clarity and madness, shock and recognition, throttle and clutch.” You'll be able to judge for yourself when Neon releases the film later this year. Avoid spoilers if possible.

Grand Prix (2nd place) (two-way tie):
Compartment No. 6 (Hytti Nro 6)
Drama | Finland/Germany/Estonia/Russia | Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

movie still

2020 (festival canceled)  
2019 Atlantics 85
2018 BlacKkKlansman 83
2017 BPM (Beats Per Minute) 84
2016 It’s Only the End of the World 48
2015 Son of Saul 89
Recent Grand Prix winners

Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s follow-up to his 2016 Un Certain Regard winner The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a uniquely romantic story about a young Finnish girl and a Russian miner who meet on a train heading to the Arctic port of Murmansk. THR's David Rooney calls it a “melancholic drama but also one that’s unexpectedly uplifting in its insights into human solitude and connection,” and Dave Calhoun of TimeOut thinks “the performances, the writing and the direction all conspire to make it feel fresh and specific.” In her review for Variety, Jessica Kiang claims this “deeply delightful” and "humdrum and heartswelling” film plays more like a “incredibly detailed, richly textured memory,” evoking “powerful nostalgia for a type of loneliness we don’t really have any more, and for the type of love that was its cure.”

Grand Prix (2nd place) (two-way tie):
A Hero (Ghahreman)
Drama/Thriller | Iran/France | Directed by Asghar Farhadi

movie still

After his 2011 international breakthrough A Separation, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has been a fixture at Cannes, with 2013’s The Past, 2016’s best screenplay winner The Salesman, and 2018’s opening night film Everybody Knows all playing in competition. His latest returns him to Iran for another twisty moral tale centering on a man whose attempt to pay off a debt leads him down a slippery path. Writing for TheWrap, Jason Solomons finds “echoes of his best work” in a film “shot with precision, written with elegance and unfolding at a thriller-like pace.” The Playlist's Caroline Tsai sees a “nuanced examination of justice—and the many shades of injustice that surround it.” Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian is slightly less enamored than his colleagues, writing, “There is plenty of interest here - and yet I have to admit to slight reservations about the melodramatic contrivances, which stretch credulity a little.” But Screen Daily's Lee Marshall believes Hero to be a “truly compelling drama anchored by the remarkable central performance of Amir Jadidi.”

Jury Prize (3rd place) (two-way tie):
Ahed's Knee (Ha'berech)
Drama | France/Germany/Israel | Directed by Nadav Lapid

movie still

2020 (festival canceled)  
2019 (tie) Bacurau 82
  (tie) Les Misérables 78
2018 Capernaum 75
2017 Loveless 86
2016 American Honey 79
2015 The Lobster 81
Recent Jury Prize winners

After winning Berlin’s Golden Bear for 2019’s Synonyms, writer-director Navid Lapid (Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher) brings what Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage calls a “blistering work of meta filmmaking” to the Cannes competition. Lapid keeps it personal in this story of an Israeli filmmaker confronting the declining health of his mother and the rising intrusion of the Ministry of Culture. “If Synonyms was a howl, Ahed’s Knee is the spittle that was still left in Lapid’s mouth when it was over,” writes IndieWire's David Ehrlich, who believes Lapid’s latest is “angrier than his earlier work yet strangely also more soft-hearted.” Writing for Variety, Jessica Kiang describes the film as “astonishing, assaultive…a reckless act of aggression not only against creeping state-mandated cultural oppression, but against viewer sensibilities and about a century of cinematic tradition.”

Jury Prize (3rd place) (two-way tie):
Memoria
Drama | Colombia/Thailand/UK/Mexico/France | Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

movie still

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul returned to the main competition for the first time since he won the Palme d’Or in 2010 for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives with his first film shot outside of his native country. Set in Colombia and starring Tilda Swinton as a woman obsessed with finding the source of a sound that only she can hear, Memoria is a “masterful and engrossing response to rush of modern times and the collective amnesia it creates. Anyone frustrated by its patience only serves to prove the point,” according to Eric Kohn of IndieWire. While Variety's Peter Debruge is less enthralled, calling it a “oblique and sometimes taxing excursion into the jungles of Colombia,” a more positive Caroline Tsai of The Playlist insists that “for the viewers who stay, Weerasethakul delivers an experience that is meditative and existentially transcendent, a long, hard look at the scope of human life and its place on a global timeline.” Lastly, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw marvels at this “beautiful and mysterious movie” that “left a residue of happiness” in his heart. Not only the highest-scoring film among the award-winners, it's the best-reviewed film to play in the main competition at this year's festival.

