Cannes Film Festival 2012: No Surprises, A Few Alarms, And The Real Prize

Michael Haneke’s Amour claimed the ultimate prize at the Cannes Film Festival, bagging his second “Best Picture” Palme d’Or in three years and setting a new record. His first Palme awarded for The White Ribbon back in 2009.

Amour — a restrained but devastating pax de deux between an elderly couple (played by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) coping with the catastrophic effects of a stroke, and the love that meets it — was the consensus film of choice, with an ovation to match.

However, that was the only verdict that fell in line with critics’ predictions.

The exclusion of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors – the shape-shifting, armpit-licking, Denis Lavant starrer – elicited a shrill chorus from the many that expected it to at least place somewhere.

Robert Koehler, film critic contributor at Variety and other outlets, thundered “I won’t go as far as some colleagues in calling it the worst Cannes awards ever, but nothing for Carax'[s] Holy Motors is an outrage.”

David Fear, film critic at Time Out NYquipped, “Sorry I came home early [and] missed pitchfork/torch-carrying mob of crix storming Croisette, demanding Holy Motors satisfaction.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw tweeted “It’s the right decision at Cannes 2012, but sad for Leos Carax and Sergei Lotznitsa, unjustly passed over…”

Xan Brooks asked,”Whatever became of […] Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, far and away the most inventive and audacious film in competition?”

Hollywood Reporter’stake on the Carax shut out was that the film, “divided partisans and naysayers more sharply than any other film; this is not a work to inspire compromise among critics or jurors … a major prize for it would have created a small furor.”

At the press conference that followed the closing ceremony, jury president Nanni Moretti said, “None of the prizes given tonight were awarded unanimously” adding, “I noticed that some filmmakers were in love with their own style rather than with their characters.”

Moving on. Other awards handed out were not nearly as divisive, though there were still some upsets among them.

Notably, “Grand Prix” winner, Matteo Garrone’s Reality – in which a Neapolitan chancer and fishmonger (Aniello Arena) desires becoming a contestant on Big Brother, only to find his own reality altering as a result – had lurked at bottom end of critics’ polls in Cannes, but still found favor with the jury.

Carlos Reygadas’s “Best Director” win for Post Tenebras Lux, dismayed many who considered Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone and/or Carax’s Holy Motors more deserving contenders.

Beyond the Hills — a fact-inspired story about the exorcism of a young woman attempting to rescue a childhood friend (now a nun) from a monastery — scored big, winning “Best Screenplay” for its director Cristian Mungiu and a joint “Best Actress “Award for its leads – Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan.

Many critics expected either Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) or Emmanuelle Riva to win for their performances. But it was not to be.

The award for “Best Actor” went to Mads Mikkelsen for his role as a primary school teacher falsely accused of sexually abusing a young girl in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt. Though considered a worthy honoree, many critics expressed shock that Denis Lavant’s electrifying, 11 character turn in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors received no recognition.

More popular results saw the “The Jury Prize” awarded to Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share.

Benh Zeitlin came away with the “Camera d’Or” for the critically acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild, which played in the Un Certain Regard category and won the international critics’ prize.

The “Short Film Palme d’Or” went to Reznan Yesilbas’ Sessiz-Be Deng/ Silent.

Excluding the “Camera d’Or” — awarded for Best First Film and the only award won by an American — all remaining U.S titles were left out in the cold.

These were: John Hillcoat’s prohibition thriller Lawless, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, Walter Salles’s On the Road, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Jeff Nichols’ Mud starring Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon; and Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy.

It’s worth noting many critics agreed Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Paul Giamatti, Nicole Kidman, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Matthew McConaughey, delivered impressive performances in their respective films.

Similarly, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund, all of whom featured heavily in U.S and international coverage of the festival, can certainly view their Cannes experience as a success. Both Stewart’s and Hedlund’s performances in On the Road were described by many critics as terrific.

Although some media outlets are reporting that David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Juliet Binoche and Sarah Gadon, received lower end to mixed reviews — in fact the majority of critics praised the Don DeLillo adaptation, hailing Pattinson’s dominating performance as excellent.

With the exception of U.S director’s Benh Zeitlin’s win and ambivalently received films, The Paperboy, Mud and Lawless, the lack of festival prizes for North American titles is unlikely to hinder their appeal internationally.

Reutersreports “What the strong North American presence did do, however, was put stars on the red carpet, a key ingredient to success at a film festival which thrives not only on high-brow cinema but also on glamour, fame and celebrity buzz.”

And as Kingdom’srecord breaking speciality box-office debut demonstrates, the real prize for Cosmopolis, On the Road, Moonrise Kingdom and Killing Them Softly is the priceless profile bump a Cannes Film Festival selection bestows.

Perception really is everything.

Robert Pattinson on Red Carpet for Cosmopolis Premiere at Cannes

Brad Pitt at the Killing Them Softly Premiere at Cannes