Cannes awards race wide open on eve of festival

By Deborah Cole, AFP

CANNES, France — The competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival wraps up Saturday with a clutch of favorites jockeying for one of global cinema’s most coveted prizes. A Cate Blanchett lesbian love story, a grueling Auschwitz drama, an all-star tableau on the ravages of age, and a slow-burn martial arts movie from Taiwan all looked well-placed to capture top honors from a jury led by Joel and Ethan Coen. But in one of the tightest races in years, an Italian ode to a dying mother and the pitch-black comedy ��The Lobster�� about modern love starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz also seemed within striking distance.

Audiences swooned over ��Carol�� by U.S. director Todd Haynes, featuring knock-out performances by Blanchett and Rooney Mara as lovers nearly crushed by the conservative values of their time.

It rocketed to the top of critics’ ��best of�� charts after its premiere last Sunday. Another revelation from this year’s festival was ��Son of Saul�� by first-time feature director Laszlo Nemes, which takes film-goers inside the gas chambers of Auschwitz in a way never before seen on screen. Critics hailed the picture for bringing the memory of the Holocaust alive in a visceral way 70 years after the liberation of the camps, as the last survivors enter their twilight years. ��The films that win tend to create a completely realized and self-contained universe. ‘Son of Saul’ does that,�� Vogue reviewer John Powers told AFP. ��The evocation of that universe, the world of Auschwitz, is powerful and exquisitely directed.�� Peter Bradshaw of London’s The Guardian newspaper called it ��an astonishing debut film�� of ��extraordinary focus and courage.�� Staggeringly Lovely’