Winner, Un Certain Regard section:
Unclenching the Fists (Razzhimaya Kulaki)
Drama | Russia | Directed by Kira Kovalenko

movie still

Kira Kovalenko's sophomore feature (and first Cannes submission) concerns the life of Ada, a young woman in the mining town of Mazur in North Ossetia. The fists of the title are her father’s. He won’t allow her any independence, even holding onto the only key to their apartment. Ada desires freedom but is also frightened by the possibility of it. Writing for Screen Daily, Demetrios Matheou finds the film “earnest, intense and often suffocating,” but TheWrap's Steve Pond believes this “dark slice of neorealism” is an “evocative and disturbing film.”

More awards

Other major award winners at this year's festival include:

  • Best director: Leos Carax, Annette
  • Caméra d’Or * (for best first feature): Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, Murina
  • Best screenplay: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
  • Best actor: Caleb Landry Jones, Nitram
  • Best actress: Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World

* awarded by a different jury led by Mélanie Thierry; films screening in any of the various sections are eligible

Un Certain Regard

In addition to awarding the top prize to Unclenching the Fists in this parallel but official competition, the Andrea Arnold-led jury gave its runner-up prize to the German-set LGBTQ drama Great Freedom, which, like Fists, was purchased by streamer Mubi at the festival. Also winning a prize for originality was the Icelandic film Lamb, which stars Noomi Rapace and was acquired by A24.

Directors' Fortnight

This independently run parallel competition awarded Jonas Carpignano the top prize for his latest film, A Chiara, four years after Carpignano won the same honor for his previous film, A Ciambra. The Fornight's SACD Prize, whose winner is determined by the French Writers' Guild, went to Magnetic Beats, the feature-length debut from director Vincent Maël Cardona.

Critics' Week and others

Open to first- and second-time directors, the Cannes Critics' Week competition was won by Feathers, an Egyptian-set dramedy about a woman whose husband is turned into a chicken, from director Omar El Zohairy. In the Cinéfondation, another competition for emerging filmmakers, Belgian film The Salamander Child was the top prizewinner. And, if you were wondering, the "Palm Dog" competition—for canine actors appearing in Cannes competition films—returned this year as well, and the top award was shared by Tilda Swinton's three pet spaniels (Rosie, Dora, and Snowbear), who all appeared alongside the actress in The Souvenir Part II, as well as Red Rocket star Sophie and Lamb sheepdog Panda.

More Cannes standouts

After Yang
Sci-fi/Drama | USA | Directed by Kogonada

movie still

Screening in the Un Certain Regard section, writer-director Koganada’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2017 debut Columbus finds a family set adrift when their daughter’s companion—an android named Yang—malfunctions. Colin Farrell plays the father whose search for a way to repair Yang leads him to reconnect with his wife (Jodie Turner-Smith) and adopted daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjajazu). Writing for The Film Stage, Rory O’Connor claims “its tone is one-note, stilted, and saccharine sweet, its ideas as disjointed as they are ultimately unsatisfying.” But he is in the minority; most critics are praising the film. CineVue's John Bleasdale calls it a “moving, subtle and grounded piece of science fiction that doesn’t necessarily get to the core, but certainly hits the heart.” And Justin Chang of the LA Times believes “this wry and wistful futuristic tale has a sharp eye for expressive visual spaces and manages to be both effortlessly cerebral and deeply emotional.”

Belle
Anime | Japan | Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

movie still

The new film from Japanese animator Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai, Wolf Children) is a reworking of Beauty and the Beast that centers on Suzu, a 17-year-old girl. After her mother’s death, she finds solace in a virtual world as Belle, a famous singer. THR critic Deborah Young believes Belle (which screened out of competition) to be Hosoda’s “most ambitious film to date,” adding that the “visuals are often astounding.” Screen Daily's Tim Grierson similarly finds the film “vibrantly animated” and “emotionally potent,” and Phil de Semlyen of TimeOut praises the film’s humor, writing, “Belle is also incredibly funny, gear-shifting from soaring uplift and plunging lows to bone-dry comic moments that Hosoda edits perfectly to nail the endless awkwardness of high-school romantic encounters.”

Bergman Island
Drama | France/Germany/Belgium/Sweden | Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

movie still

After a string of critical success, including Things to Come and Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve’s most recent film, Maya, failed to get a U.S. release. But that will not be an issue with her latest as IFC has acquired the rights to her first Cannes competition title, a very personal portrait of a filmmaking couple (played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) whose relationship dissolves while working on Fårö, Ingmar Bergman’s residence and inspiration for many of his films. The film has an additional meta aspect that involves Mia Wasikowska playing a filmmaker too. It works for some critics but not The Playlist's Jessica Kiang, who finds it “disappointing that in making a film apparently about herself three times over, there are so few hallmarks of what made her own best work so great.” Jonathan Romney of Screen Daily believes the film “can’t quite overcome an earnestness that was never a problem” in her best films, but The Film Stage's Rory O’Connor deems it a “playfully self-aware meta-portrait of the filmmaker and, indeed, of filmmaking itself. Introspective, inventive, and effortlessly calm.” Even more positive, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph writes of this “extraordinary” film, “Krieps, who’s phenomenal, has such a natural, lived-in rapport with Roth – the actor doing his best work in years here – that you start to feel the undercurrents in their relationship moving like water round your toes.”

