Fionnuala Halligan blogs on the Cannes Competition titles straight from the Palais.

May 23


Macbeth doth come to Cannes, thundering into Competition and wrapping the 68th Cannes Film Festival with a lunge through the Palais Des Festivals at 8.30am, waking up those slumbering critics who stayed on with its bass-y, droning score.

A tale of sound and fury indeed, Justin Kurzel’s original take on a 400-year-old play came at the tail end of a very refined, stately run of arthouse titles.  

The very first shot is of a corpse of a child being lowered into the ground as his parents, Lord and Lady Macbeth, grieve by the graveside, so Kurzel closed the festival with a statement of intent, loosening Shakespeare’s prose.

Ghosts, walking spirits, bloody corpses, child soldiers on the fens and the mystic witches wreak their revenge on the Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender) and his pallid wife, played by Marion Cotillard.

If the central relationship is slightly unhinged – the French-accented Lady Macbeth never seems that vital against her full-blooded husband – the film never loses steam, with impressive Dark Ages production design and apocalyptic battles, all set in a bitter, brutal environment. Never has Scotland looked so cold.

Critical reception was lukewarm, but in defence of Kurzel and his team, it has been a long festival and Macbeth was stranded on Saturday, the only film premiering that day, a full 24 hours after Chronic. Most critics had already left the building.

REVIEW: Macbeth

May 22


Mexico’s Michel Franco sets his English-language debut Chronic in the sick-rooms of the terminally ill. It’s a taut, airless, claustrophobic affair, in which the audience is effectively trapped in a situation we’d normally prefer not to contemplate. A nurse, played to great effect by Tim Roth, becomes too close to his sick patients in ways which are both touching and creepy. The issue of assisted suicide sneaks in and is dealt with in a subtle manner.

Roth’s David is derailed by his own mysterious past, exorcising his demons in the tender care of patients. He’s a bridge between the sick and their families, who, it is intimated, have difficulty crossing the line to such physical intimacy with their loved ones. However, it is a line. Roth’s nurse is inexpressive but caring, and the balance he walks is impossible to maintain, especially after he is sued for sexual harassment.

Chronic was a bold choice to play out the Competition – only Macbeth remains tomorrow morning – and it will likewise be a bold pick-up by fearless distributors, the types who step up for films like Amour. A prize at Cannes would improve this film’s fortunes immeasurably, yet while it found a general approval amongst critics, some struggled.

Still, though, this strong film’s appearance towards the very end of Cannes 68 underlines that there’s still a lot left to play for, even if Carol and The Assassin are such strong critical favourites.

REVIEW: Chronic

Valley of Love

The Valley of Love

Director Guilliaume Nicloux (The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq) has reunited Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert onscreen for the first time since Loulou, 35 years ago, and for that alone we should thank Valley of Love. In this intriguing, metaphysical two-hander, Depardieu and Huppert play a former husband and wife whose son has died and posthumously summoned them – by letter - to Death Valley, where he promises to reappear.

The French stars are superb in the main roles, using an effortless shorthand which flirts with their real-life iconography – they both play well-known actors called Isabelle and Gerard; his son has died. In a touching scene early on, Depardieu’s character confesses that ‘I got fat’. As long as it makes you happy, his ex-wife replies, to which he answers: ‘How can I be happy like this?’

As with last year’s Welcome To New York, Depardieu’s strained physical shape is much in evidence throughout Valley Of Love (given he spends half the movie in his boxer shorts).  His performance, though, is soft and subtle. It’s a shame that the movie feels quite slight; as Screen International’s critic Allan Hunter noted, it’s a psychodrama that often threatens to become “a Death Valley Don’t Look Now, or, heaven forfend, a California Sea of Trees”.

The critics weren’t exactly bowled over by this small film, giving it limp one- and two-star reviews, but Valley of Love is almost certainly assured of festival and arthouse distribution given the calibre of its two stars and the natural, heartfelt performances they deliver.

