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The 5 best films we saw at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival

From grizzled lighthouse keepers to World War II dramas, there’s something prestigious for everyone


Every year, the Cannes Film Festival is packed full of some of the most notable films of the year, and this year’s slate, which included entries from directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, and Bong Joon-ho (and even a TV series from Nicolas Winding Refn), was no exception to the rule.

The films showing at the festival — and all of its different sections, including the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week — were a thrill to take in, acting as something of a harbinger for a wonderful year of movies to come. To help you keep an eye out for the best of the fest as they hit theaters in the coming year, we’ve put together a list of the five best films at the festival, as well as one honorable mention, and and the full list of competition winners.

jean dujardin and adele haenel
Georges (Jean Dujardin), his jacket, and his camcorder in Deerskin.
Photo: Greenwich Entertainment

Honorable Mention: Deerskin

As a slight entry in a festival sidebar during a stacked year, Deerskin can’t quite compete with the big films in the Official Selection, but it’s so singular that it can’t be forgotten, either. Starring Jean Dujardin as a man named Georges, the film, which runs just under 80 minutes, is all about one man’s quest to make his jacket the only jacket in the world.

The further the story gets, the more macabre it becomes, but it’s hilarious all the way through, with Georges preening every time he catches a glimpse of himself and his deerskin jacket in a reflective surface (“Killer style!”) and insisting to everyone he meets that he’s a style icon. Quentin Dupieux’s latest work is one long, extended riff on that single beat, feeling like a Tim Robinson sketch stretched out to its wildest extreme.

The family at dinner in Sorry We Missed You.
The family at dinner in Sorry We Missed You.
Sixteen Films

5. Sorry We Missed You

Director Ken Loach is perhaps best known as the master of the depressing, contemporary, working-class film, and Sorry We Missed You, which sees its characters caught in the gig economy, is accordingly bleak. Loach still finds room for humor: The family around which the film revolves possess genuine love for each other, and there are moments of levity even as they struggle to make ends meet, as is true of such situations in real life.

That’s not to say, however, that the film is easy to watch; halfway through, one of the characters describes a dream in which they feel like they’re being swallowed up in quicksand, and that every renewed effort to escape it only causes them to sink further in. Needless to say, it’s an apt metaphor for the circumstances the characters are in.

Of particular note is actor Kris Hitchen, who plays Ricky, the family patriarch. His performance is remarkable as he juggles the sadness, rage, and helplessness that Ricky feels as he tries to keep up with his duties as a delivery man as well as a father.

Franz (August Diehl) and Fani (Valerie Pachner) in the fields of Radegund.
Franz (August Diehl) and Fani (Valerie Pachner) in the fields of Radegund.
Mister Smith Entertainment

4. A Hidden Life

Noted hermit Terrence Malick came out to Cannes for the premiere of his new film, A Hidden Life, which tells the tale of real-life conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter. Jägerstätter, portrayed in the film by August Diehl, refused to take the Hitler Oath, and was consequently jailed and tried. Malick’s film is an investigation of Jägerstätter’s principles, and, on a larger scale, a contemplation of what it takes to do what is right.

The film is gorgeous, if surprisingly literal in comparison to most of Malick’s other work. It also takes it time in moving from plot point to plot point, pausing to tease out the emotions of each beat and providing an ample platform for Diehl and Valerie Pachner, who plays Jägerstätter’s wife.

The hem of Héloïse’s (Haenel) dress catches on fire.
Adèle Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Photo: Neon

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Céline Sciamma’s new film isn’t particularly revolutionary when it comes to the story it’s telling, but it’s stunning in the details and execution. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), with the one stipulation that Héloïse must not know the portrait is being painted. The portrait is meant to be sent to Héloïse’s potential husband, and she has refused to sit for any artist as she does not wish for an arranged marriage. It’s a condition that Marianne is happy to agree to at first, but finds harder to accept as the two get to know each other.

What follows is a love story that unfolds so warmly and delicately that it’s impossible to resist, with a final shot that should single-handedly turn any remaining doubts about the quality of the film and its performances. Portrait of a Lady on Fire also deals with the way female artists have often been erased from their own stories, and robbed of agency, which makes it all the more refreshing that almost the entire cast is made up of women.

Thomas (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) in front of the lighthouse.
Thomas (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) in front of the lighthouse.
Photo: A24

2. The Lighthouse

The Witch is a tough act to follow, but director Robert Eggers has pulled it off — and how — with The Lighthouse. A fascinating mix of styles and mythologies, the film is a wild ride from top to bottom, defying expectations and weaving a tapestry so grand and so grim that it overflows from its near-square aspect ratio.

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star as lighthouse keepers working through a four-week shift. As the days pass, events on their little island grow stranger and stranger, and their methods of coping come down to drinking, which doesn’t exactly help. For the audience, at least, there is the panacea of bravado performances from Pattinson and Dafoe, who leave all vanity on the cutting room floor as they go all out in a descent into madness.

Kim Ki-taek (Song) stands in the middle of his home, surrounded by his family.
Song Kang-ho in Parasite.
Photo: CJ Entertainment/Neon

1. Parasite

There’s no question that Bong Joon-ho’s thrilling Parasite is the best film playing at Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s the kind of movie that’s so assured, so perfectly crafted, that it gets into the very marrow of your bones, painting a picture that will stick with the viewer for long after the film is over.

Like a vertically-oriented Snowpiercer, Parasite is concerned with class. Two families, one rich (and living in a beautiful house on a hill) and one poor (and relegated to a sub-basement apartment in a flood-prone zone), become entwined in each others’ lives through matters of work and money. Gradually, however, their entanglement becomes more complicated, and the caper-esque qualities of the early part of the film twist into tragedy.

Parasite builds like a symphony, and the great pleasure of it is not only that you’ll never see what’s coming, but that it’s so deftly made that you’ll want to revisit it again and again.

The full list of Cannes 2019 winners

Palme d’Or: Parasite, Bong Joon-ho
Grand Prix: Atlantics, Mati Diop
Jury Prize (tie): Les Misérables, Ladj Ly, and Bacurau, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
Best Actress: Emily Beecham, Little Joe
Best Actor: Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Best Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, The Young Ahmed
Best Screenplay: Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Special Mention of the Jury: It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman
Camera d’Or: Our Mothers, César Díaz
Short Film Palme d’Or: The Distance Between Us And The Sky, Vasilis Kekatos
Special Mention of the Jury: Monstruo Dios, Agustina San
Queer Palm (Feature): Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma
Queer Palm (Short): The Distance Between Us And The Sky, Vasilis Kekatos