Cow
Documentary | UK | Directed by Andrea Arnold

movie still

Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Wuthering Heights, Fish Tank) brought her first feature-length documentary to Cannes (out of competition), and it chronicles the life of a dairy cow named Luma. Comparisons to Gunda were inevitable, but Guy Lodge of Variety finds Arnold’s “tough, full-immersion” approach more “graphically bleak” as she “steers clear of bucolic image-making.” The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw believes there is something “very heartfelt and committed” about the film, namely, “a poignancy and intimacy.” And in his review for IndieWire, Eric Kohn writes, “The small miracle of director Andrea Arnold’s experiential documentary is that it enacts its simple premise in straightforward terms, but assembles them into a profound big picture.”

Drive My Car
Drama | Japan | Directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

movie still

After winning the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize for Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Asako I & II, Happy Hour) brought this three-hour adaptation (the credits don’t show up until 40 minutes into the movie) of a Haruki Murakami short story to the Cannes competition. Following an actor/director as he processes the grief he carries over his wife’s sudden death, “Drive My Car is a rich and wonderfully soothing work, a film that only further confirms Hamaguchi as one of the finest directors working today,” according to Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage. Similarly, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds this “mysterious and beautiful new film” to be an “engrossing and exalting experience.” And in his review for The Playlist, Gregory Ellwood adds to the praise: “Hamaguchi has crafted a rich, skillfully layered masterwork with flawless performances and a script that is a screenwriter’s holy grail. It sticks in your brain for days and nudges you to take it in again.” Also loving the sceenplay was the Cannes jury, which awarded Hamaguchi for his script.

The French Dispatch
Comedy/Drama | UK/France/Germany | Directed by Wes Anderson
In theaters October 22

movie still

Originally set to premiere at Cannes last year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wes Anderson’s first competition film, an ode to journalists (and the New Yorker in particular) doubles down on his usual aesthetic to tell a collection of stories set in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Whether that description excites you or not might indicate how you will receive the film. For some critics, like TimeOut's Phil de Semlyen, it’s “Wes Anderson in full megamix mode,” resulting in a film “much easier to admire and appreciate than it is to fall head over heels for.” Tim Grierson of Screen Daily concedes that it’s “among his most visually remarkable, each frame filled with meticulously crafted small details that add up to a dense, inviting cinematic jewel box” but he misses that "sneaky sentimental undercurrent that makes Anderson’s films more than just intellectual exercises.” In her witty A– review for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang admits “The French Dispatch falls very squarely into my particular realm of fancy … there are emotive moments here that are all the more moving for their unlikeliness.” And Variety's Peter Debruge agrees, claiming the film “feels less safe than Anderson’s earlier work,” and “succeeds in delivering that very particular hodgepodge pleasure of reading a well-curated issue from cover to cover.”

Lingui, the Sacred Bonds
Drama | France/Germany/Belgium/Chad | Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

movie still

In 2010, Chadian writer-director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun won the Jury Prize (third place) for A Screaming Man, and he returned to Cannes in 2013 with Grigris. This year he’s back in the main competition with what IndieWire's David Ehrlich deems a “slender yet riveting” tale about what a mother will do when her 15-year-old daughter wants an abortion in a country where it’s not only condemned by religion but also the law. Screen Daily's Wendy Ide believes the film has moments “that are intriguing and richly informative,” but over all this is a “schematic and rather naïve piece of storytelling” from Haroun. In his review for The Playlist, Robert Daniels admits Haroun’s “first foray into women-driven stories wobbles with underdevelopment,” but it’s still “a rich pro-choice meditation told in intimate detail.” Variety's Guy Lodge is even more positive, labeling Lingui a “brief, quietly forceful” film that “has a keen, watchful interest in how people live, well before the more extreme mechanics of the plot get under way.”

