Robert De Niro, receiving a special tribute for his career at Cannes this year, screened his latest film to some applause on Tuesday. Hands of Stone, directed by Venezuelan writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz, has De Niro as the veteran trainer of boxer Roberto Duran, a Panamanian world champion who faced Sugar Ray Leonard and other almost mythical fighters and was known as one of hardest hitters in the business. De Niro, whose recent work often looks as if he could act most parts in his sleep, here gives a gritty account of the man who believed in Duran even when others had given up on him. Edgar Ramirez plays Duran and is almost as good as De Niro himself was all those years ago in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The film itself, however, is not much more than a conventional sports picture as it details the ups and downs of Duran’s career. It tries to connect that career with the equally difficult history of Panama, where Duran was a folk hero for years. But, though the scenes in the ring are the equal of any, the drama progresses rather like something we have all seen before.
The film was out of competition, and anyone trying to forecast which film is going to win this year would have to be a little mad. There have been no truly outstanding competitors, though two films have so far hit the button among the press. The first is Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, a long, detailed and highly personal portrait of a family mourning the loss of the paterfamilias. Hailing from Rumania, where at least a dozen good films have reached the festivals of the world in recent years, the film is clearly the work of a master director but not one which will storm the box-offices of the world.
The other ‘favourite’ is, wait for it, a German comedy called Toni Erdmann, in which an eccentric father desperately tries to persuade his daughter not to work so hard and start to live life other than via a computer. Maren Ade is the director and all one can say is that he has turned what could have been a fairly straightforward laughter-maker into a very shrewd attack on a world so full of stress that it often forgets to enjoy itself at all. Both these movies deserve prizes, and we all agree that Ken Loach, beloved at Cannes, will get something too for I, Daniel Blake. Otherwise who knows? Cannes this year has been more than a bit muted, with less people attending and many of those agreeing that this has only been a passable year. But there are still a few days to go and you never know what will turn up. New films by Almodovar, the Spanish maestro, and the Dardennes Brothers, who have already won the Palme D’Or twice, are on the horizon. At Cannes you never know until the very last moment.