Cannes Wrap: THR Critics on the Good, Bad and Downright Embarrassing

'Timbuktu,' Abderrahmane Sissako (Competition)

The sole representative of African cinema in competition this year, the fifth solo directing effort from the Mauritania-born, Mali-raised Sissako was inspired by the real-life story of the 2012 stoning in Northern Mali of a young unmarried couple by Islamists in front of hundreds of onlookers. Sissako is one of the filmmakers from sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy international recognition, and he's been a Cannes regular. Both Bamako (2007) and Waiting for Happiness (2002) screened on the Croisette, the latter winning the Fipresci critics honor for titles screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. (Sales: Le Pacte)

Led by Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter's film reviewers reflect on a festival full of surprises, missed opportunities and oddball winners.

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Abderrahmane Sissako's haunting Timbuktu kicked off the Cannes competition on a high note only intermittently equaled during the 11 days that followed. But the drawback of screening early in the festival is that a film's spell can fade, along with jury members' passion for it. How else to explain the absence among prize winners of the Mauritanian-born director's film, a wrenching depiction of the devastating impact on a peaceful Mali community of a Jihadist regime of Islamic fundamentalists? Simultaneously poetic and searing in its plaintive straightforwardness, Timbuktu provides a fitting opportunity to honor African cinema.

Two Days, One Night, the clear-eyed, compassionate account from Belgium's great humanist chroniclers of the working class, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, of a woman's weekend-long mission to save her job marked the third consecutive year in which a stunning performance by Marion Cotillard failed to secure her a much-deserved best actress prize, following Rust and Bone and The Immigrant. But it's hard to deny the award's winner, the fearless Julianne Moore, for her horrifyingly funny turn as a needy, past-her-prime actress in David Cronenberg's somewhat obvious Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars.

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Even in a festival famously friendly toward our four-legged friends, 2014 must have set a record as the most canine Cannes yet. Around 200 doggy stars led the animal-heavy cast list in Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo's White God, a dark Hitchcockian thriller about a canine army rising up in a roaring rampage of revenge against mankind. Mundruczo's thoughtful anti-racist allegory won top prize in the Un Certain Regard strand. Man's best friend also featured heavily in the main Cannes competition, with Jean-Luc Godard's pet dog Roxy Mieville exuding a suave Belmondo-esque cool in the 83-year-old elder statesman's experimental 3D feature Goodbye to Language. Thankfully, Godard's canine companion survived to the end of the film. Which is more than can be said for Yves Saint Laurent's drug-poisoned bulldog in Bertrand Bonello's handsome biopic Saint Laurent. Not to mention the poor dead mutt that Guy Pearce crosses half of Australia to recover, killing almost everybody in his  way, in David Michod's stylish dystopian road movie The Rover .


Several films seen in both the Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight could have easily taken competition slots. Celine Sciamma's stunning Fortnight opener, Girlhood, was a punch-drunk mix of street life and Rihanna-backed bling, while Nadav Lapid's terrific The Kindergarten Teacher confirmed him as one of Israel's most talented young filmmakers. Meanwhile, Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's knockout debut, The Tribe, was a gripping foray into a voiceless world of deaf signers, a chaotic rebel movie held together by impeccable direction and camerawork. It's the sort of film that gets lost amid all the overpriced rosé and stargazing, but also the kind that makes Cannes worth the trip.




From the upper crust of Turkish Cappadocia to a family of beekeepers in Italian Liguria, Jane Campion's jury saved their highest laurels for two extraordinarily diverse films. Much-admired director Nuri Bilge Ceylan -- to paraphrase Timothy Spall's acceptance speech for his win as best actor in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner -- finally graduated from bridesmaid (he twice won the Grand Jury prize and once took best director) to bride when he received the 2014 Palme d'Or for Winter Sleep. Ceylan's epic-length story about a retired actor and local landowner who humiliatingly lords it over his family and fellow villagers is a Chekhovian exploration of the human soul. Meanwhile 32-year-old Alice Rohrwacher walked away with the jury's biggest surprise: the Grand Prix for her second film, The Wonders, a curiously resonant tale about a young girl trapped in a life of beekeeping that affirms the importance and mystery of the natural world.


One of the more comic/embarrassing moments during the awards ceremony was hearing competition jury president Campion mangle the pronunciation of Andrey Zvyagintsev's name when she gave him and co-writer Oleg Negin the best screenplay Palme for Leviathan. A coruscating condemnation of the corruption and soul-rotting malaise in Putin's Russia told through a reworking of the Book of Job, this sinuous, subtly constructed work amply demonstrated Zvyagintsev's stunning command and craftsmanship. It was the flagship film out of an impressive showing from the region across the festival, alongside Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa's rousing documentary Maidan about the uprising in his homeland, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's impressive "silent" film The Tribe (which many felt should have won the Camera d'Or) and documentary Red Army, which used the  history of the Soviet Union's ice hockey team as a prism to refract the nation's history.

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The jury blew an opportunity to justly honor a truly great film in giving  i the backhanded compliment of the screenwriting award. A full meal of a movie if I've ever seen one at Cannes, Zvyagintsev's entry had everything I could imagine you'd want in a Palme d'Or winner: muscular big-screen image-making, boldly subversive political commentary, a resonant metaphorical angle, surprising plotting and sly humor. It's a film that will speak to discerning viewers in many countries, whereas the jury's pick, Winter Sleep, in my view, demands more of the viewer than it gives back. The directing awards to Rohrwacher for the thoroughly ordinary The Wonders and Godard for the far from ordinary but also far from extraordinary or coherent Goodbye to Language were also baffling.


All eyes in Cannes tend to be on the competition, but a lot of interesting films, as well as a few duds, premiere in the sidebars. This year, highlights included two foreign films with French names that premiered in Un Certain Regard: Austrian director Jessica Hausner's Amour Fou, a chilling and precisely staged historical drama about the days leading to the double-suicide pact of German Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist and a married woman, and Force Majeure, a contemporary drama from director Ruben Ostlund about a Swedish family vacation in the Alps that implodes in the wake of an avalanche. Though leavened with a little black humor, both are dour but absolutely fascinating dramas that uncover and call into question instinctive reactions, neuroses and society's sense of propriety.