REVIEW: Valley Of Love

May 21


Dheepan is an engrossing, often mesmerising story about a Tamil Tiger fighter who escapes Sri Lanka for the derelict suburbs of Paris where murder and violence follow him. Directed by Jacques Audiard, it’s a compelling story; a military man whose entire unit and family have been murdered, who finds a fake wife and daughter to assume the identity of a dead man and emigrate.  Dheepan’s final act may disintegrate into a Taxi Driver-style violent flare-up which throws the story out of kilter, unbalancing the effectiveness of the piece. But this is still classy, powerful cinema from the same man (and writer) who brought A Prophet and Rust And Bone to Cannes Competition.

There are no familiar names in Dheepan, but writer, novelist and political activist Antonythasan Jesuthasan (who was a boy soldier with the Tamil Tigers before fleeing Sri Lanka for France) is a stand-out in the lead role. Also extremely effective is Kalieaswari Srinivasan as his ‘wife’ Yalini. She’s the one who found their ‘daughter’ in the Sri Lankan refugee camps – nine year-old orphan Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby). Now she must learn French and get along in a society she doesn’t understand, living with a family she doesn’t really want.

With Audiard’s name to rely on, Dheepan should gain international arthouse exposure should critical notices be strong. Cannes critics were largely respectful, noting the flaws of the film’s finale (Rust And Bone met with a a very similar reception here, while A Prophet, despite its universal raves, lost the Palme D’Or to The White Ribbon in 2009, taking home the consolation Jury Prize).

REVIEW: Dheepan

The Assassin

The marriage of the wuxia genre and Taiwanese ultra-auteur Hou Hsiao Hsien seemed such an odd match on paper; on film, The Assassin was exactly that – unusual, beautiful, strange, opaque. The Palais press-gang, tired and in need of a display of prowess, received one. It is, after all, possible to love something you don’t completely understand.

The Assassin is wuxia unstitched and reassembled in an exquisite and respectful tapestry (to King Hu, in particular), but wrapped in a narrative which is unfriendly enough to make Hous’s Three Times look high concept. Critics love something new and sparkling, and Assassin is as fresh as a reinvention of a film genre which goes back to the 1920s could possibly be. It was also very, very beautiful, as if the director’s Flowers of Shanghai was only a taster of just how gorgeous and vibrant he can make Chinese history look. The stitching on the costumes, soft furnishings and folds of the 9th Tang Dynasty palaces glowed and popped with fizzing colour.

The Assassin is the kind of teasing film, though, which goes to the trouble of casting Shu Qi, one of the most beautiful women in the world, and then keeps her in long-shot with only two or three tantalising close-ups throughout. As with his previous films, Hou is never happier than when he’s shooting his actors through a scrim; The Assassin delights in putting narrative obstacles in the viewer’s way.

As for the kung fu, Shu Qi doesn’t levitate, but her focused, very human assassin fights with laser-like precision.  A shot of The Assassin’s princess-nun mentor on a mountain in the fog is as classic an homage as any wuxia fan could ever ask for. Confusion over a good deal of the plot seems to be a small price to pay.

REVIEW: The Assassin


Youth was one of Cannes 68 big-ticket items, Paolo Sorrentino’s return to Cannes Competition after 2013’s The Great Beauty, which went on to win a Foreign Language Oscar (but picked up no awards in the South of France). Youth stars Michael Caine as a retired composer who spends his days in a Swiss spa taking treatments, in retreat from life and love. He’s with his daughter (a very fine Rachel Weisz), and film director best friend (Harvey Keitel) and they’re surrounded by a cast of outsized characters, as you might expect from Sorrentino. A representative of the Queen comes calling, asking for one last performance.

Unquestionably, Youth sees Michael Caine at his very best – it’s an irresistable performance from the 82-year-old British actor, reminiscent of Alec Guinness. Caine gives Fred Ballinger real depth – despite the Sorrentino-esque carnival of images floating around him, this reluctant man is the film’s powerful, intriguing emotional core. Youth’s final sequence is stunning; a tour-de-force from Caine and Sorrentino, working in complete harmony. It’s very moving.