Nitram
Thriller | Australia | Directed by Justin Kurzel

movie still

Director Justin Kurzel collaborates with screenwriter Shaun Grant for third time, following The Snowtown Murders and True History of the Kelly Gang, for this portrait of Martin Bryant (best actor winner Caleb Landry Jones), the murderer responsible for 35 deaths during what is known now as the Port Arthur Massacre. Screen Daily's Tim Grierson allows that it’s a "thoughtful exploration of mental illness, highlighted by a strong cast,” but he’s convinced that “Kurzel can’t fully transcend what is familiar about this handwringing portrait of a ticking time bomb set to go off.” Telegraph critic Tim Robey also praises the cast in what he calls Kurzel’s “best-acted piece to date, with every role, from walk-ons to major figures, nailed to perfection,” and The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw agrees Kurzel has “four outstanding performances from Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia and Caleb Landry Jones,” resulting in a “hypnotically disquieting movie.”

Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades)
Drama | France | Directed by Jacques Audiard

movie still

2015 Palme d’Or (Dheepan) and 2009 Grand Prix (A Prophet) winner Jacques Audiard returned to the main competition this year with an adaptation of three stories by American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine. Transporting the tales to Paris with the help of screenwriters Léa Mysius, and Céline Sciamma and casting four leads (Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noémie Merlant, and Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth) who fall in and out of love results in a welcome change of pace for the director in the eye of most critics. While IndieWire's David Ehrlich believe the “frequent sex scenes — expressively choreographed by Stéphanie Chêne with a grace that emphasises body language and interpersonal dynamics over jiggling flesh—” in this “meandering black-and-white drama” tend to “convey more about these characters than the dialogue ever does,” Caroline Tsai of The Playlist praises the screenwriting team’s ability to “capture both the real pitfalls and bouts of joy inherent to twentysomethings’ relationships.” Variety's Peter Debruge calls Paris a “silky, soulful black-and-white tapestry of single millennials seeking connection,” and Robbie Collin of The Telegraph declares it to be a “masterly new feature” from Audiard.

Red Rocket
Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Sean Baker

movie still

Sean Baker’s first film to premiere at Cannes looks at sex work and life on the fringes with a similar humanity he brought to Starlet, Tangerine, and The Florida Project, but there is one major difference: Its lead character is a man. Specifically he’s a washed-up porn star, played by former MTV VJ Simon Rex, who slinks his way back to his Texas hometown after his career fizzles in Los Angeles. For CineVue's John Bleasdale, Rocket is a “humane comedy, a portrait of romantic douchebaggery and an America of flailing last chances,” and Rex is “extraordinary.” Tim Grierson of Screen Daily agrees about Rex, calling him "terrifically oily,” and IndieWire's David Ehrlich believes “Red Rocket remains such a blisteringly raw and febrile character study because of how things fluctuate along the fixed orbit of its star.” In his review for Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson adds, “Rex’s performance is fleet and nimble, gregarious and shaded in darkness. He and Baker make staccato music together, as Mikey’s profile shifts from hangdog loser to something far more complicated. Red Rocket is yet another example of Baker’s keen handling of actors, professionals and not.”

The Restless (Les Intranquilles)
Drama | Belgium/Luxembourg/France | Directed by Joachim Lafosse

movie still

Belgian director Joachim Lafosse (After Love, Our Children) based his new film on his father’s struggles with bipolar disorder. It’s a personal story that rings true for most critics thanks to the lead performances of Damien Bonnard as a painter struggling with manic episodes, and Leïla Bekhti as his wife whose reserves are worn down by her constant worry for her husband and son. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw claims it’s a “sombre, well-acted drama that searches its own wound with increasing acuity and anguish,” and in his review for THR, Jordan Mintzer describes it as a “tense but extremely tender two-hander.” TheWrap's Steve Pond finds both actors “riveting in this sad duet,” and Dave Calhoun of TimeOut gives 5 stars to a film that “oozes clear-eyed empathy and has the lived-in feel of a story, director and cast working in strong harmony.”

The Souvenir Part II
Drama | UK | Directed by Joanna Hogg

movie still

Joanna Hogg’s continuation of her semi-autobiographical portrait of first love and a filmmaker finding her voice wowed critics just as its predecessor The Souvenir did when it premiered at Sundance in 2019. The sequel follows Honor Swinton Byrne’s Julie as she tries to process her love for Tom Burke’s Anthony by making her graduation film. IndieWire's David Ehrlich believes it’s “one of the most timeless and thrillingly alive coming-of-age stories the movies have given us,” and, taken together, the result is “one of the very best achievements in recent British cinema,” according to John Bleasdale of CineVue. Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan finds Part II “bold, brave, and occasionally funny,” something to “savour, visually and sensorily,” and Tim Robey of The Telegraph posits, “Hogg has never made a funnier piece of work or come to us with such fresh provocations.”

