The most political apolitical festival ever? Here’s how Cannes 2024 went – and who will win

<span>Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Emma Stone and the prolific Yorgos Lanthimos at the screening of Kinds of Kindness at Cannes.</span><span>Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Emma Stone and the prolific Yorgos Lanthimos at the screening of Kinds of Kindness at Cannes.Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

This was the Cannes that was supposed to be a break from politics, from campaigning and from causes – aside from the #MeToo-themed short film by Judith Godreche: Moi Aussi. Festival chief Thierry Frémaux had said that political polemic was “something we want to avoid”.

It was a Cannes that was supposed to be getting back to the pure, allegedly apolitical pursuit of cinema. There was no overt boycotting of directors on national grounds. However, the only Israeli contribution to Cannes was student Amit Vaknin’s 14-minute short It’s Not Time For Pop in the La Cinef section.

But actually this was a very political Cannes. Fugitive Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof gave us his The Seed of the Sacred Fig, a brazen and startling picture about his country’s misogyny and theocracy. It attempts to intuit the nightmare experienced by dissenting women by taking a downbeat political and domestic drama and progressively escalating it to a violent confrontation that resembled a pueblo shootout by Sergio Leone.

Two films tried to address the origins of fascism – with varying success. Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice, starring Sebastian Stan and Jeremy Strong, attempted to show us the early years of Donald Trump – the Trump that just days ago was posting video referring to America’s “unified Reich” – and his formative experiences learning from attack-dog lawyer and Nixon intimate Roy Cohn. But that movie went way too easy on Trump, who came across as a lovable dope.

More successful was Kirill Serebrennikov’s Limonov - The Ballad, a satiric black comedy starring Ben Whishaw as the poet turned far-right Russian nationalist Eduard Limonov.

There was some great work from China and its Covid trauma – Lou Ye’s An Unfinished Film showed out of competition and was in some ways the best thing here; Jia Zhang-Ke’s Caught By the Tides was a fierce journey through China’s 21st century.

But this also turned out to be a Cannes about love and sex. There was a whole lot of sensuality in Sean Baker’s superb Anora, about an erotic dancer in New York who marries a Russian oligarch’s wastrel son; there was much eroticism in Payal Kapadia’s sublime All We Imagine As Light; group sex in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness; and a fairly candid sex scene for Vincent Cassel and Diane Kruger in David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds.

But there was also a self-slaughtering of sacred cows at Cannes. Big names did bad work. The great Francis Ford Coppola gave us his self-funded and sincerely meant but nonetheless deeply disappointing and lifeless sci-fi parable Megalopolis, dedicated to his late wife. With great gallantry and generosity, some pundits found ingenious ways of insisting Megalopolis was a great success. I can’t join them.

Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada was similarly incoherent and inert and Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope was pure self-parody, a film that floated smugly across the screen like a two-hour cologne ad: Complacency, pour homme.

Of the big hitters, perhaps the late Jean-Luc Godard stood up to scrutiny best with his garrulous, posthumously presented short film Scénarios.

The French gave us some self-regarding under par works. But Jacques Audiard triggered euphoria here with his gangster trans musical Emilia Pérez, and Coralie Fargeat absolutely tore the place up with her feminist body-horror satire The Substance, starring Demi Moore. Fargeat did for Moore what Tarantino did for John Travolta in Cannes with Pulp Fiction.

We had two auteurs showing us how remarkably prolific they are – having only last year released Poor Things, starring Emma Stone, Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos came to Cannes with his macabre and often brilliant absurdist triptych Kinds f Kindness, again starring Stone. Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz was in last year’s competition with his Tudor period piece Firebrand with Jude Law as the fleshily buttocked Henry VIII. Now, just a year later, he returned with a very different and more convincing work: the erotic noir Motel Destino, in which the loved-up hero and heroine finally wandered the place naked, like Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden.

So here are my Cannes prize predictions, for the films that will probably win, followed by my “fantasy Cannes Braddies” for prize categories that should exist, but don’t …

Palme d’Or Emilia Pérez
Grand Prix Anora
Jury prize The Substance
Best director Mohammad Rasoulof for The Seed of the Sacred Fig
Best screenplay Payal Kapadia for All We Imagine As Light
Best actor Ben Whishaw for Limonov - The Ballad
Best actress Demi Moore for The Substance

Braddies for prize categories that don’t exist but should:

Best supporting actor Bogdan Dumitrache for Three Kilometres to the End of the World
Best supporting actress Trine Dyrholm for The Girl With the Needle
Best cinematography Hélène Louvart for Motel Destino
Best production design Thales Junqueira and Marcos Pedroso for Grand Tour