CANNES, France — All week, Cannes’ chattering classes have been pegging Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 196-minute butt-numbing marathoner Winter Sleep as the frontrunner for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize. The domestic drama follows a retired, self-important actor and his series of seemingly modest encounters with friends and neighbors; but over time, the petty insults, slights and underlying contempt reveal the man to be a loathsome tyrant. Though bloated, the film fits the bill for what Cannes wants to elevate: personal stories intertwined with the public, political and spiritual spheres, while also feeling both topical and timeless.
Another heralded contender is Two Days, One Night, by Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, about a factory worker (Marion Cotillard) who has one weekend to avoid being laid off if she can convince her cohorts to give up their modest bonuses. Worthy but somewhat schematic compared with the directors’ previous efforts, this latest look at a hardscrabble life doesn’t feel like Palme d’Or material (though the duo has won twice before, and some wags think this will be their third).
Thursday night introduced a spoiler. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan, a devastating tale of Russian lives turned inside out by the petty needs of a small-town mayor, is both hilarious and harrowing in its depiction of vodka-soaked common men as well as corrupt public servants goaded into even more bad behavior by the local church. One scene has a group of soused friends shooting rifles and AK-47’s at empty glass liquor bottles. After the targets were shattered, one of the men pulls out some new targets: framed Soviet portraits of Lenin, Brezhnev and Gorbachev. “Do you have any current ones?” asks one of the shooters. “It’s too early for the current ones,” the other one wisecracks drily. “Not enough historical perspective.” Meanwhile, Putin looms in every frame of this remarkably furious tragedy.
Best Actor seems like a toss-up between Steve Carrell’s haunting performance in Foxcatcher and Timothy Spall’s illuminated wretch in Mr. Turner. Best Actress feels like a lock for Anne Dorval, titular star of the deeply affecting Mommy, which was written and directed by Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan (who at 25 would be the youngest ever Palme d’Or winner if his very fine mother-son drama wins). The kerfuffle at the start of the festival about the dearth of women Palme d’Or winners—especially during a year when Jane Campion, sole woman Palme winner, is jury president—might put Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders in the pole position. But neither are really strong enough to deserve it, and a win from either would smack of tokenism.
Then again, most of the cast and crew of the competition films are just happy to be here. Carrell and his co-star Channing Tatum were thrilled simply to hang out together, since the demands of making Foxcatcher were so intense that both refused to socialize while on set.
“We silently agreed that we would be disconnected throughout the shoot,” said Carrell during lunch at the Carlton Beach. “So this is great! I’m seeing pictures of his baby—stuff we could have never done. He’s a very nice guy!” Tatum agreed, saying that the intensity of the real-life story was such that no one on the set felt it appropriate to loosen up. “My wife showed up for a week during filming and left in two days,” said Tatum. “She said, ‘This is not a fun at all—I do not want to be here. I’m not in an emotional place for this.”
Tatum also admitted that he was barely in a place to do press—but for different reasons. “It’s completely unfair!” he said, smiling. “We’re obviously celebrating last night, and I go, ‘What time do we have to get up tomorrow?’ You can’t give us this amazing night and then expect us to string sentences together in the morning.”
Cannes is a virtual athletic event, especially for those who dart in and out of town while trying to avoid the rigors of a major press blitz. Jon Stewart was spotted at a quiet, unlisted market screening of his directorial debut, Rosewater, trying to drum up international sales for the film. Tim Burton was secretly on hand to unveil his Weinstein release Bright Eyes to buyers from around the world who had already paid for the film and wanted to see what they had purchased. And last night at 1:30 a.m., after serving her duties at the glamtastic AIDS fundraiser amfAR, a mink-wrapped Sharon Stone quickly darted into the town’s beloved (and near-empty) eatery, La Pizza, for a late-night bite. Cannes is perfect for peacocking, but sometimes a low profile is the best kind of all.