Youth slips precariously toward adulthood in the two debut features that have scored top awards from the independent Critics’ Week program in Cannes. On Wednesday evening, this year’s jury—headed up by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania and including actress and director Ariane Labed, Icelandic filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson, cinematographer Benoît Debie, and Busan International Film Festival director Huh Moon-young—awarded the Grand Prize to Andrés Ramírez Pulido’s La Jauría and the French Touch Prize of the Jury to Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun. Ramírez Pulido also won the SACD Award presented by the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers, France’s rough equivalent to the Writers Guild.
In each of the three short films he made before tackling a feature, Ramírez Pulido sent teens deep into the Colombian jungle. In La Jauría, Eliú (Jhojan Estiven Jimenez) and El Mono (Maicol Andrés Jimenez) set out to murder Eliú’s father but inadvertently kill a low-level crime boss instead. They’re caught, naturally, and driven out to an experimental camp for juvenile delinquents run by Alvaro (Miguel Viera), who presides over New Age-y confession and meditation sessions that take place between shifts of manual labor, and the muscle of the operation, rifle-bearing Godoy (Diego Rincon).
For Jordan Mintzer at the Film Verdict, this is “an intriguing set-up for a film that never fully ignites, either in terms of the direction or the performances, to the point that the documentary aspects wind up outshining the fictional ones.” But Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell finds that a “strong ensemble of first-time actors bolster two lead performers whose characters seem fated to ruin, and there’s a sweaty, brooding ambience suggesting a William Goldman-styled dystopia hurtling toward implosion.” Deadline’s Stephanie Bunbury agrees that La Jauría is “a finely calibrated mix of recognizable social realism and dystopian weirdness.”
Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells also made three shorts before turning to Aftersun. Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall), a woman in her early thirties, looks back to the late 1990s, when she was on the verge of becoming a teenager and her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), then in his early thirties, took her on an inexpensive Mediterranean package holiday. It was, she now realizes, his way of saying goodbye. “With both father and daughter privately facing their own fears of getting older, there’s a sense that they may never share this innocent, breezy ease with each other again,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety.
“We know already from Normal People what subtlety Mescal, one of the most gifted actors of his generation, is capable of, but his intimations of pain here are beautifully underplayed,” writes the Telegraph’s Tim Robey. Young Sophie is played by newcomer Frankie Corio, and for Leigh Singer, writing in Sight and Sound, she’s “a wonderfully authentic presence, somehow nailing Sophie’s unguarded delight in holiday fun and also those moments where, as if the bright sun were swallowed up by a cloud, she suddenly senses that she must put on an act for those around her, not least her own dad. Like Wells’s own achievement, Corio’s big-screen debut is full of vitality, subtlety and promise, in what’s likely to be among the best first films of the year.”
Making her acting debut as an abused twelve-year-old in Emmanuelle Nicot’s Love According to Dalva, Zelda Samson has won the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award. In the first scenes, the police have come to arrest Dalva’s father (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h) and to send her to a children’s home where she is put under the care of social worker Jayden (Alexis Manenti). “Nicot takes pains to keep all the abuse offscreen in the backstory and never exploits her young leading actor,” notes the Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin. Deadline’s Anna Smith writes that the film treads “tricky territory but Nicot shows great empathy for the child’s confusion.”
For the Film Verdict’s Stephen Dalton, the success of Love According to Dalva “as compelling drama hinges squarely on the casting of its young heroine. Nicot and her mostly female team have done excellent work here, because the non-professional Samson is a real discovery, with a uncanny face that morphs from prematurely sophisticated baby-doll Lolita to punky tomboy to vulnerable child. Caroline Guimbal’s dreamy cinematography, full of intimate close-ups and minute detail, underscores the queasy sense of Dalva cautiously rediscovering and reclaiming her body after years of outside control.”
The Gan Foundation for Cinema presents an Award for Distribution, and this year it goes to The Woodcutter Story, the first feature directed by Mikko Myllylahti, who is best known for writing Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2016). That film’s star, Jarkko Lahti, plays Pepe, a woodcutter in an idyllic Finnish village, where he remains almost defiantly optimistic in the face of relentless misfortune.
So far, reviewers have not been as kind to The Woodcutter Story as the Gan Foundation has. At the very least, the film is “not remotely predictable,” writes Jonathan Romney for Screen. “The consistent element is Myllylahti’s delicate register of muted, comic surrealism, sustained from the start. It’s a well-established cliché to compare Finnish films to the work of über-lugubrious national auteur Aki Kaurismäki, but here the comparison is unavoidable; the film feels rather like a Kaurismäkian variant on Twin Peaks, with a soupçon of Fargo.” At In Review Online, Daniel Gorman suggests that if Joel and Ethan Coen are a “referent here, then The Woodcutter Story is essentially a remake of A Serious Man, just less interesting and not nearly as funny.”
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