The Story of Film: A New Generation
Documentary | UK | Directed by Mark Cousins

movie still

Irish film critic and documentarian Mark Cousins continues his survey of world cinema that began with the 15-hour The Story of Film: An Odyssey with this look at films of the past decade. Most critics endorse his approach to film history, with The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finding him “colossally well-informed, bracingly internationalist and genuinely educational,” and Steve Pond of TheWrap declaring “you can’t love movies and not love a good chunk of what Cousins puts on the screen.” One dissenting voice belongs to Warren Cantrell of The Playlist, who deems it a “book report-style documentary with no creative flourishes or even traditional support structure to bolster its arguments,” resulting in “the antithesis of that which it lauds so enthusiastically.” But in her review for THR, Sheri Linden sees it differently: “The walk he takes us on here is a beauty, a dreamscape crafted from a decade’s worth of mind-bending ideas and innovative screen creations.”

The Velvet Underground
Documentary/Music | USA | Directed by Todd Haynes
In theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ beginning October 15

movie still

Carol and Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes’ first foray into feature-length documentary chronicles one of the most influential bands of all time, resulting in a film that is “hypnotic, seductive, and, just simply, very cool,” according to Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan. Steve Pond of TheWrap calls The Velvet Underground, which screened out of competition, a “tough but magnificent documentary that somehow feels as if it’s exactly the right film to make about this most difficult and most essential band.” And THR's David Rooney believes “over two fabulously entertaining hours, Haynes puts his distinctive stamp on the material while crafting a work that could almost have come from the same artistic explosion it celebrates.”

The Worst Person in the World (Verdens Verste Menneske)
Drama/Comedy | Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark | Directed by Joachim Trier

movie still

Joachim Trier’s fifth feature might be his best, and that’s saying something considering his lowest Metascore is a 70 for his last Cannes competition title, 2015’s Louder Than Bombs, and his highest is 84 for his second feature, 2011’s Oslo, August 31st. Supporting this thesis, The Playlist's Iana Murray calls this “rich and lively character study” of a woman in her thirties who resists settling down a “pure delight. Laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, it’s perhaps his best film since Oslo, August 31st.” Star Renate Reinsve is “astonishing” in her first lead film role writes John Bleasdale of CineVue, who adds, “Strong, willful, vulnerable and comic, she makes us see what makes her remarkable even while her own self-criticism is more in line with the film’s title.” The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw similarly declares a “star is born” in a film both “gloriously sweet and beguiling,” and in his review for TimeOut, Dave Calhoun writes, “Renate Reinsve is the heart and soul of this touching and inventive account of one millennial life.” The Cannes jury seemed to agree with these assessments, awarding Reinsve the festival's best actress trophy.

Vortex
Drama | France/Belgium/Monaco | Directed by Gaspar Noé

movie still

Inspired by a recent near-death experience due to a cerebral hemorrhage and the loss of several close friends, Gaspar Noé focuses on aging, dementia, and mortality in this 142-minute, almost completely split-screen look at an elderly couple played by Dario Argento and François LeBrun. “In terms of scope, ambition and execution, it’s one of the finest pictures he’s made,” according to Xan Brooks of the The Guardian. And The Film Stage's Rory O’Connor believes it’s a “devastating and uncharacteristically sincere accomplishment for Noé."

Other notable films (neither great nor terrible)

Annette
Musical/Drama | France/Germany/Belgium/Japan/Mexico | Directed by Leos Carax
In theaters August 6 and streaming on Prime Video beginning August 20

movie still

At the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was a favorite among critics covering the festival. Surprisingly, it failed to win a major award. This year, Carax actually did pick up an award (for directing), but the reception to his opening-night film (and English-language debut) was a bit more mixed. In fact, individual critics are themselves divided. One of those, Nicholas Barber of the BBC, begins his review, “[Annette] is an embarrassing folly that is almost impossible to sit through. It's also a daring, unique passion project that has you gasping with delight.” The film is a mostly sung-through musical written by Ron and Russell Mael of the band Sparks and starring Adam Driver as a mad stand-up comic, Marion Cotillard as a beloved opera singer, and a marionette as, well, we’ll leave some things for audiences to discover. And it is either “the director’s first film in which the mystery and enchantment never fully transcend fabrication to create something immersive,” as THR's David Rooney attests, or “doesn’t just take your breath away; it keeps your breath hostage until the credits roll,” as Eric Kohn writes in his review for IndieWire. In the LA Times critic Justin Chang believes the movie has a “fervid imagination and playful, unshakable conviction” and “belongs to Driver,” who has “rarely appeared more imposing in his physicality, more bottomless in his capacity for rage and deceit.” CineVue's John Bleasdale also praises Driver’s “astonishing performance,” and states that the “delight is in the audacity and surprise of the film.”

