Cannes 2009: The Tomato Report - Critics Pick Their Awards Favourites

The Palme d'Or gets awarded tonight - what are critics tipping?

by | May 24, 2009 | Comments

With the Cannes Film Festival winding down this weekend, talk is now turning to who will win the Palme d’Or this evening. We tracked down several journalists covering the fest to gauge their opinion, and it seems there are two very definite front-runners at present – Michael Haneke‘s The White Ribbon, a taut period drama about a German village pre-WWI, and Jacques Audiard‘s A Prophet, a prison film about a young man’s efforts to survive incarceration in a French jail.

“I am rooting for A Prophet to win,” says Heat’s Charles Gant. “It’s the Gomorrah of this year’s festival, but thanks to its linear storyline it’s arguably more accessible and satisfying than last year’s Mafia drama. But maybe its genre conventionality will count against it with the jury, earning it a lesser prize, possibly Best Actor for young Tahar Rahim, making his big-screen debut.

“One school of thought says it would be controversial for the jury to give the Palme D’Or to another French film after The Class won in 2008, but I don’t think juries think like that.

“The favourite at this stage is probably Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. He’s never won before and it’s a very solid Euro arthouse offering: a slow-build film that commands engagement through Haneke’s usual trick of withholding information.

“The third film in strong contention is Jane Campion‘s Bright Star. I’m not excited by that idea, although I did considerably like the film. In style and subject (poet John Keats’ chaste love affair with his neighbour), it seems slightly conventional, especially when compared with recent winners such as The Class and Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

Cannes 2009
Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet.

The Times’ Wendy Ide concurs with Gant. “In my opinion, the two strongest contenders are A Prophet and The White Ribbon. The latter might just swing it because of its uncompromising and distinctive style, intellectual rigor, and because jury president Isabelle Huppert has collaborated with him before. But then again, the jury could just go nuts and give it to Antichrist.”

The latter is Lars von Trier‘s controversial horror film, which stars Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple trying to mend their relationship in an isolated cabin in the woods. It has certainly divided opinion out here, but The Independent’s Kaleem Aftab is most definitely a fan. “I genuinely hope it wins,” he said. “Love it or hate it, von Trier’s visually stunning film provokes debate and makes you question life.”

We also caught up with Leslie Felperin, who had just finished lunch with her fellow Variety critics, where talk had also apparently turned to the Palme. “The collective consensus is that first and foremost you can never tell what a jury’s going to plump for,” she said. “So often serious horse-trading goes on and something worthy but dull takes the prize because the jurors are too divided about the more obvious candidates.

“We were all joking at lunch that we can just imagine juror Asia Argento championing Lars von Trier’s Antichrist to the horror of the others. Having said that, I would bet that the Michael Haneke movie, The White Ribbon, is a strong contender for the Palme just because he’s never won the Palme itself (although he’s won best director and, I think, grand jury prizes), and one of his leading ladies, Isabelle Huppert, is head of the jury this year. I hasten to add that I haven’t even seen the film, but apparently it’s very good.

“Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet ought to and probably will win something because it’s brilliantly made, although it could be described as a ‘genre’ movie, and juries often fail to honour such films. Which is dumb, but there you go.”

Cannes 2009
The White Ribbon

But what of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino‘s eagerly anticipated WWII flick that ticks all the genre boxes? According to Empire’s Damon Wise, the film’s popularity will count against it. “It would enable QT to join the double-Palme club, but I think the film’s entertainment factor might count against it,” he says.

It may also not help that jury president Huppert had originally been set to star in the film, before Tarantino replaced her for being too “divistic.”

“I think it’s wide open at the minute,” he continues, “But with Isabelle Huppert as head of the jury, with the likes of Asia Argento and Hanif Kureishi backing her up, I don’t think the Palme will go to anything ‘meh’. I’ve been told it’s 50-50 between A Prophet and, er, something else, and I think Audiard’s film will appeal to [jury member] James Gray, certainly. A French film won last year, which might hold it back though. The jury’s five actresses, however, may suggest that women will be especially favoured this year, so Jane Campion and Andrea Arnold could be looking at a win, although perhaps not the Palme itself.

“So I’ll stick my neck out. I think the Palme will go to Antichrist or The White Ribbon. If Haneke wins, Lars gets best director, and vice versa.”

Finally, Total Film’s Jonathan Dean is championing a film about a drug dealer’s tripped out experience in Tokyo that has been causing quite a stir at the tail-end of the festival. “In a world where awards are handed out to films that don’t so much push the envelope as blow it up, Enter The Void would win the Palme d’Or for the next five years. Visually extraordinary and the most mind-warping film I’ve ever seen, [director] Gaspar Noe is a master of invention. Credit would be deserved.

“But clearly, seeing as it’s a bit mad and really tails off in the last hour, Enter The Void won’t win. No chance. Instead I reckon – like everyone else, that A Prophet is the one to beat, even if personally I’d be satisfied with the other favourite The White Ribbon. Keep an eye out for Fish Tank too. A brilliant film sure to push jury members Huppert and Argento’s buttons.”

The winner of the Palme D’Or will be announced this evening. Until then, find out more about critical reaction to films in this year’s festival (in and out of competition) via our Tomato Reports:

Fish Tank
Spring Fever
Bright Star
Taking Woodstock
A Prophet
Looking for Eric
Broken Embraces
I Love You, Phillip Morris
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Enter the Void

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