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Cannes 2019: Awards Predictions

Of the years I've come to Cannes, this one feels the most wide-open in terms of how the prizes might go—partly because the competition lineup was consistently strong, and partly because this year's jury seems confronted with an unusually difficult set of choices in terms of the message it sends. Is it finally time for Pedro Almodóvar to get his long-overdue Palme d'Or, or should the jury instead rectify the fact that only one woman in history (Jane Campion for "The Piano") has ever taken Cannes's top award? For that matter, isn't that a false choice? Isn't this simply about picking the best movie?

The short answer: It depends on who's in charge. No one who isn't on the jury really has a clue what its members think, whether they follow horse-race blog posts like this one, or how much sense of Cannes's history they have. (To them, Almodóvar may not seem overdue.) Few foresaw that jury headed by the Coen brothers would give an award to Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan," or that George Miller would make Ken Loach a two-time Palme winner.

In short, these are nothing more than guesses—but that's better than being a wimp and not playing.

First, I'm going to predict that two high-profile filmmakers get blanked. The 25th anniversary of "Pulp Fiction" notwithstanding, Quentin Tarantino really doesn't need another award—and giving one to "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood" might look awkward this year, given that the cast includes a small role for Dakota Fanning, who is a sister of one of the jurors, Elle Fanning. Cannes jurors pass judgment on people they've worked with practically every year, but I can't offhand recall another instance of a blood relation.

Second, I predict that Terrence Malick's "A Hidden Life," loved by many, will leave empty-handed. I admit that this guess may be colored by my own intense dislike of the film, which I thought showed a trivializing mismatch between its subject matter (an Austrian conscientious objector takes a stand against the Nazis) and the filmmaker's all-purpose transcendental musings. Characters variously roll in the grass and narrate things like "nature does not notice the sorrow that has come over the people." One wonders whether Malick's version of nature would notice the sight of trains carrying Jews to concentration camps or ash clouds rising from crematoria. By comparison, the director's World War II–set "The Thin Red Line" is as terse and direct as a Sam Fuller film.

But if I'm being realistic, either movie has a shot. My guesses:

Palme d'Or: "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." Céline Sciamma's 18th-century story of a romance between a portraitist (Noémie Merlant) and a subject (Adèle Haenel) who initially refuses to sit for her—which means she must be painted in secret and by memory—is the consensus choice to end all consensus choices. It's beautifully crafted on the level of image and design, and the leads are enormously moving in capturing the contours of the love affair. More importantly for an award chosen by a group, "Portrait" has few strong detractors. If the jury is divided into factions, this will probably be a film its members can agree on.

And although it shouldn't make a difference, one of the last competition titles to screen—Abdellatif Kechiche's "Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo"—spends almost all of its three and a half hours leering at women's gyrating bodies. It was almost as if the festival went out of its way at the eleventh hour to reinforce a perception of institutional sexism. Which means the jury may have just gotten a fresh reminder of why it might look bad to give the Palme to yet another dude.

Grand Jury Prize (effectively second place): "Parasite." Bong Joon-ho's outrageously fun class satire is both wholly unexpected and his best film—subverting even the associations engendered by its title. The stigma of genre filmmaking may count against it, especially on a jury filled with more sober-minded auteurs (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Kelly Reichardt, Pawel Pawlikowski, Robin Campillo). And no South Korean film has ever won a Palme—but maybe that's a reason to award it.

Best Director: Diao Yinan, "The Wild Goose Lake." If good directing means that everyone was able to follow every detail of the plot, then this is a lost cause. But direction is what stands out most in this propulsive on-the-lam thriller from China. Anyone who saw what we'll refer to as "the umbrella scene" couldn't be anything but slack-jawed at how this movie is staged and edited.

Jury Prize: "Bacurau." Brazil already took the top prize for the Un Certain Regard section on Friday with "The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão," whose director, Karim Aïnouz, accepting that award, made a reference to the "intolerance" under Jair Bolsonaro's rule without mentioning the Brazilian president by name (that I heard). A prize for Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles's crazy-quilt of a film—a blend of neo-western and science-fiction in which the residents of a remote village in Brazil must fend off violent invasion—might continue to draw attention to the country. The jury prize also often goes to a film that inspires passionate but divisive reactions. More than any film in competition, "Bacurau" swung for the fences and tried to do something new.

Best Actor: Antonio Banderas, "Pain and Glory." If you're going to deny Pedro a Palme again, the best way to hedge that bet is to honor the man who essentially plays him, which is what Banderas does as an Almodóvar-like filmmaker looking back on his career and regrets.

Best Actress: Virginie Efira, "Sibyl." Last year, "Ayka" swooped in on the final day and won a best-actress prize for Samal Yeslyamova. I expect something similar to happen this year with "Sibyl," the 21st of 21 competing films to screen, but the one with the rangiest female lead performance. Efira plays a psychiatrist who has more than a few issues herself; after scaling back her patient load in order to concentrate on writing, she winds up playing therapist on a film set on Stromboli, where her newest patient (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is working as an actress. (Note: If "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" fails to win the Palme, a win that would preclude it from being eligible for any other awards, expect Merlant and Haenel to share this prize.)

Best Screenplay: Corneliu Porumboiu, "The Whistlers." Porumboiu cross-blends the deadpan humor of the Romanian New Wave with the intricate plotting of a caper film. The ingeniously nested flashbacks alone deserve an award.

Ben Kenigsberg

Ben Kenigsberg is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He edited the film section of Time Out Chicago from 2011 to 2013 and served as a staff critic for the magazine beginning in 2006. 

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