Benedetta
Drama | France | Directed by Paul Verhoeven

movie still

Paul Verhoeven’s third film to vie for the Palme d’Or shares at least two elements with his previous entries—2016’s Elle and 1992’s Basic Instinct: It has plenty of sex, and it challenges conventions. Set in a 17th century convent in Tuscany and inspired by the life of Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira), a nun who claimed to have visions of Jesus and reportedly enjoyed lesbian affairs (so says Judith C. Brown’s book Immoral Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy), the film provoked, as intended, a variety of opinions. IndieWire's David Ehrlich claims it’s “one of Verhoeven’s tamer efforts,” and in her review for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang agrees: “If the knowing, kitchsy approach gets him off the hook, it also counts as Verhoeven playing it relatively safe.” Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage is more positive on the film, but he admits, “Verhoeven is having fun here, and it is nothing if not self-aware, but the provocations are a touch passé this time.” But the Dutch director does have an acolytes in /Film's Jason Gorber, “This is a tonally rich, libidinously powerful, and psychologically complex tale told by a master filmmaker equally at ease with European art-film conventions and B-movie hijinks.” Likewise, Nicholas Barber of the BBC concludes, “It's a thoughtful examination of politics and organised religion, and a searing exploration of faith. The nudity and the blood-splashing are just a bonus.”

Between Two Worlds (Ouistreham)
Drama | France | Directed by Emmanuel Carrère

movie still

Based on Le Quai de Ouistreham (translated into English as The Night Cleaner) by investigative journalist Florence Aubenas, who went undercover for six months to take any gig she could from an employment center, novelist/filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère’s first film since 2005’s La Moustache stars Juliette Binoche as Aubenas stand-in Marianne Winckler,  who ends up cleaning a ferry and finding solidarity with her fellow workers. But will it last once they know who she is? The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw claims it’s an “earnestly intentioned but naive and supercilious drama about poverty and the gig economy,” but Ben Croll of TheWrap is more positive, finding it "always interesting, if at some points a touch too inward-looking.” Stronger praise comes from Screen Daily's Wendy Ide, who believes there’s “a satisfying added depth born out of the persuasively fleshed out performances and the focus on female friendship.” And Elena Lazic of The Playlist writes, “Binoche’s naturalistic performance marries itself beautifully to the ensemble while grounding, in reality, a character unbelievable, yet true.”

Casablanca Beats (Haut et Fort)
Drama | Morocco/France | Directed by Nabil Ayouch

movie still

Writer-director Nabil Ayouch (Horses of God) shot his latest film, the first from Morocco to be selected for Cannes’ main competition, over two years at Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen, a cultural center in Casablanca he co-founded. By casting real attendees of the Positive School of Hip Hop program to play fictionalized versions of themselves and rapper-turned teacher Anas Basbousi to lead them, Ayouch has created his “most personal feature film,” one that “infects the audience with its passion and the unshakable belief that a person who has self-confidence and self-expression can really change society,” according to Deborah Young of THR. The Telegraph's Robbie Collin disagrees, bemoaning the film’s “relentlessly perky, earnest and simplistic approach,” but in his positive review for TheWrap, Ben Croll writes, "Casablanca Beats argues that the power of personal expression can turn the world on its head. And for a good spell, the film does just that.”

The Divide (La Fracture)
Drama | France | Directed by Catherine Corsini

movie still

It seems inevitable that the English title of Summertime director Catherine Corsini’s film would reflect the critical response to it. Taking place over one night at an overwhelmed Paris hospital, the film pits the bourgeois Raf (Valéria Bruni Tedeschi) against the working-class Yann (Pio Marmai) as they wait in the ER for their injuries to be treated. In her review for The Playlist, Caroline Tsai deems it a “tiresome frustration of a film whose advocacy for across-the-aisle bonding rings false and flimsy, even in its most pleasant moments.” And Jordan Mintzer of THR believes The Divide “winds up suffering from thematic overkill,” but he suggest it shouldn’t “be dismissed entirely.” On the other side of the ledger, Screen Daily's Jonathan Romney praises Corsini for her ability to mix “melodrama, action movie intensity and some high-pressure farce” into something that coheres “rivetingly, and at furious pace, with narrative drive to equal a full-on series finale of ER.” Joining him, Variety critic Peter Debruge highlights how “Corsini and co-writers Agnès Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss write each scene with such authenticity, we scarcely realize how strategically some have been introduced to set up dramatic moments later on.”

Everything Went Fine (Tout s'est bien passé)
Drama | France | Directed by François Ozon

movie still

The prolific and eclectic director François Ozon (Summer of 85, Double Lover, Frantz) honors his late friend and script collaborator, Emmanuèle Bernheim (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand) with this adaptation of her book about her relationship with her father, who asked her to help him end his life. Sophie Marceau play Emmanuèle, and André Dussollier is her father, and these “lively performances” give the film its “limited spark,” according to Ben Croll of TheWrap. More favorably, Variety's Guy Lodge deems the film a “smart, measured but still deeply human take on a hot subject,” and Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian believes Ozon brings “a tremendous understated confidence and artistry to this very affecting film about euthanasia and assisted dying.”

