Cannes: The Awards Outlook

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Oh, God: The White Ribbon, likely Palme d’Or pick.

CANNES, FRANCE — As of now, nineteen of this year’s twenty competition titles have screened. (The final one, Isabel Coixet’s Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, premieres tonight.) The awards ceremony takes place Sunday night, and here’s how we think it’ll play out, factoring in critical reactions, hearsay, and the makeup of the nine-person jury, which includes Isabelle Huppert and Asia Argento, two actresses known for outré tastes, and a whole host of intellectual and literary types: Hanif Kureishi, Korean novelist turned filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, and Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

PALME D’OR
The festival awards a Palme d’Or, a Grand Prize, and a Jury Prize: the first, second, and third prize, respectively. Awards for director and screenplay are also given, and additional “special” prizes are sometimes awarded.

Favorite: Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, a stark portrayal of early-twentieth-century German village life doubling as an allegory for the fascistic national character, has an edge, as the most obviously cerebral film in a competition overflowing with genre titles. It’s by no means universally loved (“This is like Little House on the Prairie,” a critic friend texted us mid-screening), but there’s a definite sense that Haneke is overdue, having won consolation prizes twice now, for Caché and The Piano Teacher.

Contenders: Two other likely winners represent a face-off between old and new French cinema. Wild Grass, a return to form by the 86-year-old Alain Resnais, is both spirited and sweetly eccentric (is that a Farrelly Brothers reference in the closing sequence?). Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, a violent, sweeping prison drama hailed as the French Goodfellas, has been the critical favorite since it screened last weekend. Also good bets: Marco Bellocchio’s stirring, near-operatic Vincere, a Mussolini melodrama with uncanny parallels to Berlucsoni’s Italy, and Jane Campion’s warmly received John Keats–Fanny Brawne romance Bright Star.

Dark Horse: With Argento and Huppert on the jury, it would be a surprise if there weren’t at least one surprising award. Antichrist seems too obvious (besides, Lars Von Trier publicly dissed Argento’s dad, Dario, earlier this week). The real statement would be to give a prize to Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, an avant-garde stunt from the director of Irreversible, complete with copious drug use, explicit sex, trippy psychedelics, and a roaming camera that briefly assumes the point of view of ejaculated semen. It just screened a few hours ago, and critics can’t seem to decide if Noé is a genius or a fraud.

BEST ACTOR
Favorite: Tahar Rahim, as a French-Arab thug behind bars in A Prophet, seems the one to beat: a young, good-looking newcomer carrying the weight of an entire film.

Contenders: Slim pickings this year, but two crowd-pleasers are also in the mix: veteran French character actor André Dussollier, for Wild Grass, and Steve Evets, a British TV star (and occasional bass player in Manchester band the Fall), for Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric.

Dark Horse: Comic performances tend not to fare well here, but Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz, the ultimate cartoon Nazi, could prove the exception.

BEST ACTRESS
Favorite: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, as the mother of Mussolini’s secret love child in Vincere, has drawn raves for the controlled histrionics of her performance, as a wronged woman who refuses to play the part assigned to her by a fascist society.

Contenders: An intriguing category, with five actresses on the jury and an abundance of powerful female performances: Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist; Abbie Cornish, Bright Star’s Fanny Brawne; and Katie Jarvis, the young British star of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank.

Dark Horse: Horrible fates befall women in plenty of this year’s films. Kim Ok-Bin’s housewife turned vampire in Park Chan-wook’s Thirst is no exception, but she’s also one of the festival’s most empowered female characters, totally uninhibited when it comes to satisfying her appetites.