Which movie will win the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize Sunday? Critical favorites include a small, socially conscious Romanian film about an illegal abortion and the Coen brothers’ tale of a ruthless killer in Texas.
Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) presides over the jury that has holed up debating the 22 movies competing for the top prize, the Palme d’Or. The lineup was among the strongest in recent years, with a host of moving films on serious topics such as death, aging and war.
“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” by Cristian Mungiu, tells of a student in Communist Romania who endures horrors to ensure that her friend can have an illegal abortion, and features a wrenching performance by Anamaria Marinca, a contender for best actress.
The Coens’ “No Country for Old Men” stars Javier Bardem as a ruthless killer wrecking havoc in west Texas, and Tommy Lee Jones as an aging lawman on his tracks.
Other strong contenders are “Persepolis,” an original, moving animated feature by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, adapted from Satrapi’s graphic novels of the same name; and Fatih Akin’s German-Turkish cross-cultural tale “The Edge of Heaven.”
Winning directors get a hint before the ceremony because Cannes organizers tell them to get on a plane and come back to the Riviera. For filmmakers, the Cannes competition experience is often nerve-racking.
“You’re taking your baby out there,” said director James Gray, who showed crime drama “We Own the Night,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes. “You’re saying, how do you feel about my baby? Is it ugly or is it beautiful? And a lot of people are going to let you know.”
The movie that captures Cannes’ top prize is, more often than not, one critics didn’t expect. Before “Fahrenheit 9/11” won in 2004, many thought a documentary couldn’t be a serious contender. Michael Moore’s “Sicko” screened this year out of competition.
Last year’s lineup had several inventive movies that went on to success, including “Babel,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Days of Glory” and “Volver.” The winner was Ken Loach’s somber Irish war drama “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”
Several directors in the running already have taken the top prize at Cannes. Quentin Tarantino, who showed his killer-on-wheels movie “Death Proof,” won for “Pulp Fiction.” The Coens took the Palme for “Barton Fink.” Gus Van Sant, who showed “Paranoid Park,” a film about a teenage skateboarder in crisis, won for “Elephant.”
Bosnian director Emir Kusturica, who premiered “Promise Me This,” has taken the Palme twice before, for “When Father Was Away on Business” and “Underground.”