Mothering Sunday
Drama | UK | Directed by Eva Husson

movie still

Screenwriter Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth) and director Eva Husson (Bang Gang, Girls of the Sun) adapt Graham Swift’s 2016 novel about a maid (Odessa Young) in 1924 England whose life is forever changed by her last day with her clandestine lover (Josh O’Connor). Jumping back and forth through time, the non-competition film is what THR's Leslie Felperin deems a “sensual but structurally flawed period drama.” Caroline Tsai of The Playlist agrees that the film’s “frequent temporal disruptions … muddle the delivery of its plot,” but thinks it’s still a “thoughtful if occasionally melodramatic reflection on the nature of grief.” And in her review for Screen Daily, Wendy Ide writes, “It’s a richly detailed mosaic of a movie which pays as much attention to emotional authenticity – a dull ache of grief which is the aftermath of the First World War and a smouldering yearning between the two lovers – as it does to the story itself.”

Petrov's Flu
Drama | Russia | Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov

movie still

Unable to attend Cannes in 2018 for his competition title Leto due to being under house arrest, Kirill Serebrennikov (The Student) was once again prevented from traveling, this time due to a suspended sentence, to see his latest film, an adaptation of Alexey Salnikov’s novel The Petrovs In and Around the Flu, premiere at the festival. Set in post-Soviet Russia during a flu pandemic, Petrov’s Flu “moves as freely and recklessly as possible, untethered by short-leash rules of time, space or storytelling,” according to Variety's Guy Lodge, who also predicts, “Some will thrill to its fevered brilliance, while others may feel they’re being waterboarded with Smirnoff.” The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw’s throat was burning with vodka because he finds “something unliberating in its mercurial restlessness,” despite its “technical mastery” and “formal audacity.” However, in her review for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang declares “the cinema of this-is-confusing-and-repellent-and-I-think-I-love-it has found its Ulysses, and it is hunched over with a hacking cough on a grimy bus to nowhere.”

Val
Documentary | USA | Directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo
In theaters July 23 and streaming on Prime Video beginning August 6

movie still

Directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo whittled down thousands of hours of footage from 40 years of recording to capture the life of Val Kilmer in 109 minutes. THR's Sheri Linden believes they succeeded: “The helmers don’t aim to be comprehensive. They achieve something better: a film that’s agile and alive — fitting for a portrait of a man who is driven to make art, however he can.” Tim Robey of The Telegraph seconds that opinion, writing, “The film could have been an indulgent memoir, a scrapbook of a major (if stunted) leading-man career. But seeing so much of it through Kilmer’s own viewfinder gives it both focus and poignancy.” And Screen Daily's Tim Grierson is just slightly less enthusiastic, “Directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo let their subject tell his own story, resulting in a film that’s partly illuminating, sometimes self-indulgent and often quite touching.”

The disappointments

Blue Bayou
Drama | USA | Directed by Justin Chon
Opens in theaters on September 17

movie still

Justin Chon (Gook, Ms. Purple) directs himself and Alicia Vikander in this tale of a Korean adoptee who, despite being raised in Louisiana, faces deportation and fights to keep his family together. Screen Daily's Lee Marshall thinks it’s “both a passionate exposé of a serious injustice and a big emotional ride that is also prepared to take some interesting risks in its journey towards a old-school tear-jerker finale.” But overall, more critics seem to agree with David Ehrlich’s assessment in IndieWire: “If Chon’s overwrought direction is sometimes the film’s biggest weakness, his deeply felt performance is often its biggest asset.”

Flag Day
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Sean Penn
In theaters August 20

movie still

Sean Penn directs himself and his daughter Dylan in this adaptation of Jennifer Vogel’s memoir Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life. Returning to Cannes after the 2016 disaster The Last Face, Penn received a slightly better reception for this tale of the wreckage left behind by an inveterate grifter, but not all critics are convinced that it is  a return to form. Screen Daily's Tim Grierson feels that “compared to The Last Face, Flag Day is less grandiose but equally torpid, mistaking brooding ponderousness for great insight.” And David Katz of the The Film Stage believes it’s another case where Penn’s “good intentions are palpable but chased with a real streak of vanity and self-regard.” The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw is more positive, calling it a “very watchable and well-made family drama,” and Steve Pond of TheWrap finds it to be a “solid, subtle drama that opts in most cases for restraint over excess,” and, yes, “a return to form.”

