(AFP) – Cinema heavyweights Roman Polanski and Jim Jarmusch wrapped up the Cannes Film Festival race Saturday, as speculation raged whether a shockingly explicit lesbian love story could capture a top prize.
The audacious French coming-of-age tale “Blue Is the Warmest Colour” featuring hard-core sex between the lead actresses, remained the talk of the town as the competition ended with two more looks at unconventional couples.
In “Venus in Fur”, Polanski turns the tables on the sadomasochism bible of the same name while Jarmusch tells a rock-and-roll vampire story with “Only Lovers Left Alive”
Polanski, 79, cast his wife Emmanuelle Seigner as an actress auditioning for a part in a play written by Thomas, a struggling theatre director played by French actor Mathieu Amalric (“Munich”).
“Venus in Fur” captures the friction in a director and star’s interplay.
Thomas, who bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Polanski, complains that all the women who have read for the female lead of Vanda sound like bubble-headed “10-year-olds on helium”.
Enter Seigner, playing a vamp who gives her own name as Vanda. Chomping gum and spouting Parisian slang, she is of little interest to the intellectual Thomas.
But when she slips into a vintage dress and begins reciting the lines with conviction, Thomas is captivated by her stage presence.
As the audition stretches on, the text’s themes of pleasure, domination and revenge get an 21st century battle-of-the-sexes update.
“It’s the aspect of the sexism and the satire on sexism which was very seductive in this film. There’s this macho element in his character which is really coming to pieces and that was quite enjoyable,” Polanski told reporters, referring to Amalric.
“Whatever people think and know about me, the ones that do know about me know that I am not this way,” he said with a smile for Seigner.
Polanski, who won an Oscar and Cannes’ Palme d’Or for his 2002 Holocaust drama “The Pianist”, said the intimacy of working the tiny cast had tested him as an director.
“It was my dream to make one day a film with two actors only,” he said, fielding questions in English and French.
“My very first film was ‘Knife in the Water’ — three characters on the boat — I thought two would be really a challenge.”
Jarmusch, the cult US director behind “Dead Man” and “Broken Flowers”, premiered “Only Lovers Left Alive” starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a globe-trotting vampire couple.
The stylish undead paramours divide their time between Detroit and Tangier, two fading cities that Jarmusch said had a “romantic desolation”.
Hiddleston plays Adam, a rock musician who relies on a friend at a hospital to supply him with blood, while Swinton’s Eve has a French doctor who gets her “the good stuff”, blood of the purest quality that her fellow vampires find addictive.
The eternal hipsters have been together since the 1860s but have quit hunting humans to feed themselves — “It’s so 19th century,” Eve says.
Jarmusch, 60, presents a remarkably tender love story between the ultimate outsiders, picking up a theme that resonated strongly at this year’s festival.
“Blue Is The Warmest Colour” by Abdellatif Kechiche topped critics polls in trade magazines Screen International and Film Francais among the 20 contenders for the Palme d’Or.
The three-hour-long drama about a 15-year-old girl who falls for a French woman tracks their passionate affair and devastating separation.
Hot on its heels were a bittersweet US comedy by the Coen brothers about a folk singer in 1960s New York, “Inside Llewyn Davis”; Alexander Payne’s recession-era “Nebraska”; a daring Chinese expose of exploitation, “A Touch of Sin” by Jia Zhangke; and Iranian Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past”.
An all-star jury led by Steven Spielberg will convene at a hillside villa to deliberate Sunday ahead of a gala awards ceremony.