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Hitman film and AIDS drama tipped to win at Cannes

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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Spanish director and President of the Feature Film Jury Pedro Almodovar delivers a speech on stage on May 17, 2017 during the opening ceremony of the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The Cannes film festival ends Sunday with a movie about a hammer-wielding hitman, a moving story of AIDS activists and a parable of Putin’s Russia among the favourites to lift its top prize, the Palme d’Or.

After 12 days of screenings and starry celebrations of the festival’s 70th anniversary — which were somewhat muted by the Manchester bombing — it is now up to the nine-member celebrity jury led by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar to decide which movie will triumph.

Rarely has the race looked so open, with many critics complaining there was no standout film to get behind among the 19 in the official competition.

That shifted Saturday when the final film, Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here”, had many reaching for superlatives.

Two critics told the Scottish director at a post-screening news conference that her film about a traumatised hitman who saves a young girl from a prostitution ring was a “masterpiece”.

Its star Joaquin Phoenix was also being talked of as a contender for best actor.

If Ramsay were to win she would be only the second woman director ever to take home the Palme d’Or.

New Zealander Jane Campion won for “The Piano” in 1993. But as Hollywood star Salma Hayek pointed out Tuesday in Cannes, Campion “only got half the Palme d’Or, not even a full one”, having to share it with Chinese director Chen Kaige for “Farewell My Concubine”.

– A woman winner? –

With US star and Cannes jury member Jessica Chastain sporting a Dior “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt, and the lack of women directors dominating debate at the festival, a Ramsay win would send a strong signal.

The Glasgow-born director’s main competition comes from the stirring French drama about AIDS activists “120 Beats Per Minute” by Robin Campillo, who co-wrote the script for the Palme d’Or-winning “The Class” in 2008.

The picture won four of the festival’s subsidiary awards Saturday, including the critics’ prize and the Queer Palm for gay-themed cinema.

“Loveless”, a harrowing tale of a Russian couple who want rid of their child from “Leviathan” director Andrey Zvyagintsev, is also thought to be in the reckoning.

Nor was the Swedish satire “The Square”, which sends up the art world and political correctness, short of admirers.

Overall, however, critics were frustrated by the main race, preferring instead to swoon over films such as “Ava”, “The Rider” and “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” in the sidebar Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week sections.

“I don’t think it has been a vintage Cannes, certainly in terms of the main competition,” Xan Brooks of Britain’s The Observer told AFP.

– ‘Cautious and conservative’ –

“It has felt a little cautious and conservative. It’s almost as if the increased security on the doors of the Palais (where the films are shown) has barred some of the more raucous, rude, rowdy contenders that might have otherwise managed to find their way through.”

Jonathan Romney, of Screen International and the Independent on Sunday, was equally downbeat. “There were a lot of names to get excited about this year but unfortunately we have been left disappointed.

“Good directors have not come up with their best,” he added.

But for Philippe Rouyer, of the French magazine Positif, there were plenty of gems outside the main competition, such as young Russian Kantemir Balagov’s debut “Tesnota” (Closeness), which also caught Romney’s eye.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was much more sanguine, calling “120 Beats Per Minute” “terrific” and “Loveless” “brilliant and compelling”.

“Some professed themselves marginally let down, but I have been hugely enthusiastic about quite a few films,” he added.

What was unanimous, however, was the acclaim for 79-year-old veteran Agnes Varda, who got the festival’s very best reviews for her out-of-competition documentary with the street artist JR, “Faces Places”.

Last year British director Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or for the second time in a decade with his drama “I, Daniel Blake” about the shame of poverty in austerity-hit Europe.

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