In Cannes’ 70th year, the world’s pre-eminent film festival has an official selection of hugely promising titles – the kind of titles that streaming services Netflix, Amazon and MUBI will be bidding fiercely to acquire for their own content roster. Hot off the Croisette, after Netflix’s Okja and Amazon’s Wonderstruck, our man on the ground checks out some of the films competing for attention.
2014’s memoirs of a teenage junk addict drama, Heaven Knows What, put Benny and Josh Safdie on the critical radar. For what should prove their breakout movie proper, the NYC-based directors have teamed up with Robert Pattinson, the former Twilight heartthrob, who, like Kristen Stewart, has opted out of appearing in summer blockbusters and superhero franchises to carve out a career working with vaunted auteurs.
Good Time harks back to an era that obsesses a new wave of up-and-coming film-school-educated directors: 1970s New Hollywood. Go back 40-odd years and it is easy enough to imagine Al Pacino in the Robert Pattinson role and John Cazale playing the disabled brother (an acting turn from Ben Safdie).
A narrative almost entirely character-propelled, Good Time hinges on two key incidents: a bank job gone awry and Pattinson’s Connie Nikas attempting to bail his bro from prison. Strikingly shot by ace cinematographer Sean Price Williams, using popping neon colour schemes reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (2009), and set to a pounding score by Oneohtrix Point Never, Pattinson turns in the best performance of his career to date. Good Time is a belting crime drama about deadbeat crooks dreaming of the big take, Mexican beaches, a life of leisure and boozing and coming a cropper.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties wants to rock out like it’s the movie version of the Buzzcocks’ classic Ever Fallen in Love, but fumbles the chords, the lyrics, the snotty ebullience and ends up like somebody drunk at a party singing Blink 182’s All The Small Things on the karaoke machine. In short, it’s downright embarrassing and you pray to God it’ll all over soon.
Enn (short for Henry) is a schoolboy who makes a punk fanzine with his friends and one day accidentally meets a group of aliens (the fellas take a wrong turn looking for a post-concert after-party). Based on a 2007 Neil Gaiman short story, the talent in front and behind the camera is mighty, but the result anything but. The only ones who come out relatively unscathed are Elle Fanning, playing alien girl Zan, and Nicole Kidman, queen of the big screen and allowed a duff movie every once in a while.
The approach to the punk scene makes you wonder if anybody involved even knows what punk is and what made it such a socially shocking aesthetic and primal musical force. The humanoid aliens are a cross between Plan 9 from Outer Space or This Island Earth types and PVC fetish-wear clubbers. It might all be conceptually tongue-in-cheek and drenched in camp, as opposed to spit and blood from broken bottles on the dance floor. If so, it’s the wrong course to take.
The razor-thin plot sees Zan fall in love with Enn (Alex Sharp, far too posh-sounding to play a working-class kid from Croydon) and attempting to change the cannibalistic ways of her species (the ritualistic eating of their young). A serious misfire and waste of time.
One thing is abundantly clear from watching Michael Haneke’s new the-bourgeoisie-are-messed-up drama: the Austrian two-time Palme d’Or winner has not mellowed out in his august years. Happy End (2017) is a five-course banquet of suffering and misery.
The Laurent family are old industrialists living in Calais, the scene and focus of a great migrant crisis in Europe. Yet the outside world might as well be another planet. Aloof and cold collectively, individually they are selfish and weird. As an assessment of class and people within a rarefied social strata, it’s devastatingly bleak stuff; the Laurents are not monsters, they are presented as imitations of human beings mimicking life and interaction.
Whereas once Haneke desired to shock us and sermonise like a preacher in the pulpit through displays of grim violence and thriller techniques, his attitude these days is more sardonic and world-weary. The problem with Happy End is that, although nobody paints it black quite like Michael Haneke, there’s very little here that’s truly new. It’s the same gun (a camera), the same ammo (stories about how messed up people are), the same quarry he wants to gun down (the bourgeoisie). If this is the 75-year-old’s swan song, as some suggest, it’s a jellyfish sting adieu rather than a chomping great shark bite. Happy End is intriguingly perplexing, sometimes sinister, but offers no wow factor. The Laurents are not dissimilar to the French colonialist brood in Apocalypse Now: Redux (living like ghosts and oblivious to what’s going on around them and struggling to keep up appearances when things are really falling apart). A fine cast including Mathieu Kassovitz, Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones gamely play their roles as utterly unlikable human beings.
“Vengeful bitches!” Colin Farrell’s amputee Yankee soldier screams to a household of girls and women, in Sofia Coppola’s terrific remake of The Beguiled. The 1971 film, directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood, is something of a quirky duck oddity, but Coppola has smartly reworked the premise of a wounded infantryman seeking refuge at an all-girls boarding school, unleashing their urges and desires.
The lush visual beauty recalls Peter Weir’s The Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) or Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (also 1975) with soft-focus images awash with hazy light in exteriors and candlelight in murky interiors (Coppola’s use of the 1:66:1 aspect ratio could also be a nod to Big Stan’s classic). Also responsible for the screenplay, Coppola has injected plenty of gallows humour into the remake and reworked John McBurney (Farrell) into a full-on scheming and manipulative man with a misogynistic streak. If Siegel’s was a thematically messily and complicated affair, Coppola has taken all that out and streamlined it into a feminist parable.
How often we say ‘the remake isn’t as good as the original’. The Beguiled is considered a very minor entry in Eastwood’s career (and in Siegel’s too), but this is major Sofia Coppola. Her dreamy black comedy about female solidarity and sisterhood is superior to its predecessor. Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning excel as two rivals competing for McBurney’s affections, but it’s Nicole Kidman as Martha the school mistress who dominates, as she’s the one who truly has the guy’s number from the off.
The Double Lover
Harking back to the type of steamy erotic-thriller all the rage in the 1990s, François Ozon’s new work presented at Cannes is a trashy soft-core bonkbuster featuring one of the most audacious opening shots and uses of the match dissolve edit in recent cinema history. In terms of Ozon’s filmography, the sequence is the kind of surrealist-inspired provocation or gesture harking back to his earlier works, such as Criminal Lovers (1998) or Sitcom (1999).
With The Double Lover, Ozon quite clearly wanted to put the ‘cock’ back into Hitchcock (there is actually scene involving Jérémie Renier’s shrink being ‘pegged’ by Marine Vacth’s neurotic patient/girlfriend). The plot itself could be ripped from the pages of Kraft-Ebbing’s classic cornucopia of fetishes and peculiar hang-ups, Psychopathia Sexualis (1903). It involves rape, incest, a fixation with twins and hints of cannibalism. Ozon is having a good laugh with what is intended to be a very silly, sexy potboiler (it’s basically him making a Paul Verhoeven movie).
Hairpin narrative twists and turns, all-out performances from Vacth and Renier (working with Ozon for the first time since 1999’s Criminal Lovers), Manu Dacosse’s ultra-stylish lensing (the mirror-image motif is sublime) and a quintessentially potty denouement means fans of the French auteur will have a blast.
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