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Movies channel the world, even when they’re not trying to. At a festival like Cannes, the films tha...

From ‘I, Daniel Blake’ to ‘American Honey’ to ‘Toni Erdmann,’ the Best Films at Cannes

By 18:30:00

Movies channel the world, even when they’re not trying to. At a festival like Cannes, the films that win awards — and the ones that are most celebrated, which aren’t always the award winners — have usually had a heartbeat of relevance. They’re movies that speak to us because they matter, and they matter because they express what’s going on around them.

Yet at Cannes this year, that reality was only heightened by a gathering awareness — of a theme that cuts across movies, directors, cultures, nations. Accepting the Palme d’Or for “I, Daniel Blake,” director Ken Loach observed, “We must say that another world is possible, and necessary.” He was speaking of the issue that runs like a current through “I, Daniel Blake,” and that makes it such a trenchant and moving film: not just the bureaucratic perils of the British welfare system, but the fraying social safety net in the world at large — the loss of security, jobs, the whole promise of a room with a view. What once might have seemed a “leftist” or even “Marxist” vision has become, for people across the globe, and for movie audiences everywhere, the new normal. The rich are concentrating their wealth; the sense of stability for almost everyone else is slowly eroding. It’s a brave, scary, threatening new world. And the best films at Cannes this year were about pulling back the curtain on what that looks like.

“I, Daniel Blake” does it with scalding passion, which is why this may finally be the movie to give Loach, at 79, his Mike Leigh crossover moment. Another Cannes highlight, “Hell or High Water,” tells the story of two bank-robbing brothers in West Texas — it looks like a gun-totin’ wild-boy pop-genre exercise, and might have been nothing more had it been made 10 years ago — and embeds that crackling tale in the maw of middle-class economic erosion. In these two movies, the desperation is right up front. To watch them is to touch a nerve of topical anxiety.

But two of the other festival highlights tap into this theme with a sidelong resonance that sneaks up on you. “Toni Erdmann,” Maren Ade’s two-hour-and-42-minute-long German comedy about an oil-company consultant, Ines (Sandra Hüller), who is trying to come to grips with her shambling, annoying, prankish semi-wreck of a father, is one of the first movies you have ever seen about the one percent that’s really about the one percent, the intricacies of their spirit and style. It shows us the new breed of suits who are operating in a world far above the rest of us, so that almost nothing they do seems real, whether it’s cutting deals or cutting the jobs that grow out of them.

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