Cannes 2021: who will win the Palme d’Or – and who should | Cannes 2021

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So it actually happened – the Cannes film festival defiantly took place in the era of Covid, and two months later than usual, in sweltering July. More tourists, but fewer actual festival-attenders from the media. Some streets were eerily quiet and the legendary bar, Le Petit Majestic, usually packed with movie-world people, getting drunk, exchanging cards and crowding densely out into the street every night until three in the morning, was doing hardly any business.

Masks were worn throughout all films, though not on the hallowed red carpet, and every 48 hours we had to report to a special tent for Covid testing: it was not possible to enter the Palais without having the vital QR code for “Negatif” on your phone. The whole business was a bit laborious and discombobulating but this was a great logistical triumph for the festival. The only Covid casualty was the French star Léa Seydoux, who couldn’t come, having tested positive.

And the competition films had some real gems: Japanese director Ryu Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car was a wonderful adaptation of a Murakami short story, a film pregnant with ideas and emotion about a celebrated theatre director who finds himself confiding in the young woman who has been hired as his driver. The Thai artist and film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul gave us something uncompromisingly strange and sinuous and slow with Memoria, starring Tilda Swinton: bizarre tableau-scenes and unbroken takes that promise to swing open the doors of perception. Australian director Justin Kurzel made Nitram, a very disquieting film about the disturbed young man responsible for the horrific Port Arthur massacre in 1996 – and the bizarre “Harold and Maude” relationship he had with a rich heiress in the years leading up to the outrage.

Palme d’Or winner? … Sonia Yuan, Toko Miura, Ruysuke Hamaguchi and Reika Kirishima at a presser for Drive My Car. Photograph: Sébastien Nogier/EPA

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was a visual and verbal treat in his very distinctive and eccentric style, though some critics turned up their noses, on the grounds that they have seen too much like it from him before. I have to say that, on this form, I can’t see enough or get enough from this very funny and original director.

Sean Baker gave us Red Rocket, the very entertaining and bleak satire-comedy about a porn star who has suffered a Trumpian disaster in his career and is now plotting his return to greatness on his home turf of Texas, rather as the unloved and unmissed C-in-C is brooding on a comeback in Florida.

Most people here were unimpressed by Sean Penn’s big heart-on-sleeve drama Flag Day, with Penn as a real-life 90s swindler and counterfeiter who broke his daughter’s heart with his inability to go straight. Some here found it a bit of a vanity project because Penn both starred and cast his own daughter Dylan as the character’s daughter. But I thought it was very watchable and Penn is such an old-fashioned Hollywood star turn.

Elsewhere, the Norwegian film-maker Joachim Trier, renowned for his challenging and tough movies, somehow conjured up an absolutely gorgeous relationship comedy: The Worst Person in the World, something to compare with Nora Ephron or David Nicholls.

Laborious, but a logistical triumph … Covid testing to gain entry to the festival.
Laborious, but a logistical triumph … Covid testing to gain entry to the festival. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

There were some films I couldn’t quite get on with: Paul Verhoeven’s preposterous nunsploitation drama Benedetta, taken from the true story of a 17th-century lesbian nun, had people giggling over his supposedly intentional and meaningful ironies. I’m not convinced. But Verhoeven is certainly benefiting from the fact that his initially derided sex drama Showgirls was then praised by contrarian sophisticates. So people don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history. There was serious critical support for Julia Ducournau’s gonzo body-horror romp Titane, but I found it silly and macho.

Perhaps the two most passionate films, and the films I responded to most, were outside the competition, in the Director’s Fortnight strand: Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical The Souvenir Part II was an engrossing self-portrait of the artist as a young woman. And Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava was a wonderful love story in the manner of Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss.

Here are my predictions for this year’s Cannes prizes, and I have also included my imaginary prizes (AKA “Braddies d’Or” for categories that are not officially rewarded).

Palme d’Or: Drive My Car
Grand Prix: Memoria
Jury prize: The Worst Person in the World
Best director: Sean Baker for Red Rocket
Best screenplay: Jacques Audiard, Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius for Paris, 13th District
Best actor: Amir Jadidi for A Hero
Best actress: Achouackh Abakar for Lingui

Imaginary Cannes awards – AKA Braddies d’Or
Best supporting actor: André Dussollier for Everything Went Fine
Best supporting actress: Essie Davis and Judy Davis for Nitram
Best cinematography: Robert D Yeoman for The French Dispatch
Best music: Ron and Russell Mael for Annette
Best production design: Adam Stockhausen for The French Dispatch

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