Cannes 2019: Ranked!

Well, the 72nd Cannes Film Festival is almost over. We had an absolute blast, and although there are many reviews still to write *shudder*, we thought now would be a good moment to run down everything that we saw over the last fortnight. This is going to be quite a long piece, so, without further ado, here’s everything we saw in order of greatness.

  1. LUX ÆTERNA

OUT OF COMPETITION – MIDNIGHT SCREENING

The only 5* masterwork of Cannes 2019, Gaspar Noe’s transcendent trip-out is a stunning meditation on creation and cinema. This is a film which successfully conjures a quasi-religious experience of transcendence that left me wide-eyed and gaping for the next hour. Filmmaking is alchemy: out of such disparity and conflict comes something with a mythical, magnetic force. It is creation – God-like – from nothing. Film is not the sum of its parts, for its parts do not add up – but some primal energy soaring electric through the darkness. That night, its euphoric lightning struck the Theatre Lumiere with such force that the building threatened to spontaneously combust.

If there’s a chance to see this in a cinema, leap for it.

5/5

2. THE LIGHTHOUSE

DIRECTOR’S FORTNIGHT

Probably the buzziest movie of the festival, I was lucky enough to catch The Lighthouse on its world premiere, and so avoided having to queue for hours upon hours on repeat screenings only to be turned away at the door.  By the time the infection of this film has worn its course, and the existential, cosmic horror of its final scenes has come to an end, we’re soaked, bedraggled, and exhausted. The Lighthouse is more of a delirious, physical ordeal than a movie in the conventional sense. Weird, plotless, and sporadically terrifying, it’s a film about losing one’s proverbial marbles that drops an atom bomb on those marbles within the first 30 minutes, leaving the last hour decoupled from any sense of reason or sanity. Be glad that this film exists.

4/5

3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

IN COMPETITION

Easily the biggest, and hardest to attend, film of the festival, trying to see Once Upon a Time took up a good deal of my time towards the end of Cannes. After queueing for 3.5 hours unsuccessfully at its press screening, and then a further unfruitful hour at its much smaller overflow press screening, I finally managed to get in the next day at its second (and last) Lumiere screening – after queueing for another 3.5 hours. It seems like Sony have deliberately scheduled few screenings at the festival in order to drum up artificial hype (it’s probably the least screened piece In Competition, despite being the biggest by far), and thus only around 5,000 of the 70,000 festival attendees were able to take a peek.

Still, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a film that ebbs and flows and was worth the wait. It’s a film to be consumed by, and to get lost in, and one that quickly acquires a state of myth and half-remembered transcendence. It’s the cracked, shimmering vision of an old-time movie mogul in his twilight years who, after finishing the last dregs of his scotch, drifts off dreaming of better times as the ashen end of his cigar throws off its final defiant plumes of fragrant smoke into the miraging air. The possibility of the moving image has rarely felt so tangible, and yet so mythical.

4/5

4. PARASITE

IN COMPETITION

The most uproarious audience reaction of the festival surely comes from Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite – his best film yet. Hilarious, pitch-black, and shockingly violent, Parasite really begins to take hold as the credits roll. This is a genre picture that wants to deliver Machiavellian thrills thick and fast, but which also underpins it’s funhouse trappings with a heady dose of social/political commentary on the class divide in modern Korea (or, for that matter, anywhere). To exist is to take advantage of others; to exploit and use other people to make your fortune. Whether consensual or even conscious, society is nothing more than an amalgamation of bets and bargains and risk. There’s a lot to think about, and, unlike Sorry We Missed You, it doesn’t make me want to jump in front of a car.

Expect a large, buzzy international rollout bigger than Burning, and maybe even an English-language remake…

4/5

5. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

IN COMPETITION

The critical darling of the Competition, Céline Sciamma’s ravishing, intelligent and suspenseful love story would have been my pick for the Palme D’Or (it justifiably went to Parasite). A film about creation – painting, specifically – that truly understands creation, it’s a minimalist, suspenseful joy from first frame until last. Courting the surreal, and even the sinister, this is a film which has a Barry Lyndon-esque penchant for orchestrating compositions to look like classical works of art, and its less-is-more approach to soundtrack pays off in droves.

