1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Cannes 2019: The tops and the flops

Jochen Kürten sh, eg
May 24, 2019

Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino got red carpet buzz, but who are the top contenders for the prestigious Palme d'Or award on Saturday? A look at the highlights of this year's film festival.

Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Image: picture-alliance/A. Cooper

1. Poor reviews for the opening film

An icon of American independent cinema, Jim Jarmusch, opened the festival on May 14. With his new film, The Dead Don't Die, the director presented a not-so-serious zombie movie that targets Donald Trump's America. Bill Murray and Adam Driver play an offbeat cop team, dealing with lots of bloody undead. Tilda Swinton and Danny Glover, as well as music veterans Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, are also in the satirical horror flick. With so many big names, it was a busy premiere on the red carpet, but critics complained about the film's lack of direction.

2. Quentin Tarantino's big splash

Only a few days before the beginning of the festival, the organizers were excited to announce the long-awaited film by star director Quentin Tarantino. His new movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, was finished in the nick of time — allowing his return to Cannes 25 years after Pulp Fiction won the Palme d'Or.

Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured above in a still from the film), Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie star in the drama set in the late 1960s as the hippie movement and Manson Family nightmare gripped Hollywood.

Tarantino's 10th film, said to be his final one, was the hottest red carpet event of the festival. The movie itself mostly obtained positive reviews, but it's also a divisive work: for instance, the German judge on the reputed Screen Daily jury didn't feel it was worth a single star.

Read more: Five Hollywood stars you probably didn't know had German roots

3. More competition highlights

Along with Jarmusch and Tarantino, 19 more filmmakers are competing for the top Golden Palm prize awarded on Saturday, May 25.

Among these were star filmmakers like Spain's master director, Pedro Almodovar, who presented a new melodrama, Pain and Glory. Starring perennial collaborators Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, the work is seen as one of the filmmaker's best in years and ranks high among the competition's frontrunners.

Cannes Filmfestival 2019
Penelope Cruz in Almodovar's "Pain and Glory"Image: festival-cannes

Young Ahmed, a film by Belgian brothers and two-time Palme d'Or winners, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is a timely portrait of the radicalization of a young Muslim teen, but the film failed to completely convince critics.

From Great Britain, veteran Ken Loach — another one of the nine filmmakers who have won the Palme d'Or twice to date — returned to the festival with his latest working-class drama, Sorry We Missed You.

The US was represented by Terrence Malick, who won Cannes' top award in 2011 with The Tree of Life. His much-praised A Hidden Life is based on the true story of an Austrian man who chose to resist the Nazis. 

Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan premiered his new romantic drama, Matthias & Maxime, which obtained generally positive reviews without however landing among the favorites. 

French director Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue is the Warmest Color) screened his sequel to Mektoub My Love on Thursday. But it's a lesser-known director from that country who reaped the most buzz during the festival: Celine Sciamma's enigmatic drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire is among the top Palm d'Or contenders. 

Two seated women look at each other
Hot Palm d'Or tip: Celine Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire"Image: festival-cannes

Another French director, Ladj Ly, also garnered strong praise for his debut feature film, Les Miserables, about rebellion in the notorious suburbs of Paris.

South Korea's preeminent auteur Bong Joon-ho's creepy Parasite is also among the top contenders, the film having received a standing ovation that was almost as long as the one given to Tarantino's film.

China's Diao Yina's crime noir The Wild Goose Lake also garnered positive festival buzz.

4. Where were the Germans?

It hasn't been easy for Germany in recent years. German directors are rarely invited by Cote d'Azur festival organizers, as was the case for 2019. Yet, Germany's money was represented, with four co-productions receiving German funding. There was also some German-language presence, with the Austrian Jessica Hausner invited to the competition for her film Little Joe

In a side event, Werner Herzog's new drama, Family Romance, LLC, which he filmed in Japan with amateur actors, was also presented.

5. The jury

Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was the head of a prominent jury this year, with fellow judges including actresses Elle Fanning (US) and Maimouna N'Diaye (Burkina Faso), as well as a host of directing celebrities: Alice Rohrwacher (Italy), Enki Bilal and Robin Campillo from France, Kelly Reichardt (US) and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.

6. Rocketman and other special side events

Cannes, too, has special series where all new developments in the world of film are put on display — even those which aren't competing for the main awards. 

The most talked-about world premiere was the sequin-loaded Elton John biopic, Rocketman.

A new film by Claude Lelouch, Les plus belles annees d'une vie, with legendary actors Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, was also screened at the festival.

Last but not least, films by prominent directors such as Bruno Dumont and Christophe Honore were shown in the secondary section called "Un Certain Regard."

Film still Rocketman
The Rocket Man electrifying the crowdImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Paramount Germany/David Appleby

7. Honorary Palm d'Or

Each year, the honorary award of the festival goes to a worthy actor or actress with years of success behind them. This year, it went to iconic French actor Alain Delon. Born in 1935, the actor has worked in cinema since the late 1950s, having appeared in over 80 films. Considered one of the greatest actors of European cinema, his biggest successes include films like Purple NoonLe Samourai and The Leopard.

However, the award attracted controversy this year, with the Women and Hollywood group saying that honoring a man who has admitted to hitting women "sucks."

8. The Netflix dispute

In recent years, the festival has become a pioneer in the fight against the rise of the Netflix streaming model for films.

In contrast to the festivals in Berlin and Venice, Cannes does not show any productions in the competition which do not run in theaters. Cannes sees this as a statement of solidarity with cinemas, which means new films by star directors like Martin Scorsese or Steven Soderbergh have not been invited to participate.

9. The women

This year, the competition line-up only featured four films by female directors. "In the Men's Club of Cannes, this could be described as progress," mocked the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Indeed, there have been even fewer female directors in recent Cannes competitions. Apart from Austrian Jessica Hausner, three French directors, Mati Diop, Celine Sciamma and Justine Triet, were selected in this year's race for the Palm d'Or.

10. The final film 

Closing the festival is a film by successful directing duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Hors Normes (The Specials), screened out of competition on Saturday. It's likely to be met with great interest.

Telling the story of an autistic youth, the comedy features acting greats such as Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb, and plenty of fresh talent. The directors' biggest hit was Untouchable in 2011, while their lively wedding film C'est la Vie! was released two years ago.