Cannes: Palme d’Or Race Looks Wide-Open
CANNES — Usually by this point in the Cannes Film Festival, the race for the Palme d’Or has narrowed itself down to one or two clear frontrunners. The sustained critical love for Michael Haneke’s “Amour” made it seem the most logical choice around this time last year, and so it was, despite ardent pockets of support for Leos Carax’s ultimately unrewarded “Holy Motors.” In 2011, a sense of inevitability had descended upon Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” which might have faced stiffer competition had Lars von Trier not Nazi-joked himself out of the running for “Melancholia.”
It’s a testament to the strength of this year’s competition slate, however, that no single runaway favorite seems to have declared itself. As many as five or six well-regarded pictures — including but not limited to “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Past,” “Like Father, Like Son” and “The Great Beauty” — have made strong cases for themselves in an unusually wide-open, consensus-defying selection.
It should be noted that all this educated journalistic guesswork is based on a highly unscientific (but not necessarily unreliable) algorithm of hunches, gossip and individual taste. Still, if the buzz is to be believed, the film that seems to have most distinguished itself from the pack — and certainly generated the most conversation — is Abdellatif Kechiche’s sprawling but intimate lesbian romance “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which took the Croisette by storm upon its first press screenings on Wednesday night and has dominated the critics’ polls ever since.
Passionately adored despite its hefty three-hour running time (the longest of any competition entry this year), and heatedly discussed on the basis of its intensely graphic sex scenes, the film would seem to pose its own greatest threat to itself, awards-wise: The very real possibility of star Adele Exarchopoulos winning the actress prize would throw the movie out of Palme contention, based on recently amended rules limiting the number of major awards any single picture can win.
Incidentally, a victory for “Blue” would make it the first out-and-out gay love story to win Cannes’ highest honor, which would seem especially relevant in light of the fact that France legalized gay marriage just last week. (Another potential candidate that would achieve the same precedent: Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace drama “Behind the Candelabra.”) If they’re looking to make a bold political/artistic statement, “Blue” is the film to pick, although it’s a fair question whether a Steven Spielberg-led jury will go for something this raw, edgy and overtly sexual.
Two critical favorites have had considerable staying power despite having screened relatively early in the festival. Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, who previously won Berlin’s top prize and a foreign-language-film Oscar for “A Separation,” has drawn similar plaudits for another potent domestic drama, “The Past.” An absorbing marriage of classy arthouse pedigree and intense emotion, this French-Italian co-production might prove a strong middle-ground choice if Spielberg’s jury proves a fractious one. At the same time, its intricately constructed script seems a hot contender for the screenplay prize, which would knock it out of Palme contention.