Overall, though, Youth was generally liked, and not quite adored. Holding the reviews back to three- and four-stars (over five) was the general sentiment that Sorrentino opted for form over content, unable to resist the temptation to deliver one seductively beautiful image after the next, even if they weakened the impact of his story. Fellini, clearly, is again an influence, but Youth is also a sad, regretful film which lacks the boom-boom-pow of The Great Beauty but is never less than impressive. It will be widely seen, and deserves to be, for Caine’s performance alone – Jane Fonda’s salty cameo is just icing on Sorrentino’s elaborate cake.  


May 20

Mountains May Depart

Those waiting for Cannes Competition to start delivering some big, challenging concepts in audacious cinematic language were rewarded by Jia Zhangke’s symbolic Mountains May Depart – bracketed by two indelible sequences featuring the music of the Pet Shop Boys (Go West). While it struggled at times  – particularly in its final third, set in a future Western Australia – Mountains May Depart was bold, mostly thrilling cinema from Jia, a film-maker who consistently goes his own way. Loud, enthusiastic applause and warm reviews signified the arrival of a Palme D’Or contender in Competition.

The frayed anger of 2013’s A Touch of Sin (which won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes), has been percolated into a soft-seeming three-part drama charting, ostensibly, the life of a woman from the director’s home of Fenyang, in Shanxi province. Really, though, this is all about China – the faces of Jia’s 24 City factory workers come to life, again framed in a generational drama. Mountains May Depart feels like the mouthy 2015 sister of early Zhang Yimou films like Judou or Raise The Read Lantern, replete with symbolism and deep-felt meaning. Those 1990s titles spoke of repression in a Communist state; Jia goes after the relentless pursuit of money in the ashes of that society. It’s heavily conceptual, and as such, can falter quite dramatically, but this film is daring and very compelling when viewed as a whole. The final frame, immediately set to enter film-making iconography, brings a tear to the eye.

REVIEW: Mountains May Depart

May 19



The truth of Cannes is that one critic’s intense, gripping thriller can be another’s cliché-ridden disappointment. Seven days into the festival, Sicario was rapturously received by – to generalise - major consumer titles and the trade press in particular, but dismissed as genre fare by some other organs. The best assessment is that it will leave the festival with its pre-screening buzz as a box office threat intact, if not enhanced.

Denis Villeneuve’s thriller set on the Mexican border stars Emily Blunt as an FBI agent who becomes ensnared in a Department of Justice operation to bring down the head of a Mexican cartel based over the border in Ciudad Juarez (‘the Beast’). Two gripping set pieces kick off the first 40 minutes of Sicario – the second, in particular, where the Department of Justice sends a road convoy in to El Paso for what turns out to be an illegal snatch, is as tense as anything Bond has ever delivered.

Benicio del Toro is a mysterious, menacing presence as an ‘advisor’, while Josh Brolin brings steely notes to his Defence Department contractor who is probably FBI. Blunt makes an undeniable case here for bigger, more serious roles going forward in her career; she’s absolutely mesmerising as the principled Kate, in over her head in a land of no mercy.

Seven films left to go: Youth (Pablo Sorrentino); Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke); Dheepan (Jacques Audiard); The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien); Chronic (Michel Franco);  Valley of Love (Guillame Nicloux); and Macbeth (Justin Kurzel). It still doesn’t feel as if the Palme D’Or winner has screened yet, but Vincent Linton in Stephane Brize’s The Measure of a Man is, appropriately, the man to measure up against for Best Actor.

REVIEW: Sicario

Marguerite & Julien

Marguerite and Julien

Marguerite & Julien, the second film by a French female filmmaker at the much-ballyhooed year of the woman at Cannes, bowed to a hostile reception. Close to Sea of Trees’ devastatingly low scores, Marguerite & Julien was as poorly received as Maiwenn’s Mon Roi - leading to questions being asked as to whether Cannes is best serving the cause of women directors by presenting such average films. (The festivals’s attitude to female footwear has drawn far more attention though, it’s safe to be said).

