CANNES, FRANCE — The classic divide between arthouse and Hollywood films is very much in evidence as the 75th Cannes Film Festival heads into its closing weekend and the bestowing of the Palme d’Or and other awards.
The two films everybody here is talking about, Park Chan-wook’s murder mystery “Decision to Leave” and Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic “Elvis,” both have directors known for their visual flair and astute use of music — but the comparisons end there.
“Decision to Leave,” a suspenseful cat-and-mouse story from South Korean auteur Park, is the film touted by critics’ straw polls and word of mouth as the most likely winner of the Palme at Saturday’s closing ceremonies. It’s the clear favourite over other strong competitors, including “Crimes of the Future” by Toronto’s David Cronenberg, who is making his sixth attempt at winning the Palme.
The final say, of course, will come from the nine-member Palme jury, led by French actor Vincent Landon. The other members are: actors Noomi Rapace and Deepika Padukone; actor/director Jasmine Trinca; actors/writers/directors Rebecca Hall and Ladj Ly; and writers/directors Asghar Farhadi, Jeff Nichols and Joachim Trier.
“Elvis” is the other topic du jour, following its splashy world premiere Wednesday night at the Palais du Festivals and a beach party afterwards that featured fireworks in various Elvis Presley poses and symbols.
It’s not eligible for any awards — it premiered out of competition, like last week’s Tom Cruise vehicle “Top Gun: Maverick” — and critics seem to either love it (I’m among them) or to hate it. But it’s going to be a very big deal when it opens June 24 in North American theatres, and it seems likely to make a star out of Austin Butler, who plays Elvis. He previously played a Manson Family killer in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which premiered at Cannes in 2019.
In rough order of preference, here are my 10 favourite films from Cannes 2022:
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir about an obsessed cop and a widow of deadly suspicion operates in the misty realm between sleep and wakefulness. The cop, played by Park Hae-il, is an insomniac homicide detective who isn’t easily fooled, except perhaps in matters of the heart. The widow, played by China’s Tang Wei (of Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”), seems far too sanguine about her mountaineering husband’s death. I felt shivers of “Vertigo” and “In the Mood for Love,” plus an intense desire to see it again. Park encourages such close inspection: every frame is like a painting, with hints to character motivation and plot twists.
Tori and Lokita
I’m gobsmacked by Pablo Schils and Joely Mbundu, first-time actors who play the title characters, African refugees struggling to survive in a Europe that seeks only to exploit them. The pair radiate empathy in this latest act of masterful naturalism from Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have won the Palme twice previously. Tori and Lokita met on the boat to Belgium from Africa, where they concocted the story of being brother and sister, hoping to improve their odds of staying. Their love is real, however, and it remains unshakable as they endure sexual abuse and economic exploitation. This one is a heartbreaker.
Top Gun: Maverick
Two miracles are needed for the high-risk mission of the flyboys (and gals) of this vein-popping sequel, directed by Joseph Kosinski. But a third is achieved from the get-go: Tom Cruise and company bring fresh drama and heart to the “Top Gun” tale, exceeding the ‘86 original. There’s excellent interplay between Cruise and new characters Rooster (Miles Teller), the angry son of Maverick’s late flying partner, and Penny (Jennifer Connelly), a barkeep who supplies levity and love. But it’s the action that sells the popcorn, and this film really delivers on that front, especially when it’s time to put the impossible bombing raid into play.
The King lives! Austin Butler is absolutely magnetic as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s sprawling biopic, which blasts the screen with the glossy Aussie’s trademark excess and bravado but also hits the right historical notes. Butler convincingly spans the decades with Elvis, presenting him as the showman of public renown and the vulnerable soul of personal life. Luhrmann is the film’s real high-wire act, though. His decision to frame the story with the admittedly engaging Tom Hanks as clownish villain Col. Tom Parker, manager and Svengali to Elvis, threatens at first to make this the “King Richard” of rock biopics. Have no fear: Butler’s Elvis is just too good to be upstaged by a supporting star.
A David Bowie love supreme. Brett Morgen’s doc is cinema jazz: part mad idolatry, part surreal scrapbook, all David, voiced by him. It’s a joy to see every aspect of Bowie’s art celebrated, and to share his embrace of existence: “I’m pretty keen on life.” The Bowie estate granted Morgen access to more than five million pieces of Bowie materials, including music, paintings and unseen concert films. It seems at times like he’s put all of them into this movie, which is a lot to take in, even for hardcore Bowie fans. All the more reason to plan to see this on an IMAX screen, when the film is released to theatres this fall.
Crimes Of The Future
Welcome to the nightmare ahead, where people grow new organs as art, modify body parts for fashion and consume plastic for food. A world to come that’s made all the more terrifying by David Cronenberg, master filmmaker and seer of dark visions. Viggo Mortensen stars as a performance artist who has learned how to grow new organs within his body. These “neo-organs” are removed by his partner (Léa Seydoux), much to the fascination and alarm of government bureaucrats. Cronenberg sardonically comments on cosmetic surgery, environmental destruction and the feeling of all artists, himself included, that putting your work before the public is akin to being operated on in the city square.
The Palme jury should also seriously consider this Iran-set thriller by Iranian/Danish director Ali Abbasi (“Border”). It seems almost too horrific to believe (and to watch) but it’s based on a true story, circa 2001, about a religiously motivated serial killer of prostitutes. Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, who should be a contender for Best Actress honours at Cannes, plays a journalist named Rahimi who risks her life in the quest to find the savage strangler who is determined to “cleanse the streets of sinners.” She’s working largely on her own: many people consider the killer to be God’s avenger, worthy of support rather than scorn.
A child’s eye view of how small sins of daily life can add up to major wrongs. It’s directed by Cannes regular James Gray, from his personal experiences and observations growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1980s at the dawn of the Ronald Reagan presidency. There are superb performances across the board, especially by the youngest members of the cast (Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb) and the oldest (Anthony Hopkins). There are also great turns by Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong and Tovah Feldshuh — and watch for a cameo by Jessica Chastain, in the unlikely role of a Trump family member.
Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble In Mind
Great reels of fire! Ethan Coen grabs lightning in a bottle with this doc on piano pounder Jerry Lee Lewis, aka “the Killer,” the last man standing from the 1950s rock greats. Making his solo directorial debut with a project he started to while away the days during COVID closedowns, Coen doesn’t waste time with the usual biographic details, leaving most of them to a text scroll at the end. Instead he does a stellar trawl of Jerry Lee’s live performance archive, much of it in colour. Jerry Lee likes to boast that he’s the real king of rock ’n’ roll, not his late frenemy Elvis Presley. This doc lends credence to that claim.
Xenophobia, racism and mistrust rage like a pandemic through Cristian Mungiu’s smalltown drama, set in a Transylvanian village where options are few and suspicions are many. Martin Grigore’s Matthias, a bear of a man who quits a slaughterhouse job in Germany and returns home to many problems and the sound of no hands clapping, is the embodiment of Hitchcock’s definition of suspense. Mungiu won the Palme in 2007 with his abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” He has a shot at a repeat with this one, which reminded me a bit of Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” a dawn-of-facism drama that also scored gold here.
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