Screen’s reviews editor Mark Adams looks at the critical consensus behind Cannes 2010 Competition titles, with love for Mike Leigh, disappointment from Takeshi Kitano and admiration for Poetry star Yun Jung-hee.
The annual Screen critics jury (see full grid here) has always been one of the most popular sections of the Cannes dailies, and with this year’s main competition being one of the hardest to call in terms of the main awards it was even more fascinating than usual to see how the panel of international critics viewed the films — not usually in sync with the jury this year.
And to be frank, there was more than a little grumbling – and a modicum of despair – after the first three competition films failed to set critical pulses racing.
Mathieu Amalric’s indulgent On Tour – the first competition film shown to press – was received respectfully, but never viewed as a possible winner (great surprise, then, when Amalric walked away with the Best Director gong).
But it was after the screenings of Chongqing Blues and The Housemaid that worry started to set in and early money – led largely by the few British critics who had seen the film before Cannes – started being placed on Mike Leigh’s Another Year.
Yes, Im Sang-soo’s stylish and sexy The Housemaid was a joy to look at, but when the world’s critics finally got to view Leigh’s latest film it was quickly hailed a very, very, strong contender for the Palme d’Or. On the Screen critics chart it received one of the highest recorded scores, with an average of 3.4 - he spread being from x (a dud) through to 4 (a hit) – and quickly regarded as a shoe-in for one of the main prizes. (The 3.4 score ties last year’s rank for A Prophet.)
The following films offered little to dampen enthusiasm for the British film - Bertrand Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier received a smattering of enthusiastic praise, while Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man was viewed as a disappointment compared to his previous film Daratt.
Much had been hoped for from the overly hyped Biutiful from writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but it failed to deliver for the assembled critics, though Javier Bardem’s lead performance was applauded.
And approaching the mid-way point came the nadir in terms of critical response – former festival favourite Takeshi Kitano delivered the bloody and violent Yakuza film Outrage to general lack of appreciation (from the Screen jury at least), with the film receiving three ‘x’ scores, and accumulating a shoddy average of 0.9.
Gloom descended for a while, and only helped to confirm Another Year at the head of the pack. But the screening of Xavier Beauvois’s film Of Gods And Men changed things slightly. Here was a proper piece of drama, with great performances, and some high scores from critics. Suddenly it was a two-horse race.
Equally Abbas Kiarostami’s much-anticipated film Certified Copy was well-received, especially Juliette Binoche’s sparkly performance. Even better was the response to Lee Chang-dong’s gentle and slow-moving drama Poetry – hailed as a ‘masterpiece’ by one critic – and especially Yun Jung-hee’s performance as a 66-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Surely a performance deserving the Best Actress award it was agreed! Far better than Binoche it was suggested. In the end Binoche would take the actress award, with Lee Chang-dong being awarded the best script award.
Things got gloomy again with Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy – admired though not loved – while many critics couldn’t get into the press screening of competition late entry Route Irish from the UK’s Ken Loach. Its late addition had meant a small screening theatre and a slight overlap with the Poetry screening. Again this was a thriller that was respected and admired, but never considered by the Screen contributors as a contender.
With only a few days left and the end in sight things were still not faring well. Daniele Luchetti’s Our Life was modestly received and almost instantly forgotten, and appreciation of Rachid Bouchareb’s much-anticipated Outside The Law was dented by the heavy riot police presence outside the Palais and the confiscation of much-needed bottles of water.
On one of the warmest of Cannes’ nights this year, Apichatpong’s Weerasethakul’s deliciously-titled Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – generally looked forward to as an artistic balance to the more sterner dramatic fare – had its press screening. It was appreciated, applauded and acclaimed…and it was then that niggling doubts about the Mike Leigh-Xavier Beauvois mop-up were mooted. Even at that stage the Screen critics chart scoring average still read:
1. Another Year
2. Of Gods And Men
There were a number of critics who missed Uncle Boonmee… (tired, busy elsewhere, left for home etc) but who then began to realise this was a film to catch-up with!
The last two films drifted by. Kornel Mundruczo’s Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project and Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By The Sun 2: Exodus were never really expected to be contenders by the critical masses, and so they passed. In Mandruczo’s case hailed by some and barely tolerated by others while there was only a half-empty early morning screening for Mikhalkov’s noisy and lengthy World War II epic.
Still, at least the Uncle Boonmee… win gave something for critics to debate and write about…