Films rooted in existentialism and human nature have been the coherent bloodline of Cannes this year. The Dardenne Brothers attempted and failed at it with The Unknown Girl, and Sean Penn downright murdered it with The Last Face, a film so unaware of its out of touch, garish nature that it bordered on offensive. Thank god then, that previous Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu brings his latest offering to this year’s competition. Refreshingly basic in its structure and yet defined by its effective use of moral complexities, Graduation feels like its director’s Michael Haneke moment.
At just 27 years old, Quebecois director Xavier Dolan already possesses a few filmmaking quirks that are easily identifiable as his own. An unbreakable love for pop culture and long forgotten chart hits is one; an adoration for fiery, on screen conflict the other. Having arrived in Cannes two years ago with arguably his best film Mommy, and his other works (bar 2011’s Tom at the Farm) all having a Croisette premiere prior to that, he’s gained the title of the festival’s new enfant terrible for the ostentatious attitude he has towards his own precious work. In our eyes the guy’s a genius; one who understands his fictional characters so intricately, it’s as if they’re members of his own family.
Choppy, monochrome seas fill the opening frames of The Red Turtle, a man appearing on the surface of the water before being dragged down into its depths by an angry storm. It’s over in a mere matter of minutes, but enraptures you with such tension that it feels as though it lasts for an unnerving lifetime, reminding us of Studio Ghibli’s indelibly powerful set pieces. Like, for example, the air raids over war era Japan in Grave of the Fireflies, or the imminent arrival of a huge, sludgy spirit in the bathhouses of Spirited Away.
I’m writing this review topless at the foot of my bed. It’s nearly one in the morning and I’ve been up since six. I’ll be up at six again tomorrow.
There’s a reason for this semi-inappropriate, rushed introduction to my review of Nicolas Winding-Refn’s glorious The Neon Demon: because it’s a film we have to talk about, and now is the best time for that.
Late one night, as a doctor is locking up her practice for the day, the doorbell rings just once. She chooses to ignore it, desperate to get home after a day that’s already been busy, going on for too long. The next morning, she’s greeted at the door by two police officers who make her aware of a woman’s body that has been found nearby.
Laura Poitras makes films not to entertain, but to educate. Her latest venture into the dark web world of Wikileaks and Julian Assange solidifies that, playing out in a methodical yet affecting manner. Starting from the whistleblowing organisation’s early Chelsea Manning days through to the tail end of its founder’s political incarceration within the walls of the Ecuadorian Embassy, Poitras creates a biblical, god-like struggle for Assange. Impartiality proudly being thrown out of the window from the offset, we sift through their most pivotal moments with a striking, previously unseen insight.
Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear is a film of two polarising halves. Part relationship drama and part psycho-arctic-horror, it battles with its own ceaseless tonal shifts until the former reigns supreme. Set deep in the Arctic Circle, we meet Roman and Lucy, two lovers who’ve retreated there for reasons that remain unknown to the viewer. As Lucy reveals she’s been accepted into college and will be leaving in ten days, Roman embarks on a shortcut path to self-destruction, drinking himself delirious and to the brink of suicide. A short stint in a rehabilitation centre fails to help until Lucy reappears, taking him away on a snowmobile adventure to the places they truly belong.
Some sit on the sidewalks, smoke pot and watch middle-class assholes in BMWs drive by with their heads held high. These types are the lifeblood of American Honey: the outcasts, the wasters, the skaters and the stoners – the ones that only Andrea Arnold can genuinely give two fucks about.
We first meet her cast of drug-fuelled, hyperactive party kids as they swarm a K-Mart in America’s deep south. The group dance and drop like teenagers in a nightclub for the first time, jumping onto the checkouts as Rihanna’s We Found Love blares over the sound system. Star (Sasha Lane), an inquisitive, laid back girl watches on intrigued, catching the eye of the team’s manager Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Within moments, the sexual sparks ignite between the two and we’re off on a dangerous escapade across the hillbilly towns and ‘Wisteria Lane’ suburbs of the States. With magazine subscriptions to sell and a no bullshit, confederate-flag-bikini-wearing boss to please, Star’s left with little time to get used to her new and obscure surroundings.
There’s a beautiful, palpable harmony at the heart of Captain Fantastic, one that takes full advantage of the its high spirited and touching ensemble.
In the picture, which premiered at Sundance back in January but appears on the festival circuit once again in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard strand, we follow the headstrong ‘father of the pack’ Ben (played by a rather bushy-bearded Viggo Mortensen) with six equally loyal kids who have spent their lives together in the lush, open forests of Washington State. Cut off from the outside world, they’re made to confront the evil, business-fuelled America they’ve spent so long avoiding when they discover their mentally ill mother has committed suicide. Desperate to say their goodbyes but warned not to by their mother’s religious, conforming family, they set out on a road trip to New Mexico to reclaim the body of the woman they all love.
Thanks to her stoic, pared back manner of performing, Kristen Stewart has been the butt of many jokes here in Cannes. Many a journalist may claim that the Twilight star doesn’t deserve to be here or that she simply can’t act. Sweeping statements aside, Personal Shopper, the strange, supernatural drama from festival veteran Olivier Assayas is a fine example of how subjective the art of cinema can really be.