4/5

6. BACURAU

IN COMPETITION

One of the first films I caught at the festival, and certainly one of the wildest, Bacurau is a vibrant, exploitation-Western fantasia about the creeping onslaught of modernity. It’s the sort of innovative, risky, thrilling content that brightens up the Official Selection and really puts a smile on your face. For some, it may be too unwieldy and ambitious; for others, its splattery violence may become too much; and for others still, it’s slippery tonal staircase and political knife-stabs may make them lose the plot. But this is an All-Day Midnight Movie: a slice of crossover exploitation smart, funny, violent and absolutely beautiful in equal measure.

4/5

7. THE WILD GOOSE LAKE

IN COMPETITION

The Wild Goose Lake, Diao Yinan’s follow up to Black Coal, Thin Ice, drags his neon-neo-noir style both back into the past and forward into the future. Despite lacking the meteoric, sweeping scope as his debut (which won the Gold Bear at Berlin in 2014), The Wild Goose Lake provides an altogether more subtle and damning view of modern China, as well as doubling down on the stylistic elements that made him a major voice on the international scene. Although overly complex and under-delivering on the narrative front, the film acts as a beautiful, gallery-style aesthetic showcase and a chipped mirror through which to view Chinese society. A completely modern, neon re-imagining of the chiaroscuro noirs of the 30’s and 40’s.

4/5

8. LITTLE JOE

IN COMPETITION

A controversial, love-it-or-hate-it presence on the Croisette, Little Joe is a drifting, ambiguous, plant-based horror with several rich thematic explorations. Most discussed at the festival has been its condemnation of antidepressants as an agent of modern zombification – something which has alternately been described as prescient and deeply irresponsible. I don’t necessarily think the film is outright condemning the use of such drugs; it’s impossible to ignore the reality and effects of their use. More interesting for me, though, is the film’s discussion of motherhood and fertility. Little Joe paints a bleak, almost apocalyptic picture of humanity as existing for a purpose more unconscious than subconscious – the desire to procreate, and hence to have sex in the first place, nothing more than a primal reaction that even plants possess. Most creepily, the film dares to suggest that unconditional love is nothing more than an arbitrary chemical reflex. A chilling piece of work, despite some lacklustre performances.  

4/5

9. FIRST LOVE

DIRECTOR’S FORTNIGHT

First Love feels like Takashi Miike’s version of Mission Impossible: Fallout. Despite having a relatively slow build-up and setting aside too much time to finish things, the bulk of the film consists of a non-stop barrage of shootouts, car chases, and knife-fights. Miike’s choreography is truly thrilling to behold, especially in a revolving car-park car-chase/gunfight on copious amounts of drugs that transitions into a glorious, multicoloured animated segment that had the Theatre Croisette erupting into spontaneous applause. Quintessential late-stage Miike at his most crowd-pleasing.

4/5

10. TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG: NORTH OF HOLLYWOOD, WEST OF HELL

OUT OF COMPETITION

Rounding off our top 10, this ad-hoc movie combines episodes 4 and 5 (not 1 and 2) of Nicolas Winding Refn’s upcoming Too Old to Die Young together to form a sort of feature in limbo – coming from somewhere as yet unknown and going somewhere uncertain. Although it’s obviously difficult to make generalisations about a 10-episode television show from a fifth of the content, Too Old to Die Young looks set to be Refn at his most Refn – at his most narcissistic, violent, indulgent, stylish, and controversial. You already know if you’ll be into it or not – which means it’s a Refn movie.

