The top picks from Cannes 2021 – Art & Culture

The Cannes jury led by US director Spike Lee will select their Palme d’Or on Saturday, and the competition is wide open, thanks in part to a backlog of films postponed by the pandemic.

Here are some of the movies making “le buzz”, and what some of the world’s top cinephiles thought about them: 

– ‘The French Dispatch’ –

The latest Wes Anderson, about expat journalists in the fantasy French city of Ennui-sur-Blase, is everything you either love or hate about the king of quirkiness, dialled up to 11. 

“The sheer level of detail that bedecks the screen will slacken your jaw in awe,” said The Playlist, while Spain’s El Pais called it “an unfunny joke from a clown”. Ouch! The BBC nailed it: “There is nothing quite like ‘The French Dispatch’, except Anderson’s other films, of course.”

– ‘Titane’ – 

Cannes always needs a shock-fest and this insane tale of a woman on a brutal rampage of revenge, while also having sex with cars, was it. 

The critics were shell-shocked, mostly in a good way. “The whole way home, I noticed my teeth were chattering from the adrenaline,” said Vulture, while British magazine Little White Lies said it was an “intoxicating mix of grease, gore and gasoline.”

– ‘The Worst Person in the World’ –

Norway’s Joachim Trier combines female coming-of-age, rom-com joy with unflinching emotional drama, and has turned its lead Renate Reinsve into an overnight star.

Variety described it as “just lovely (with) its own bittersweet poetry” while Britain’s Daily Telegraph critic used a quote from the film to describe his feelings on Twitter: “Pretty cerebral, but it turns me on too”.

– ‘Paris, 13th District’ – 

A highly sexed, keenly observed take on modern love is new terrain for France’s Jacques Audiard, but The Telegraph said it was “fabulous, heady stuff — one of the best films of a great Cannes.”

France’s Premiere magazine said it was “romantic and connected to the moment, but also like a meeting of past classics ‘Chungking Express’ and (Woody Allen’s) ‘Manhattan’ — love at first sight.”

– ‘Red Rocket’ –

US indie director Sean Baker strikes gold with little-known actor Simon Rex as a motormouth porn star trying to claw his way back to success in small-town Texas. 

Though the character is a monster, the film “never loses its vibrancy or skewed humour” and is a “raucous good time”, wrote Variety, while IndieWire called it “a roman candle of a movie that wonders if America’s pathological narcissism will ever burn itself out.”

– ‘Annette’ –

France’s mad genius Leos Carax will always sharply divide audiences, but his starry English-language debut about a celebrity couple (Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard) and their strange daughter was an early favourite for the Palme d’Or. 

France’s Telerama called it a “flamboyant rock opera”, and Le Monde “heart-breaking and inspired”. By contrast, Vanity Fair said it was a “dull and long — really long — piece of preening self-regard.”

– ‘Benedetta’ –

Lesbian nuns in a 17th-century convent was bound to grab attention, especially when critics saw how they put a handheld Virgin Mary statue to use. 

The Playlist found it “a hoot, but… it isn’t particularly penetrating”, while Deadline argued it mixes “impudent and outrageous conceits with serious smarts”. The Guardian was unimpressed, warning that Dutch director Paul Verhoeven “may have to do some contrite murmuring in the confessional for this one.”

– ‘Nitram’ –

A late contender, premiering on the last day of the festival, this grim account of Australia’s last mass shooting in 1996 (causing sweeping gun law reforms) was a controversial choice of topic back home, but won over the critics at Cannes.

Not the for the faint-hearted, Variety compared it to “watching a lit firework burn down in your hand toward its gunpowder base, unable to let go of it, transfixed by its snapping sparks.”

– ‘Belle’ –

One of the top tips played outside the main competition but is already seen as an Oscar contender: the latest animation from Japan’s Mamoru Hosoda follows the rollercoaster emotional life of a shy adolescent girl in a 21st century take on “Beauty and the Beast”. 

It got a 14-minute ovation this week and The Hollywood Reporter said its “wildly imaginative futureworld takes your breath away”. 

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