Cate Blanchett lesbian love tale, Holocaust film lead Cannes race

From left, actress Rooney Mara, director Todd Haynes, and actress Cate Blanchett pose for photographers upon arrival for the screening of the film Carol at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, May 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

By Deborah Cole ,AFP

CANNES, France — A powerful lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett and a groundbreaking Holocaust drama emerged as favorites as the Cannes Film Festival hit the halfway mark on Monday. Critics are calling it a banner year at the world’s top cinema showcase, with the selection of 19 contenders for the coveted Palme d’Or top prize filled with delights and surprises.

In an early stand-out, Todd Haynes’s ��Carol�� features Blanchett as a wealthy 1950s housewife who falls hard for a budding photographer (Rooney Mara). The lushly shot period piece sees Carol, in the process of divorcing her businessman husband, threatened with the loss of custody of her young daughter on ��moral grounds.�� The film makes a strong case for equal rights at a time when, as Blanchett noted after the screening, dozens of countries still have anti-homosexuality laws on the books.

Rapturous reviewers in this Riviera port town said ��Carol�� had already emerged as an Oscar favorite. Film industry bible Variety called it ��an exquisitely drawn, deeply felt love story that teases out every shadow and nuance of its characters’ inner lives.�� The unflinching Holocaust feature ��Son of Saul�� by Hungarian newcomer Laszlo Nemes also drew rave reviews from shocked critics. Cannes watchers said the unique relentlessness of Nemes’s depiction of a 36-hour period in the Auschwitz death camp could win over the jury led by U.S. filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

French daily Le Monde said Nemes, who lost several members of his family to the gas chambers, said he clearly made the film to keep the history of the Holocaust alive for ��the generations that soon will have no direct contact with the witnesses who can share with them their memories.�� Among the more bizarre entries, which nevertheless won ardent fans, was ��The Lobster�� by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in a story about single people sequestered in a hotel and given 45 days to find a partner, or be transformed into the animal of their choosing.