Most of all, critics questioned the film’s selection in this particular section of the festival, when rapturously-received features such as Jaco Van Dormael’s A Brand New Testament played out in Un Certain Regard and Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days was met with raves down the road at the Quinzaine.

Set a “long, long time ago” yet riddled with anachronistic touches (a helicopter, a radio, modern music on the soundtrack, era-inappropriate clothing, etc), Marguerite & Julien glossily depicts the intense, forbidden love between the titular siblings, played by a passionate Anais Demoustier and Jeremie Elkaim. Their tale is recounted as a bed-time story in some other, non-specific era (a device which is abandoned half-way through). Originally conceived as a script by Francois Truffaut, Marguerite & Julien wraps with the lovers fleeing through a forest, pursued by the police, on their way to catch a boat in England and live out their love incognito.

As one critic pointed out, it’s a shame they didn’t get into the car that just drove by, or the helicopter hovering overhead. Marguerite & Julien: a series of missed opportunities.

REVIEW: Marguerite & Julien

The Measure Of A Man

Stephane Brize’s The Measure Of A Man is a quiet, realist study of the devastating effects of the economic crisis on one man. It features a commanding central performance from Vincent Lindon – an immediate and seemingly unassailable contender for the acting award at Cannes.

The 55-year-old actor was in tears at the Palais screening as he accepted an ecstatic response from a largely-French audience who responded immediately to his dignified portrayal of Thierry Taugourdeau, an unemployed former factory worker. The Measure of a Man is a film which immediately calls to mind Ken Loach, although it takes a more naturalistic approach: Lindon is the only actor in the piece, for example, and the cameraman Eric Dumont, a documentary specialist who has never shot a fiction film before, was only told to place Thierry at the centre of the story as the action played out naturally around him. 

The Measure of a Man is a quiet film; Lindon really only benefits from two sequences with extended dialogue, yet he manages to deliver a complete picture of honest dignity in the face of relenting pressure. This film should do very well in France, despite its slow, deliberate pace (tolerable at 93 minutes).

Although the critics were split at Cannes, possibly needing more action as they dig into the festival’s second week, awards attention for Lindon could see this film exiting Cannes as one of the best-received French entries in Competition.

REVIEW: The Measure Of A Man

May 18

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs is Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s assured and impressive first foray into English-language film-making, playing a quiet harmony to films such as Ordinary People and The Ice Storm (which also competed at Cannes, winning Best Screenplay for James Schamus).

Trier (Reprise, Oslo, August 31) brings an intense focus to the husband (Gabriel Byrne) and two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) of a celebrated  war photographer (Isabelle Huppert) who are still struggling with her death three years later. Trier uses devices such as flashbacks, multiple perspectives, and odd, disturbing dreams, to produce four engrossing character studies, giving the film a unique perspective – an American film about guilt and loss which could only have been produced by an outsider.

Permeating the layers of this deceptively-dense film is Isabelle Huppert’s performance as a woman who is addicted to the front-line, a loving wife and mother who consoles herself with the idea that her work is making a difference, even if she lives at the sidelines of her own life at home. Although she’s a fraction of Trier’s film, Huppert’s Isabelle Reed is probably the most haunting cinematic depiction of the damage wreaked by conflict on the lives of those who report it – it’s not giving anything away to reveal that the traffic accident which caused her death was a suicide.

Louder Than Bombs gave Cannes some pause for quiet introspection after the fireworks of Carol and the noise and fury of Son Of Saul. The critics were mostly impressed, if not overwhelmed.

Of note at the mid-way point in Cannes Competition is the evident truth of the festival’s declared intention to celebrate women in front as well as behind the camera: Huppert’s war photographer, Margharita Buy’s film director in Mia Madre, Cate Blanchett’s powerful Carol have taken centre stage in dynamic, strong  roles which are far from the traditional depiction of women as a romantic focus (say, for example, Mon Roi, Lobster, Sea of Trees). They’ll be joined by Emily Blunt tomorrow in Sicario.

