Cannes awaits Palme d'Or winner after vintage year

Cannes (France) (AFP) –

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The Cannes jury led by Spike Lee will announce the winner of the festival's top prize Saturday with a vintage crop of films in the running for the Palme d'Or.

The race is wide open, with critics pointing towards many possible successors to "Parasite", the South Korean hit which took home the last Palme in 2019 before making history by triumphing at the Oscars.

Last year's festival was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Lee, the first black man to head the Cannes jury, has been secreted away in a luxury villa somewhere in the hills above the Cote d'Azur resort with the other eight jury members to ruminate on the 24 entries.

"I promised the guys on the jury that I won't be a dictator, that I'll be democratic... but only up to a point!" Lee told reporters last week.

"If the jury is split four against four, it's me that decides," he said.

- 'Penetrating' -

The jury members have watched a lot of sex this year.

If they are looking for a provocative winner, they might look at this year's requisite shock-fest "Titane" about a female serial killer on a revenge spree -- who also has sex with cars.

Another salacious entry was "Benedetta", Paul Verhoeven's tale of lesbian nuns in a 17th-century convent, though one critic said it wasn't very "penetrating".

There were more classic, character-driven tales in "Paris, 13th District" by past winner Jacques Audiard, and Norway's "The Worst Person in the World", both of which wowed critics with their keenly-observed depictions of young love.

Or they might opt for "Red Rocket," about a down-on-his-luck porn star returning to small-town Texas and stirring up trouble.

- Spit tests -

There were some doubts early on in the festival about the Covid logistics, with some festival-goers grossed out by the spit tests required every 48 hours, and criticism on social media over unmasked attendees in the cinemas at early premieres.

Restrictions were quickly tightened, and the parties were a little less raucous than normal, even if the stars could not quite keep themselves from hugs and kisses on the red carpet.

But the festival appeared to pass without triggering a major outbreak, with only one big name missing from the Croisette after French star Lea Seydoux, appearing in no less than four festival entries, was unable to attend after testing positive in Paris.

She had been due to appear alongside a busload of megastars from Wes Anderson's latest, "The French Dispatch".

It featured Timothee Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro and Tilda Swinton alongside Anderson's usual menagerie of stars -- though his unique and quirky style continues to divide critics.

Many were still holding a candle for the festival's opening film, "Annette", a bizarre rock opera starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.

- Late contenders -

But there was a late run of strong contenders, including "Nitram", a film about Australia's worst mass shooting which had stirred controversy back home but received rave reviews after its premiere Friday.

Another last-minute favourite was "Memoria" by Thailand's past Palme winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, perhaps the most arty of the arthouse fare on offer, but another critical smash.

It stars Tilda Swinton, who was ubiquitous on the red carpet this year, appearing in five films of the official selection.

She was clear, however, that her proudest moment was receiving the Palm Dog award on behalf of her three spaniels, who appeared with her in "The Souvenir Part 2".

"Honestly, this is the prize to get," she said at Friday's canine ceremony, as she tied the red collar prize around her neck.