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Half-time in Cannes: High expectations and ugly surprises

Jochen Kürten ss
May 24, 2017

The Palme d'Or is considered to be the most prestigious award in the film industry. A total of 19 directors are competing this year for the award for best film. But like the rest of the world, Cannes is in shock.

Cannes Film Festival
Image: picture-alliance/Maxppp/F. Dugit

A minute of silence for the victims of the Manchester terror attack set the tone for this year's Cannes Palme d'Or awards announcement. In the face of such horror - an apparent act of terror - discussions about the artistic value of film fade into the background along with reports on winners and losers.

"This marks another attack on culture, on youth and on joy, on our freedom, our generosity and tolerance," the festival management commented.

But festivals go on despite these events - or rather to spite them. France had more than its own fair share of terror attacks to deal with in recent times. And terror should not spoil the joie de vivre that only culture can exude.

Last year, the heightened presence of police proved that even the laid-back festival city on the Cote d'Azur was aware that it could fall victim to terror. The Paris attacks in 2015 created a shock wave that cast a long shadow over the country.

Germany empty-handed in 2016

Despite all this, the festival went ahead in May 2016 amid heightened security measures everywhere. As always, there were winners and losers.

Palme d'Or award
Highly coveted: the Palme d'Or awardImage: Getty Images/AFP/F. Coffrini

Germany was particularly disappointed about the outcome of the competition. Maren Ade's comedy "Toni Erdmann" was regarded as one of the frontrunners for an award that year. Both the Cannes press and festival-goers had fallen in love with the bizarrely entertaining story about the deteriorating relationship between a father and his daughter.

But the Cannes jury, spearheaded by the Australian director George Miller of "Mad Max" fame, had other plans in store: The main prize at the Cannes Film Festival was instead given to "I, Daniel Blake" by British director Ken Loach.

The movie amounts to a jarring piece of social commentary centered on the character of an unemployed carpenter from the North of England. Despite moving audiences, Ken Loach's film, however, shied away from taking any risks, relying solely on the impact of its narrative rather than taking a more daring approach.

'Toni Erdmann' remained critics' favorite in 2016

"Toni Erdmann" failed to score any awards at Cannes in 2016 at all, not even a minor one. The one consolation prize that director Maren Ade received there was the award of the International Federation of Film Critics FIPRESCI - in addition to the recognition it got from audiences around the world. Her movie would go on to perform much better at other film festivals.

Maren Ade
German director Maren Ade is a jury member this yearImage: Getty Images/C. Bilan

As usual, the jury's choice at a festival is subject to a great deal of discussion not only in Cannes but also at other festivals, like the ones held in Venice or Berlin. Their unpredictable choices make for rather slim bets with bookmakers, which at half-time at the Cannes Film Festival rings more true than ever before. Even the German press, after last year's result, is keeping its predictions at bay; part of that, however, may be the fact that none of the films this year really managed to grip the experts.

Quite on the contrary: A few moments in Cannes were downright ugly this year, with some movies even being booed doing their presentation. Two time Palme d'Or-winning director Michael Haneke was one of them. Many are hoping for a better second half of the 70th edition of the festival as well as a more informed decision on part of this year's jury president, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who on May 28 will get to announce: "And the winner is…"