4/5

11. ZOMBI CHILD

DIRECTOR’S FORTNIGHT

Bertrand Bonello’s voodoo-inspired horror thingy is both deeply rooted in the genre and wildly original. Blending a real-life story of Haitian ‘zombis’ with traditional voodoo myths and a modern, real-world setting, it’s that rare film that feels highly stylised and completely authentic. The whole thing builds to a climax that’s genuinely spine-tingling and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

4/5

12. PAIN AND GLORY

IN COMPETITION

Although it has been tipped for awards glory from the get go, Almodovar’s Pain and Glory (it’s mostly pain) is a more pedestrian take on 8 ½. With a brilliant performance from Antonio Banderas which just won the Best Actor award, the Cannes veteran director looks back at his childhood and career in a melancholic, critical light. It’s a film that’s large on nostalgia but shallow on intense emotion and actual insight. Still, it’s a characteristically stylish, colourful and enjoyable outing that’s about cinema – so is sure to do well.

4/5

13. SORRY WE MISSED YOU

IN COMPETITION

Ken Loach’s follow-up to I, Daniel Blake may as well have been titled I, Daniel Blake 2. Despite being melodramatic and intensely manipulative on the emotional front, its superlatively good acting and realistic punch ensure a memorable watch. It feels a bit like being hit over the head by a brick every 5 minutes though.

4/5

14. NINA WU

UN CERTAIN REGARD

A topical Lynchian noir, Nina Wu constructs a barely understandable psychodrama revolving around an actress who loses her grasp on reality after being abused by the director and producer of her first movie. The real-life inspiration for this Taiwanese film is clearly Harvey Weinstein, although there are a couple of segments which seem to address Quentin Tarantino and his behaviour on the set of Kill Bill. At Cannes, this was made eerily prescient by the fact that the man himself was in the audience. Still, despite it’s topical nature and beautiful neon camerawork, the film begins to flounder and get lost in its own narrative mist as it goes on, climaxing in a brutal, unforgiving shot which feels both like a remake of Bastards and a cop-out.

4/5

15. DEERSKIN

DIRECTOR’S FORTNIGHT

Deerskin is yet another odd, self-referential, amusing and perplexing piece of work from cult director Quentin Dupieux. Starring Jean Dujardin (a piece of casting so odd that the audience burst into laughter at the appearance of his name) as a man who becomes oddly obsessed with a deerskin jacket, the film fails to reach the delirious heights of something like Rubber, but does emerge from the lull created by the unremarkable Wrong Cops and Au Poste! with heart and style.

4/5

16. THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL

IN COMPETITION

Credit where credit’s due, The Swallows of Kabul is a beautifully made and emotionally devastating watercolour animation; a sobering lament for the destruction of a majestic city and the culture that went with it. Although its storyline is slight and leans towards the melodramatic, its short run-time and impressive artistic design ensure that the film is a compelling watch nonetheless – just don’t expect to leave the theatre dry-eyed.

4/5

17. LA BELLE ÉPOQUE

OUT OF COMPETITION

Warm and funny, although it struggles in its third act, Nicolas Bedos’s Westworld-esque comedy imagines a company which will recreate any given period of history for a sizeable fee. An ageing man decides to use the service to relive the night he first met his wife, although things don’t exactly go to plan. The film starts hilarious, although in its final act it succumbs to a certain level of mediocrity and a clumsy level of rom-com tropes. Expect an English-language remake.

3/5

18. A HIDDEN LIFE

IN COMPETITION

Despite being his best film since Tree of Life, Malick’s A Hidden Life is a pretty slight and repetitive ordeal: nothing more than a competently told, if overlong, biography film about a vaguely interesting historical character. Lubezki’s trademark cinematography and an impressive score elevate it to a grand, artistic level, but the lack of emotional impact, audience alienation, and sheer length of the film prevent it from being ‘great’ – it’s just ‘good’.

3/5

19. THE DEAD DON’T DIE

IN COMPETITION

We’re starting to get into really ‘meh’ territory now. The Dead Don’t Die, which opened the festival, is a curious film. Taking the skeleton of Romero’s famously political Night of the Living Dead and deconstructing it for a post-ironic, late-stage-capitalistic audience, it’s a coolly funny, occasionally laugh-out-loud slice of the surreal. Like most broad-brush attempts at political genre filmmaking, however, the effect is ultimately underwhelming.

