Cannes (France) (AFP) - A wrenching French AIDS drama, a cinematic indictment of Putin's Russia and a bittersweet Adam Sandler comedy are among the 70th Cannes film festival contenders that have captured critics' hearts.
The race for the Palme d'Or top prize at the world's biggest film festival still looks wide open, with a Nicole Kidman horror movie and a tense drama by two-time winner Michael Haneke earning some glowing reviews.
Ahead of awards night Sunday, when a jury led by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and including Hollywood stars Will Smith and Jessica Chastain will pick the winners from 19 pictures, AFP spotlights the breakout hits of the festival so far:
- '120 Beats Per Minute' -
This docu-drama by French former activist Robin Campillo pulses with rage at official neglect of the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s, and compassion for victims cut down in the prime of their lives.
The film celebrates the rowdy band of gay radicals from ACT UP who helped shame the world into action, and tells the love story between a newcomer to the movement and an HIV-positive man (Argentine-born actor Nahuel Perez Biscayart) who refuses to die without a fight.
Vanity Fair called the sexually frank picture "a vital new gay classic" while Le Monde said it "fused intimacy and politics" to induce a "river of tears" from the Cannes audience.
- 'Loveless' -
This harrowing tale by "Leviathan" director Andrey Zvyagintsev marks his most overt attack to date on what he sees as the moral rot eating away at Russian society under President Vladimir Putin.
It depicts a couple on the verge of divorce who, lured by the temptations of status and creature comforts, no longer want to raise their young son.
Fearing he will be abandoned to a grim state-run home followed by the military, the boy vanishes, sending the parents on a half-hearted search with the aid of jaded and indifferent police, hospital officials and morgue workers.
Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw gave it five out of five stars, calling the "stark, mysterious and terrifying story of spiritual catastrophe" a "masterpiece".
- 'The Meyerowitz Stories' -
Hollywood funnyman Adam Sandler left Cannes critics agog with a soulful, restrained performance in this portrait of a dysfunctional New York family also starring Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson.
Audiences embraced the new movie by Noah Baumbach ("While We're Young"), one of two Netflix features in competition for the first time amid a row over streaming versus cinema distribution.
Sandler was tipped for a possible best actor prize, with Daily Telegraph critic Robbie Collin remarking that the "Happy Gilmore" star "has been bad in so many awful films that when he's terrific in a great one... it's a revelation".
- 'The Killing of Sacred Deer' -
This year's reigning Queen of Cannes, Nicole Kidman, is unveiling four different projects at the French Riviera event including this audience shocker.
Kidman and Irish actor Colin Farrell play a couple of married doctors facing a terrible choice in the horror movie by Greece's Yorgos Lanthimos, who wowed Cannes two years ago with dystopian love story "The Lobster".
The mounting tension and bloody climax sent some audience members fleeing the cinema but many critics were in raptures.
"The film's nightmarish, Old Testament horrors are unshakable. The Greek director is a true original," said Donald Clarke of the Irish Times.
- 'Happy End' -
Austria's Haneke, who already has two Palme d'Or trophies on his mantelpiece for "Amour" and "The White Ribbon", divided critics with his latest feature.
Set in the northern French city of Calais, the site of the now-dismantled Jungle refugee camp, the film stars French legends Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant as members of a callous wealthy family.
It returns to familiar Haneke themes including latent racism, class divides, sexual deviance and obsession with mobile devices.
In a five-star review, the BBC's Nicholas Barber said Haneke had once again staked his claim as one of Europe's most formidable filmmakers.
"The 75-year-old Haneke proves that he can still generate tension more deftly than most horror directors half his age, and he can still comment on dehumanising digital technology more incisively than any number of hand-wringing documentary makers," he said.