Cannes Festival director Thierry Frémaux last night. Photo by Valery Hache/AFP.

The Cannes Film Festival passed the midpoint tonight in France and—perhaps due to the persistently inclement weather—festivalgoers have been pretty down about the 65th edition of the world's most prestigious fest. Now it's certainly way too soon to declare this year's festival a flop, bu the mood around Cannes is as gray as the weather here among many film critics and industry types.

A silver lining?
In a headline atop this morning's Cannes Daily print edition, industry trade paper The Hollywood Reporter said that the festival is off to a tepid start.  Meanwhile, at a large annual dinner of international film insiders last night, buzz around the table was that, as it hit the halfway mark, the festival was lacking a true breakout film.

Without a doubt, the front-runner favorite right now is Michael Haneke's Amour, a heart-wrenching look at the end of a long relationship between an aging French couple. The only other Cannes competition entry that is generating legitimate buzz at the midpoint is Jacque Audiard's Rust & Bone (De rouille et d'os). While some of the Americans painted the drama as rather conventional, French film folks defended it as a departure from other domestic commercial fare.

In terms of critical response, Haneke's Amour is atop the Screen Daily back-page poll of reviewers. It is tied with Christian Mungiu's divisive Beyond the Hills with 3.3 out of 4 stars. Meanwhile, in a similar survey for Le Film Francais, Haneke's film has 7 top grades and Audiard's latest has 5 (out of a possible 15 total).

Of course, once the weather turns sunny this week—and if the movies improve a bit—spirits will likely improve as attendees dig into the second half of the lineup at this year's festival.

“Almost as if festival director Thierry Frémaux had coyly scheduled some of the weaker competition entries at the beginning so that festival could be seen to gradually improve as the days wore on, the 65th Cannes Film Festival began getting serious over the weekend,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy in his annual first half wrap for the trade.

Isabelle Huppert walking the soggy red carpet in Cannes this weekend. Photo by Valery Hache/AFP.

Best of the Fest (so far)
Of the dozen or so films I've seen in Cannes, three stand out and they share commonalities: Amour by Michael Haneke, Les Invisibles by Sebastien Lifshitz and Laurence Anyways by Xavier Dolan.

Love tested by the passage of time is a theme woven through my favorite films of the 65th Festival de Cannes, so far. Michael Haneke's aforementioned Amour tracks the impact that a debilitating illness has on a loving French couple (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva). With brutal details, Haneke exposes the physical and emotional outcome of the blunt punch to a seemingly impermeable relationship.

Sébastian Lifshitz's film also follows the aging amoreux. A documentary about gays and lesbians, many in the towns or countryside of the South of France, Les Invisibles is a enthralling window into often unseen lives. Rural gay and lesbian couples reflect on their lives together and the struggles of their youth in an uplifting and insightful series of interwoven stories featuring seemingly everyday folks. The stable, charming couple next door are explored with a depth and ease that reveal full lives rarely caught on camera.

In Laurence Anyways, young Québécois filmmaker Xavier Dolan tackles a project he's been building towards for a few years now. If his I Killed My Mother exposed some youthful rage and Heartbeats offered a lusty diversion, his fully-formed feature reveals Dolan's cinematic yearnings. He seems to be an anxious auteur. His film is bold and beautiful and like many of art cinema's most interesting figures, Xavier Dolan is divisive. Tracking a love story over the course of a decade, this 90s tale witnesses the fallout when one half of the relationship decides to change genders. The film, starring Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement, is fully formed, bursting at 159 minutes, and packed with cinematic flourishes that were too much for some in Cannes. For me, it was just right.

A Wild Finish?
With Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux, Lee Daniels' The Paperboy, Leos Carax' Holy Motors and David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis all set to unspool in the coming days, Cannes festivalgoers should probably fasten their seat belts.

It should be quite a ride.

Award winners will be announced on Sunday night prior to the Closing Night screening of the late Claude Miller's Therese Desqueyroux.

Cannes 2012: The Second Half Competition Schedule

Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik

The Angels' Share, directed by Ken Loach


On The Road, directed by Walter Salles
Holy Motors, directed by Leos Carax


The Paperboy, directed by Lee Daniels

Post Tenebras Lux, directed by Carlos Reygadas

Cosmopolis, directed by David Cronenberg

In The Fog (V Tumane), directed by Sergei Loznitsa

Mud, directed by Jeff Nichols

The Taste of Money (Do-Nui Mat), directed by Im Sang-Soo

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

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