REVIEW: Louder Than Bombs

May 17

Mon Roi

Chic and shriek” said Screen’s reviewer Jonathan Romney of the new Maiwenn film Mon Roi, which prompted a spectator in the gallery of the Palais to combust in enraged shouts of ‘egoist!’.

Was he referring to Maiwenn herself, or Vincent Cassel, playing the emotionally abusive narcissist who marries the anguished Emmanuelle Becort and drives her to distraction over ten years and two hours of screentime? We’ll never know.

It’s safe to say Mon Roi did not go down well with critics. If The Sea of Trees hadn’t taken such a thumping over the weekend, Maiwenn might be accepting a consoling hug from Gus Van Sant right now, but the unwritten rule of the media is there can only be one worst-film-ever, one Grace Of Monaco/Brown Bunny per Competition. Others, arguably just as poorly-conceived, merely slink out of Cannes with low scores.

Becort, who also directed Cannes opening film Standing Tall, is mostly fine as the lawyer tormented by Cassel’s womanising (with supermodels, of course) and drug problems, although Maiwenn and Etienne Comar’s script forces her to leap over the top by the end - physical leaping, though, is out of the question, as the film sets her in a clinic where she is receiving physical rehabilitation after a nasty ski accident and reflecting back on her stormy marriage.

Despite a promising start, the arc of her relationship with Cassel (good as ever) is relentless; initial over-exuberance descending into round after bitter round of rows and reconciliation and an inevitable custody battle over their son called Sindbad.  At Cannes 68, Mon Roi stands accused by the critics of being superficial and glossy - two words Maiwenn may have heard before.



Todd Haynes’ Carol was positioned as the lynchpin of the Cannes Competition: the key Saturday night slot, an admired director who hasn’t made a film since 2007, Cate Blanchett in the title role, adapted from a previously-overlooked book (once a mainstay of lesbian fiction) by Patricia Highsmith.

It was widely reported that Cannes wanted this film a great deal, and Carol was the no-surprise of the Cannes announcement.Anticipation was at fever-pitch, the crowds surged outside the Palais on Saturday night and Haynes duly pulled back an elaborately-crafted curtain to deliver a pristine ode to repressed longing and love.

Beautifully-staged, exquisitely mounted, with production values through-the-Palais-roof, Carol featured Blanchett in a role Joan Crawford might once have devoured (Carol could have been Joan Crawford, if the stories are to be believed). The critics raced off to write in the early hours; early five-star reviews eventually tapered down and settled into fours and threes.

Garbed in Sandy Powell’s elaborate costumes, Blanchett gave yet another compelling insight into the raw heart behind Carol’s haughty demeanour as her brittle sophistication subtly begins to crack.Still, though, the film played out at a remove, its brilliance something to admire more than fall heedlessly in love with. The Blanchett-Haynes axis left Rooney Mara, as the younger shopgirl who falls in love with Carol, a little stranded at times, but the actress showed her mettle. 

Carol is a beautiful film with the world at its feet this weekend, and the Weinstein Company has dropped its first calling card in the awards race.


May 16

My Mother (Mia Madre)

Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre may go down as one of his slighter works, but this story of a female film director (Margharita Buy) and her brother (Moretti) as they experience the passing of their elderly, frail, mother is still satisfying, and, occasionally, surprisingly touching. 

John Turturro positively revels in his role as an insecure American actor who takes part in her latest production, forgetting his lines with gay abandon as Buy’s character (a female version of Moretti) grows increasingly neurotic and unable to cope with reality.

Cannes critics were neither underwhelmed nor overwhelmed; Mia Madre passed through Day 4 of the Competition on a sea of muted respect, if not quite veneration. Palais audience reaction was warm, though, even in the afternoon screening without the director there to impress. Those expecting the heft of 2001’s Palme D’Or winner The Son’s Room will, of course, be disappointed, but there are moments here which clearly come from the same deep source.

