Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The love story landed the ultimate honour, the Best Film nod, as well as trophies for Best Original Screenplay and Best Direction.
The movie's writer/director, Warwick Thornton, accepted the awards, telling the crowd in Melbourne, Australia, "It's hard work, it's b**ody hard work, there is no mucking around. Be careful what you write, you might just have to direct it."
The child stars of the movie, Marissa Gibson and Rowan McNamara, also shared the Young Actor accolade - and Thornton heaped praise on them, adding: "We put Marissa and Rowan into these lights and part of the deal is to look after them, whatever they want to do, until they know what they want to do and they can separate themselves from us."
Anthony LaPaglia won the Best Actor award for his role in Balibo, a drama about the death of an Australian journalist. The movie's co-writers David Williamson and Robert Connolly won the film a further honour, Best Adapted Screenplay.
Despite being honoured for six awards, Baz Luhrmann's epic Australia only won the one, for highest grossing film. It garnered $211 million (£132 million) at the worldwide box office.
Gangster drama Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities took home three awards including Best Television Screenplay, and Rachel Griffiths landed the Best Supporting Actress for her role in Beautiful Kate.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke has walked away with the top honor at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his drama The White Ribbon.
The film -- about residents in a small German town riddled with tragedy as World War I approaches -- was awarded with the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the annual prize-giving ceremony in the French Riviera on Sunday.
Quentin Tarantino's war film Inglourious Basterds also triumphed, with Christoph Waltz winning in the Best Actor category for his role as a Colonel Hans Landain.
Meanwhile, English/French star Charlotte Gainsbourg won the Best Actress statue for her role in Danish director Lars von Trier's drama Antichrist.
Veteran French filmmaker Alain Resnais, 86, was also awarded a special prize for his half-century career. Resnais delighted critics with Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grasses), a romantic comedy starring Sabine Azema and Andre Dussolier and the director's his first movie to compete at the festival in almost 30 years.
The jury at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival was headed by French actress Isabelle Huppert.
The main list of winners is as follows:
Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) - The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke (Austria)
Grand Prize - The Prophet by Jacques Audiard (France)
Jury Prize - Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold (Britain) and Thirst by Park Chan-wook (South Korea)
Special Prize - Alain Resnais
Best Director - Brillante Mendoza, Kinatay (The Philippines)
Best Actor - Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (United States)
Best Actress - Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist (Denmark)
Best Screenplay - Feng Mei, Spring Fever (China)
Camera d'Or (first-time director) - Samson and Delilah by Warwick Thornton (Australia)
Best short film - Arena by Joao Salaviza (Portugal)
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