Nobody can accuse Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) of purveying stylized whimsy. In Rust and Bone, Marion Cotillard becomes a double amputee after a bad day at work. (Her job at a marine theme park in Antibes involves killer whales.) She forms a pragmatic bond with a guy (Matthias Schoenaerts, the brawny epicenter of Bullhead) while we wonder whether the gods of melodrama will smile or frown upon them.
Doughy women display spare flesh in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Love, in which a middle-aged Austrian white woman goes to Kenya for sex with young black men, and in Matteo Garrone's Reality, about a hammy Naples fish seller determined to be a contestant on the Italian version of Big Brother.
Bootlegging brothers, a disillusioned stripper, and their nyah-hah-hah nemesis populate John Hillcoat's overly familiar Lawless. But one can't complain that the theme of Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills has been done to death; how many lesbian romances set in a Romanian convent have you seen lately?
On the other hand, in two films — Dane Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, which is about a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of child molestation, and Iranian Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love, which is filmed in Tokyo in Japanese — large rocks are thrown through windows. Does that constitute a trend in world cinema?
Austria's Michael Haneke — one of four directors in competition this year to already have a Golden Palm — elicits, in Amour, brilliant performances from Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a musical couple whose decades-long complicity is tested after one suffers a stroke. The technical film critic term "Wow!" comes to mind.
Riva was Alain Resnais's unforgettable heroine in 1959's Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Resnais, who will soon turn 90, puts a splendid cast through magical paces in You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, a bittersweet riff on Eurydice and Orpheus. In it, a stage director speaks from beyond the grave and Frank Sinatra sings "It Was a Very Good Year." Could Old Blue Eyes have known they'd be showing such great movies at Cannes in 2012?