Mia Madre should emerge from Cannes with a good future in festival exposure, and also the arthouse, where Moretti has a strong international following (Turturro’s irresistible turn will new fans, although this may well turn out to be on VOD).

Moretti pushes himself to the sidelines as a supportive brother and son here, but there’s little doubt that he’s present all the way in Buy, and the film was inspired by the death of his own mother during the making of Habemus Papum. She delivers a very strong performance, the best female turn of the festival to date - she shouldn’t be ruled out of any awards race here.

REVIEW: My Mother (Mia Madre)

The Sea Of Trees

Just as the critics seemed to be in a kindly mood, Gus Van Sant felt the sting in the tail of a Cannes Competition berth when The Sea of Trees bowed at the Palais. 

While there were no walk-outs – it’s possibly too early in the festival to hear the dawn chorus of seatbacks being thumped on the way out – The Sea of Trees was greeted with some very insistent booing, of the baritone, gravelly, urgent, variety, with a few whistles thrown in for good measure.

Gus Van Sant may have a Palme D’Or, for Elephant, and his star Matthew McConaughey an Oscar and a star in the ascendency, but that was then. The Cannes Critics were almost unanimous in their verdicts on the now, and it wasn’t good.

What went wrong? Most pointed the finger at a schmaltzy, ultra-contrived, 2013 Black List script by Chris Sparling, and suggested that The Sea of Trees might have found better fortune outside the intense glare the South of France brings to a Competition title.

The atmosphere in Venice or Toronto wouldn’t really lighten this rather gloomily-shot affair, however, which sees Matthew McConaughey playing a physics professor in a bad marriage who travels to the spiritual Aokigahara forest, in the foothills of Mount Fuji, to kill himself in a place which sees an average of 100 suicides a year. There, McConaughey’s Arthur runs into Ken Watanabe, bleeding from the wrists after a failed suicide attempt.

McConaughey is diverted from his own mission to look after the lost soul, and the film splits into three; a survival movie, with torrential downpours and people repeatedly falling off the sides of mountains; an Asian-mysticism vs. Western pragmatism cod-philosophical exchange; and a flashback relationship drama where Arthur and his boozy wife, played by Naomi Watts, struggle with their marriage in a very dimly-lit and darkly-painted house.

The big sales ticket at Cannes last year, Sea of Trees was the first critical casualty in Competition 2015.

REVIEW: The Sea Of Trees

May 15

The Lobster

Day three of Competition has played out, and the Palais Des Festivals is still – mostly – a happy place, with not a single catcall recorded to date.

One of the most anticipated films in Competition at Cannes this year – mainly because of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s tendency to produce the unexpected – The Lobster did not disappoint. Lanthimos and his regular screenwriter Efithimis Filippou have invested their considerable energies (and larger budget than Dogtooth) into creating and steadfastly maintaining a fantasy otherworld in which single people are transported to a hotel where they have 45 days to find a mate before they are turned into an animal of their choice.

Studded with deadpan humour and fascinating throughout, if only for the wonder of whether Lanthimos can walk the conceptual tightrope all the way to the finish, Lobster found favour with the international press corps (although the reception in France was less enthusiastic).

Lanthimos’s first film in English featured a born-again Colin Farrell sporting a middle-aged paunch and, like In Bruges, using his own accent to best effect. The Lobster centres around Farrell’s David, abandoned by his wife and brought to this old-fashioned sea-side establishment run by Olivia Colman. Here, people try to find their literal ‘match’: Ben Whishaw has a limp, John C Reilly a lisp, and David himself is short-sighted so they look for partners with similar traits.

They hunt ‘loners’ in the wood; each capture of a singleton buys them an extra day in the hotel. Animalisation awaits those who are unsuccessful: David has a dog, who, we later learn, is his brother.

It’s too early to say Palme D’Or, but the critics like The Lobster, and they – mostly – like Son Of Saul. Can this continue?

