Cannes 2012 halftime report

Big-name auteurs and anti-fame screeds color Cannes’s first five days.

Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral

Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral

The French Riviera has always been a gambler’s paradise, a place where you roll the dice or spin the wheel and take your chances. But for cinema addicts—apostles who’d cook up celluloid in a spoon and shoot it into their veins if they could—the Cannes Film Festival trumps Monte Carlo for high-stakes anxiety.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Cannes Film Festival

Blessed with a lineup that’s loaded with more masters than the Louvre, the 2012 edition offers a lot of chances for film lovers to test their luck: Will the latest from luminaries such as Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke, David Cronenberg, Alain Resnais, Bernardo Bertolucci and Ken Loach provoke deep thoughts or soul-crushing disappointment? Can potential heirs apparent such as Carlos Reygadas and Brandon Cronenberg—yes, David’s boy has a film here too—pick up the slack? And what would happen if one had to watch a period piece starring slurring rock star Pete Doherty without having imbibed several bottles of rosé beforehand? (Answer to that last one: It ain’t a pretty sight.)

Having reached the halfway point, Cannes has already delivered its fair share of hits (Jacques Audiard’s impressive Rust and Bone), misses (the Doherty vehicle Confessions of a Child of the Century) and a serious WTF in Kiarostami’s mystifying contribution to Japanese cinema, Like Someone in Love (alternative title: We Bought an Ozu). But for all its vested interest in putting chips down on big-name auteurs and bigger-name actors in the name of red-carpet glamour, this year’s festival reflects the programmers’ willingness to up the ante with films that treat obsessions with fame as a plague.

Take Reality, Italian director Matteo Garrone’s follow-up to 2008’s Gomorrah, which turns a modest fishmonger into a possible candidate for the Big Brother TV show: The concept of stardom as the new sainthood is treated with the bitterest of irony. Even more explicit is Antiviral, the debut from Cronenberg fils, which imagines a world in which fans pay to procure celebrity diseases. Given the chic corporate dystopia and sleek body-horror on display, comparisons to his pop’s work were inevitable, if unfair; any film that throws around phrases like biological communion and virus copy protection with such self-seriousness deserves to fail on its own terms.

If you wanted a sure thing, however, there were two movies that left all critics combing their thesauri for laudatory adjectives. Screening in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, Pablo Larraín’s No revisits Chile’s historic 1988 referendum that ousted Pinochet from office with help from a pop-savvy ad man (Gael García Bernal) and his marketing campaign for the pro-democracy side. On the competition horizon, Haneke’s Amour, a touching look at an elderly couple dealing with mortality, quickly emerged after its Friday-morning screening as the Palme d’Or front-runner. Both movies came from filmmakers known for their bleak outlooks on life, yet both showcased a more humanistic side of their creators. Who knew that Haneke, Austria’s king of Euro feel-bad cinema, had such a genuinely compassionate movie in him? A number of highly anticipated titles—On the Road, Cosmopolis, Mud—have yet to screen, but it’s highly doubtful that I’ll see two better films while I’m here. I’d be willing to bet my life on it.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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