By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 29, 2013 at 12:57PM
And so it's time to wrap up our time at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and gently put it to bed. The consensus that seemed to emerge, and that we're on board with, was that this was a strong year at the festival, and if there was no single, unexpected, left-of-field standout (no "Holy Motors" leapt out of the bushes and startled everyone) that was more than compensated for by the base standard being higher than in previous years.
This year, The Playlist sent two staffers to the festival, meaning we got to cover more than usual, but of course we didn't have identical schedules. However where we disagreed on films we both saw, we're happy to say the disagreements were minor, and where one passionately made a case for a film the other had not seen, well, we engaged in mature, mutually respectful debate (arm wrestle). So how we've designed this recap is that we've worked together to agree our joint top 5 films of the festival, and then gone off into separate rundowns of our highlights and lowlights, reflecting, we hope, our different but complementary experiences. So just before we say goodnight and turn off the lights on the Croisette, here's our final Cannes lullaby. (Catch all over coverage by clicking here).
The Playlist's 5 Best Cannes Competition Films
There's not a lot more we can say about Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or-winning "Blue is the Warmest Color" (review here) except that we were hugely impressed with the jury's (probably hard-fought) decision to get around the weird Cannes rule that the Palme winner can't also take an acting award, by giving the Palme to the director and the two principal stars. As a Cannes experience, it was gratifying to sense how much the film's stature grew in the days following its screening; we had stumbled out of that initial screening totally transported, but with the passage of time the film became no less lovable in retrospect. Continuing debate about its sex scenes aside (see below), 'Blue' simply towered in its humanist, compassionate way, above everything else we saw and the fact that the Spielberg-headed panel worked so unprecedentedly hard to see full justice done in face of regulations, makes us oddly proud of them as a jury.
There've been plenty of songs about trying to make it in the music biz, and movies too, but the latest from the Coen Brothers (review here) might be the definitive portrait of the struggle just to make your artistic voice heard. The loosely plotted, immensely enjoyable, packed-with-great-tunes "Inside Llewyn Davis" is every bit as great as you've heard and then some. Oscar Isaac -- who pretty much appears in nearly every scene in the movie -- makes the most of his first major lead turn, and plays the struggling Llewyn with a rumpled grace, perfectly capturing a man who is always just on the outside edge of the spotlight. The film chronicles a week in the life of Llewyn, which feels like a lifetime, as he juggles an ex-girlfriend, career opportunities and yes, a cat, as he tries move a simple rung up the ladder, while hampered by his own self-sabotaging tendencies. Melancholy, certainly, but "Inside Llewyn Davis" isn't sad and is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. Ultimately, it's a movie about the essential act of creating art for its own purpose, and how the rewards that follow are the icing on the cake that is granted to but a select, lucky few.
There is no movie at Cannes that we didn't want to end as much as Asghar Farhadi's "The Past" (read our review here). The latest from the filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated "A Separation" is an unbelievably well-written, character-rich portrait of a woman caught in the crucial juncture between moving on from ex-husband, and into a new life with a single father. The dramatic opportunities are endless and Farhadi seems to find every note to play just perfectly, and is blessed by an array of fantastic performances from Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mossafa, Tahar Rahim and rising Pauline Burlet that it's hard to pick a favorite. But the biggest masterstroke from Farhadi is that each of these characters is flawed and deeply human, sympathetic at times, unlikeable at others, but real in a way that few movies ever reach. The final act may not hit the same high notes as the rest of the movie, and may move into more melodramatic territory than some are comfortable with, but Farhadi's vision is so complete you don't mind going there anyway. The greatest praise we can heap on the film is that we truly want to know what happens to these characters after the credits roll.
While Alex van Warmerdam's chilly, mischievous sorta-home invasion oddity "Borgman" (reviewed here) didn't gain a lot of traction, especially as the festival wore on and some of the bigger movies delivered, we're happy to cheerlead for it, as it proved one of the more unexpected pleasures of our Cannes. While we could tell by its kind of misanthropic tone that it wouldn't have a hope in taking home much in the way of awards, looking back now we admire it all the more for how very different it was happy to be in its fantastical and rather cruel outlook, from the more mature, adult-drama focussed selections elsewhere. It's absolutely not for everyone, but fans of "Dogtooth" should find plenty to enjoy, and for ourselves, we're happy to forgo warmth and universality when the results are as stylishly off-kilter as this.
"Behind the Candelabra"
We don't want to be those guys who come home from Cannes raving about nothing but American movies, but neither do we want to be the guys who try and prove their bona fides by overlooking them when worthy. And for us, Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" (reviewed here) was a terrific experience, and one we feel privileged to have seen in all its lovingly detailed luxuriant kitch excessiveness on the big screen. It's hardly experimental or groundbreaking in format it's true, but when every single aspect of a classic production sings the way it does here, from the astonishing performances to the lovely fluid, confident camerawork, to the funny/sad/insightful/snappy script, we don't care about a lack of formal experimentation. This is classy, rich, absorbing storytelling and we enjoyed the hell out of it.