France
Drama/Comedy | France/Germany/Italy/Belgium | Directed by Bruno Dumont

movie still

While writer-director Bruno Doumont has been awarded the Grand Prix (second place) twice, for 1999’s Humanité and 2006’s Flanders, this doesn’t look like the year he’ll jump up to grab the big prize because this satirical look at the life of a famous TV journalist (Lea Seydoux) sits only above Twentynine Palms in his filmography. THR's Boyd van Hoeij laments that “for such a high-powered auteur/leading-lady collaboration, France feels decidedly unspectacular.” And Jonathan Romney of Screen Daily agrees that it’s “a shame, because somewhere within this sprawling piece is something audacious and playful.” But not every critic was disappointed.  The Playlist's Elena Lazic sees a “entertaining critique of the media more interesting for its formal and stylistic oddities than for its arguments, especially in the way he radically slows down a usually frenetic world.”

Stillwater
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Thomas McCarthy
In theaters July 30

movie still

Bill (Matt Damon), an oil-rig roughneck from the titular Oklahoma town, travels to Marseille with hopes of freeing his daughter (Abigail Breslin) from prison in this awkward mashup of foreign procedural and domestic drama from Academy Award-winning writer-director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). As Bill investigates his daughter’s claims of innocence (her case shares similarities with that of Amanda Knox), he builds a new life with an actress (Call My Agent's Camille Cottin) and her young daughter. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw believes it’s “one to forget: a muddled, tonally misjudged, badly acted, uncertainly directed and frankly dubious drama.” However, in his review for TheWrap, Ben Croll insists “McCarthy should be applauded for his audacity in even attempting the fusion” of these “very disparate styles of filmmaking.” And Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson is even more complimentary, calling Stillwater a “novelistic movie that eventually binds its disparate threads and tones into something surprisingly resonant.”

The Story of My Wife
Drama | Hungary/Germany/Italy/France | Directed by Ildikó Enyedi

movie still

Writer-director Ildikó Enyedi fails to find the same magic as her 2017 Golden Bear-winner On Body and Soul with this adaptation of the 1942 novel The Story of My Wife: The Reminiscences of Captain Storr by Hungarian writer Milán Füs. Gijs Naber stars as Jakob, a sea captain who makes a bet in a cafe with a friend to marry the first woman who comes through the door. This woman happens to be Lizzy, who’s played by Léa Seydoux in a “hypnotic performance” that “keeps the film from sinking too fast into utter boredom,” according to Elena Lazic of The Playlist. In his review for THR, Boyd van Hoeij laments that Enyedi “strong auteurist voice ... seems not only muted but even slightly musty,” claiming “the characters and premise ring false.” Screen Daily's Wendy Ide has another diagnosis for this handsome period production: “Perhaps the main disappointment of the picture, aside from its lifeless and conventional approach, is the fact that it is so preoccupied with the leaden Jakob, while his mercurial, treacherous wife is a far more interesting character.”

Want more Cannes?

View our ranking of every Cannes Palme d'or winning-film since 1990.

Additional content by Jason Dietz. All photos courtesty of Cannes Film Festival and related festivals.

 

Comments (0)

What Our Users Are Talking About

  1. /feature/tv-renewal-scorecard-2020-2021-season Image
    2020-21 TV Season Scorecard
    June 1, 2020 - 4 comments
    1. NotchFilter : The TV home page ( https://www.metacritic.com/tv ) Essential Links menu still points to the 2020-2021 season from... Read »
  2. /feature/best-videogames-of-the-decade-2010s Image
    Best Video Games of the Decade (2010-19)
    December 6, 2019 - 28 comments
    1. Tryve : 1. Red Dead Redemption 2 2. Portal 2 3. Mass Effect 2 4. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 5. Inside/Limbo 6.... Read »
    2. Tryve : 1. Red Dead Redemption 2 2. Portal 2 3. Mass Effect 2 4. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 5. Inside/Limbo 6.... Read »
    3. Tryve : I commend NME for placing Red Dead Redemption 2 as no.1... they know what's up. Read »
  3. /feature/tv-premiere-dates Image
    Summer/Fall 2021 TV Premiere Calendar
    May 5, 2021 - 284 comments
    1. partikhiljonses : Extracts from fruits and herbs may increase blood flow to the corpora cavernosa chambers. Rhino Spark These can... Read »
    2. paul_kolas : Yes! Dexter is coming back to Showtime on Sunday, November 7! Read »
    3. asmanraj : The Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2021 premieres on PBS on Friday, August 27th. Read »
    4. asmanraj : A Capitol Fourth airs on PBS tonight at 8/7c. Read »
    5. paul_kolas : Correction, "Beckett" will be on Netflix, Friday, August 13. Read »
    6. paul_kolas : "Beckett," a conspiracy thriller starring John David Washington and Alicia Vikander, premiers on Netflix Saturday,... Read »