REVIEW: The Lobster

Son of Saul

Son of Saul

Hungary’s Son of Saul is the first debut film in Competition since 2011 (Michael, for the detail-orientated), and it’s clear why the rarefied air of Competition was deemed suitable for Lazlo Nemes’s drama set for the most part inside the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1944.

It is a grim and tenacious film, detailing the futile quest of a Jewish camp orderly to secure a ritual burial for the corpse of a boy he believes to be his son.

Technically, Son of Saul is an exceptional achievement, with Mátyás Erdélyi’s camera whirling through the vaults and subterranean furnaces in a blast of shouts and orders, punctuated by the lung-like bursts of the incinerator. Scores of extras are herded by guards and dogs in a cacophony of fear and mayhem, as the Hungarian Sonderkommando orderlies move the corpses, shovel ash, and sort through the clothing and personal effects of their dead brethren. Mass murder is a physical industry in Son of Saul.

A film which deals in such close-up detail with the reality of genocide will, clearly, not be suited to wide audiences, and many critics at Cannes found the severe distancing techniques used by Nemes regarding his central character to be as challenging as the confusing chaos surrounding him.

Artistically, the film was hailed as a breakthrough from the man who worked as first AD on Bela Tarr’s The Man From London. Festival slots will surely follow, but art-house could be tentative without awards attention from Cannes.

REVIEW: Son of Saul

May 14

Tale Of Tales

Tale of Tales

Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, the second film to play out in Competition, is lavish and lurid – a Cannes spectacle of high-production-value auteur film-making shot in jewelled baroque colours across a series of spectacular Italian locations which play home to the outsized Kings, Queens, princesses and ogres of 17th Century Neapolitan author Giambattista Basile.

Garrone delivers three morality plays from the days when fairy stories were cautionary affairs which dealt mortal blows to their protagonists in unexpected, twisted, ways.Much like the critics, a few of whom turned the knife in Garrone’s (Gomorrah) follow-up to Reality. Overall, though, Tale Of Tales received a mixed reception, from five-stars through to wipe-outs.

Yet Tale Of Tales is a film which will find sales riches after the Cannes dust settles. With its name cast (Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassel) working in fluid English translation, it’s accessible, upscale entertainment.

The stitching on the segues of the three main strands may be frayed, and one story, in particular, splutters to a halt, but Garrone’s film is peopled with unfamiliar and exotic creatures, and delicious performances from Shirley Henderson, Toby Jones and newcomer Bebe Cave in particular, which lighten the load.

Salma Hayek is a Queen who will do anything to conceive a child, even if it means the loss of her husband to an underwater monster – her need to control him, though, means she may pay again. Toby Jones plays a King who ignores his daughter in favour of a giant flea. And Vincent Cassel is a debauched ruler who hears the voice of an aged spinster and decides he must have her – she’ll play along, whatever the cost.

SCREEN REVIEW: Tale of Tales

Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

Anticipation is always high amongst critics for the first Competition film to screen to the press; Cannes always seeks to temper it with a quiet, deliberate type of film and the tradition has continued with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister.

This turned out to be a sweet, observant family drama from the Japanese director who last competed at Cannes with Like Father, Like Son (winning the Jury Prize in 2013). Some critics hollered Ozu and embraced it with open arms; others, quite literally, fell asleep.

Still, Sony Pictures Classics swooped straight in for the first major Competition on-site Cannes pick-up, taking North American rights.

Our Little Sister is set mostly in Kamakura, a small beach town outside Tokyo, where three sisters live in a rambling house placed into their care after their parents’ hostile divorce. Attending their long-absent father’s funeral, they meet their adolescent half-sister and decide on the spur of the moment to adopt her.

Those looking for fireworks are with the wrong Japanese director, however; this is a lightly sentimental, reserved yet ultimately emotional piece which looks at life, death (introduced by the father’s funeral and continued with the oldest daughter’s decision to nurse in a terminal care ward) and family ties over the course of a perhaps overly-long two hours and six minutes. The four actresses are luminous, shining light into Kore-eda’s deliberate tale.

SCREEN REVIEW: Our Little Sister