For an afternoon at the cinema, this is perfectly serviceable. Those still enamoured with the post-modern ironic style of filmmaking will probably have a blast – although one doubts how many people still associate nonchalant irony with ‘cool’ rather than ‘outdated’ and ‘obnoxious’. Those not Jarmusch-obsessed will probably also have a good time: it’s a star-studded, determinedly unusual and political zombie movie, after all. But I suspect the memory of this film has a short half-life. When it dies, it’ll stay dead.

3/5

20. YOUNG AHMED

IN COMPETITION

The Dardennes just won best director with their dark slice of social realism, but Young Ahmed just isn’t very good. Tarantino would have been a much better shoe-in for the award. Aside from the fact that two white men are making a film about a radicalised Muslim boy, the film has no real character or plot development. It does not attempt to show how Ahmed is radicalised, and does not manage to demonstrate how he can be de-radicalised either. Although the film is short and never boring, then, it goes absolutely nowhere.

3/5

21. LES MISERABLES

IN COMPETITION

Tipping over into ‘not very good at all’, Ladj Ly’s debut feature is a startling mix of crap-TV silliness and startling violence. The film weaves a ridiculous, laughable tale about a Parisian kid stealing a lion cub (yes, that’s right, a fucking lion cub) from a violent circus owner who threatens to tear the local community apart. We are supposed to believe that this whole thing is captured in pristine HD by a top-quality drone that an impoverished child somehow owns and manages to fly around a vast area of Paris. We are also supposed to believe that, shortly after the drone is smashed to pieces, it somehow resurrects and can be used again to frame the final scene. Despite an ending that’s a magnesium flash of brilliance, this is an absolute mess.

3/5

22. MATTHIAS AND MAXIME

IN COMPETITION

The first truly ‘bad’ film of this list, Xavier Dolan’s woefully self-indulgent, instantly forgettable forbidden romance is the kind of thing that makes 35mm look like an Instagram filter. Completely meaningless and devoid of psychological development or, you know, a plot, the film follows two guys who are forced to share a kiss for a film, and who start to have feelings for each other. Nothing else happens. What an obnoxious snoozefest.

2/5

23. SHARE

SPECIAL SCREENING

Unrealistic, bland, and predictable, Pippa Bianco’s zeitgeisty drama about a girl who discovers a video of herself being violated ticks all the right GenX political boxes but is a total dud. With mediocre acting, a lack of psychological depth, and feeling long even at 90 minutes, it’s the first and only film I saw at Cannes which received no applause.

2/5

24. SUMMER OF CHANGSHA

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Dreary, unrealistic, and overlong, this police procedural suffered from several walkouts. With amateurish cinematography and a one-note plot that never feels truly compelling, the main flaw of Summer of Changsha is its reliance on the audience’s acceptance of the idea that the location of a body could be revealed in a dream. If this was real life, the police would simply arrest the dreamer – how else could they know the location of the body? Instead, the film uses the plot device as an all-solving McGuffin. There should be a law banning shitty, generic debut films from being 2 hours long.

2/5

25. THE WHISTLERS

IN COMPETITION

Like a gimmicky TV movie, Corneliu Porumboiu’s detective drama about a corrupt policeman who learns a whistling language in order to evade capture is  cheap and shallow. Unnecessarily convoluted and totally empty, it’s the kind of film that starts with Iggy Pop’s The Passenger and continues in that tired, post-Tarantino vein until the audience are passed out in their chairs. The people I saw it with universally hated it.

2/5

26. OH MERCY

IN COMPETITION

The worst film we saw at Cannes, Oh Mercy is a mediocre disaster from start to finish. A police procedural with an obvious outcome, the film effectively consists of a detective interviewing two young women until they eventually confess to a crime we always knew they committed. Utterly coma-inducing, with terrible cinematography and mediocre acting.

1/5


James is a postgraduate law student at LSE, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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