Cannes is disproportionately talked and argued over by the quality, distinction and energy of the official competition. It's unavoidable given the competition is the holy grail for filmmakers, producers, sales agents (even critics and journalists), with its institutionally built in advantages for making the greatest impact across a wide swath.
Cannes has always been a festival of many parts, layers and subdivisions. The general feeling was this year's competition lacked that one significant or artistically significant work to galvanize discussion. (Antichrist and Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void ended up monopolizing that absence.)
Of the four returning Palme laureates (Campion, von Trier, Loach, Tarantino), only the von Trier and Tarantino won prizes--and that was for acting. In retrospect the festival would have been much better off granting those titles (and something like the Almodovar) their due by giving them a big, formal red carpet screening, keeping them in official selection, but outside the competition.
I realize that is wishful thinking. The example of Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro showed it matters a great deal to directors (even those twice Palm'd) the position their films are accorded and where they are slotted. Nonetheless a better, more interesting festival would have found space in the competition for Police, Adjective and Hong Sang-soo's Like You Know It All.
It's also indefensible the festival rejected Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control (extending an olive branch by offering it in the Un Certain Regard) though found it necessary to program the Isabel Coixet or the Brilliante Mendoza. The Jarmusch is a divisive film, to be sure, and its inclusion would have no doubt infuriated the aesthetically reactionary segment of the international press corp (and not just the all too predictable Variety reviewers).
In summarizing, analyzing, weighing what Cannes is, it becomes necessary to include the parallel Cannes, the Cannes of Un Certain Regard, the Directors' Fortnight, out of competition and Critics' Week.