CANNES (AFP) - A German comedy has emerged as the favourite to win the Cannes' Palme d'Or, with critics also lauding an American indie movie featuring Star Wars villain Adam Driver and a stirring American drama on an interracial couple's battle for equal rights.
As the race for the top prize reaches its halfway point, AFP spotlights the best received movies so far: Toni Erdmann That rarest of movies, a three-hour-long German comedy with international appeal, soared to the top of reviewers' polls early at the 12-day festival, delighting reviewers with a bittersweet father-daughter tale that races to a touching and riotously funny final act.
Lead actress Sandra Hueller warbled her way into critics' hearts with her rendition of a cheesy Whitney Houston hit, prompting a mid-screening ovation, while her Austrian co-star Peter Simonischek created an indelible portrait of a sad clown.
The Daily Telegraph gave the "exquisite" movie five out of five stars. "Not only does German humour exist, it might just save your life", it said. Paterson American indie legend Jim Jarmusch drew some of the best reviews of his late career with this gentle portrait of a bus driver with a poetic streak.
Critics raved about lead actor Adam Driver, best known to global audiences as Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars movie, and his quiet soulful performance.
Driver plays a former soldier who transcends his workaday life with artistic inspiration and a tender love for his wife with big dreams of her own (Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani).
Movie website Indiewire said it was Driver's "finest performance" and the "most intimate film" by Jarmusch, on his seventh outing in the Cannes competition after hits such as Broken Flowers and Only Lovers Left Alive.
The Guardian called it "a delight: a prose-poem of gentle comic humility and acceptance of life". Loving Another American independent picture sending Cannes audiences into raptures was Jeff Nichols' slow-burn drama telling the true story of an interracial couple from the American South who fought before the Supreme Court in 1967 for their right to marry.
Knockout performances by the two stars, Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga and Australian actor Joel Edgerton, sparked speculation about acting prizes in Cannes and even Oscar glory next February.
The Daily Beast website said Loving served as a searing, deeply relevant reminder of America's toxic history of racism, and of Richard and Mildred Loving's optimistic dignity.
"There's little doubt that thousands will be moved by Loving's success in depicting a couple's quiet heroism - and the performances that will help to enshrine their legacy." Sieranevada The Romanian new wave is back in force this year with two Cannes contenders, nine years after Cristian Mungiu's harrowing abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days clinched the top prize.
Cristi Puiu's Sieranevada, a three-hour-long feature that opened the competition, captivated critics with its dissection of tensions within a family as they gather in a claustrophobic Bucharest apartment after the patriarch dies.
"Granted, this is not multiplex fare," British trade magazine Screen wrote.
"But those who aren't put off by the extensive subtitling will find themselves swept away by this family reunion which offers not only a masterful portrait of the contemporary Romanian middle-class, but also a whole set of smart, perceptive reflections on the relativity of truth, on the failings of memory, the interpretation of history, the significance of religion and much more." Mad Max director George Miller, the Cannes jury president, told AFP his nine-member panel was spoilt for choice ahead of awards night on Sunday.
"Already what has been so striking to me is how different everything is. Some of the films feel like they come from different universes, not only different nationalities," he said.
But he said he was looking for a movie that haunts his thoughts for days.
"The sum has to be greater than the parts," he said.