Auteurs Ahoy at Cannes

Almodóvar, Malick, and Tarantino Battle it Out for the Palme D’Or

Tarantino? Check. Almodóvar? Check. Malick? Check. The auteurs are out in full force at this year’s Cannes, and competition is fierce for the Palme d’Or.

There are 21 movies vying for the top prize at the most prestigious film festival in the world. And 5 of the features are from directors who have already nabbed the career-defining award.

Politically progressive British helmer Ken Loach, here with Sorry We Missed You, and the humanist Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, here with Young Ahmed, are part of an even more exclusive group of people who have won it twice. And both films are also strong entries from seasoned vets. Sorry We Missed You is a stinging, enraged rebuke to the gig economy. Young Ahmed puts a empathetic face on the inner turmoil of a budding jihadist. If either of these films click with the jury, this could be the year of the festival’s first triple-winner.

Then again, the fetishistically adored Quentin Tarantino might get it for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, a world premiere that made Cannes practically vibrate with apoplectic delight. His latest played on the very day that, 25 years ago, his Palme d’Or masterpiece Pulp Fiction made its debut. And the French found that anniversary trés romantique.

Filmmaker On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
Antonio Banderas takes a dip in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory.

Handicappers have their work cut out for them. Among most critics, the sentimental favorite is two-time Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar, who has never gotten the Palme despite competing for it a half-dozen times and ending up with a few lesser Cannes awards. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

But his new film would be a worthy winner, and an apt one. The semiautobiographical drama Pain and Glory is a rich, achingly heartfelt look at a director re-evaluating the defining relationships in his life. Antonio Banderas, sporting the Spanish helmer’s iconic spiky hair and scruffy beard, and even literally wearing the director’s own clothes, plays a dour filmmaker with chronic physical pain named Salvador (a near-anagram of Pedro’s last name).

When the restoration of an early-career hit sparks a reconnection with its leading man, Salvador decides on a whim to smoke some of the addict-actor’s heroin. The drug quickly replaces his prescription opioids. But it also brings him back into reveries of his past, where he reflects on his childhood with a jilted mom (Penelope Cruz) and absentee dad, as well as his own budding homosexual awakening.

Pain and Glory is a quiet, deeply emotional movie that illuminates how much the creative process can be a cathartic, therapeutic exercise in healing. It’s a summation of sorts, a reconciliation, and a paean to filmmaking itself.

Pulp Autofiction
Brad and Leo lookin’ good in Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Those very same words also apply to Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Tarantino’s surprisingly modest and strangely tender epic about the state of the world’s movie capital circa 1969. Leo DiCaprio plays washed-up TV cowboy Rick Dalton, Brad Pitt is his former-stuntman-turned-factotum Cliff Booth, and Los Angeles plays itself at an historical inflection point of upended careers, uncertain futures, and pure Manson-family dread.

Pulp Fiction fanatics expecting great vengeance and furious anger won’t get very much of it here. Think less Inglorious Basterds and more Jackie Brown. This is a hang-out movie where QT admirably moderates his showboating dialogue and baroque violence. If anything, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a movie that celebrates the marginalized Tinseltown journeyman. It’s an emotional epic about integrity and longevity in a dark, fickle world.

Whole Lotta Malick
Terence Malick’s A Hidden Life

Which brings us to Terrence Malick. His new WWII pastoral A Hidden Life recounts the true-life story of Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a farmer who enlists with the Nazis but refuses to sign a loyalty pledge to Hitler. It grapples with the ultimate challenge: how to follow, and preserve, a moral compass in a time of political turmoil and rising fascism. Topical cinema, anyone?

That said, it’s also a Terrence Malick film, which means exquisite nature cinematography and mind-numbing voiceover narrative addressing The State of Things. Bonus: no recognizable stars! Extra bonus: it’s three hours long! So mileage may vary among those who love Malick and those who loathe him. Fox Searchlight better hope there are more of the former and less of the latter. They just coughed up between $12 million and $14 million for the rights to distribute it, in what could be seen as their Roma strategy for Oscars 2019. Even if he leaves Cannes empty-handed, Malick will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

One thought on “Auteurs Ahoy at Cannes

  • June 12, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Umm first of all? If you’re going to make comments on Tarantino’s past classics? Get them correct on titles?


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