At the midpoint in the competition for the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the South Americans are in the lead.

Arguably, the two best-received films so far have been Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas’ Linha de Passe from Brazil and Pablo Trapero’s Lion’s Den from Argentina.

Francophiles might want to argue the case for Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, whose highly literate and witty screenplay might, to many minds, compensate for the writer-director’s propensity for melodrama. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra, a documentary-style tale of an all-powerful Italian criminal empire, also is much admired.

There will be general agreement in this, however: It’s been a tough slog through an urban plague, social decay, war crimes, crime wars, families in prison and families torn apart by dead children.

No wonder Thierry Fremaux programmed Kung Fu Panda and Vicky Cristina Barcelona out of competition. Cannes really did need a bouncy panda and those comically tempestuous lovers, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, to lighten this load.

The opening-night film, Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, found favour in few quarters. The general feeling is that a world-class filmmaker challenged himself by adapting to the screen a perhaps unfilmable novel and fell short of the mark. This is no shameful failure — there is much to admire in the opening sequences, visual design and acting — but it represents an odd choice for an opening film.

Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir from Israel is an “animated documentary,” in which Folman sets out to interview friends and former veterans about their shaky memories of the first Lebanon war in the early 1980s.

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