Cannes 2017 Dispatch 4: 'The Beguiled,' 'L'Amant Double,' 'Good Time' as the Festival Winds Down ...
Has this been a good year for the Palme d’Or competition? This isn’t necessarily a question for me to answer as a first-timer in Cannes. Even though I always get a chance to see the winners and all major films contending for the big prize later in the year (usually at Telluride and/or New York Film Festivals), watching their first appearances over the course of a compact period of time is the only way to have a confident, well-informed answer to this. And in that regard, I have no frame of reference. But speaking only within the confines of 2017, the answer is, probably not quite. Despite consisting of the likes of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s exquisite Loveless, Todd Haynes’ lovely Wonderstruck, Ruben Östlund’s brainy satire The Square and Sofia Coppola’s mischievous The Beguiled (capsule review below), I was ever so slightly dissatisfied to leave Cannes without having seen a film as articulate in its artistry and heart-rendering in its themes as Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, which premiered in Sundance last January.
But at the very least, it’s been a fairly good year for women in Cannes. Perhaps not exactly great, but better than usual for a notoriously male-driven festival like this. Female driven films like The Beguiled, Okja and The Florida Project (picked up by A24 earlier today) made strong waves. And female directors found themselves in the spotlight: Agnes Varda’s Out of Competition title Visages Villages and Chloe Zhao’s The Rider (the latter of which won the top prize at Director’s Fortnight and got picked up by Sony Pictures Classics) became beloved hits. Jane Campion impressed with her Top of the Lake TV series. Sofia Coppola brought one the fest’s most anticipated films to the French Riviera. In the press conference for her The Beguiled, star Nicole Kidman (in Cannes with four projects in total) said, “Only about four percent of women directed the major motion pictures of 2016. That says it all. I think that’s an important thing to keep saying. Luckily we have Jane Campion and Sofia here. We as women have to support female directors, that’s a given now. Everyone is saying it’s so different now—but it isn’t. Listen to the statistics.”
And Cannes is perhaps about to get even better for females. Lynne Ramsay’s competition film You Were Never Really Here premiered earlier today (after I already left Cannes) and seems to be generating much buzz for a possible Palme d’Or win. With Maren Ade (writer-director of last year’s snubbed Toni Erdmann) and the outspoken feminist Jessica Chastain a part of this year’s jury, the bets are not off. That is not to say Ade and Chastain will prioritize anything over merit (or that other judges won’t have similar sensibilities). But still, it should be interesting to see who will win the big prize from this particular jury. It needs to be noted that Jane Campion is still the only female director who made a Palme d’Or winning film with The Piano in 1993. And even then, she tied and shared the big prize with a male director (Chen Kaige, who directed Farewell My Concubine.)
I will be following tomorrow’s awards from afar (like I always do), but before I conclude my Cannes 2017 coverage, here are capsule thoughts on a few more major films I caught during my final days. There were even more screenings, more parties (the best of them being the fete for The Beguiled) and more sunshine to soak in. But in Cannes, the love of cinema is still what ties it all together.
The Beguiled (Competition)
Undoubtedly one of the main competition’s most anticipated titles, Sofia Coppola’s Thomas Cullinan adaptation The Beguiled, also a fiercely entertaining and Clint Eastwood-starring Don Siegel film from 1971, makes a strong and rare case for remakes. An assured, eerie and sufficiently melodramatic Civil War-era Southern Gothic tale of survival, lust and female camaraderie, The Beguiled concerns the residents of an all-girls boarding school in the South, whose lives turn upside down when they give sanctuary to a wounded and on-the-run Union soldier named John McBurney (played by Colin Farrell in Coppola’s version). Siegel’s film is told from the perspective of the soldier, who figures the only way he can survive is by manipulating his caretakers, secretly entertaining their lustful fantasies and eventually creating rivalry amongst them. Coppola’s version treads similar waters, except the story is told from the perspective of the women entirely. A marvelously stern and no-nonsense Nicole Kidman leads the pack of women in the role of Martha. Right beneath her in the chain is Edwina, poignantly played by a heartbreaking Kirsten Dunst, whose desire for John takes a more prominent turn than that of the rest of the women (which includes Elle Fanning in the role of Alicia). And sure, the inevitable jealousy does emerge amongst the females, who put on their fanciest clothes (opulently designed by Stacey Battat) and assume their best, most alluring behavior in John’s presence, until they find they must unite against him.
While a film must stand on its own two feet without the need of comparison to its source material or the previous adaptations of the same source, The Beguiled somewhat benefits from the context of its predecessor, so one can further appreciate Coppola’s full accomplishments with her version. On its own, Coppola’s take on the story is an impressively lean and gradually darkening chamber piece on isolation and endurance (topics that are familiar territory for the filmmaker of Marie Antoinette, Somewhere and Lost in Translation) with startling economy and discipline. But when compared to Siegel’s film, it’s a feminist statement of the highest order, in which Coppola underscores female agency instead of vulnerability and resilience instead of desperation. The cherry on top? The female gaze is in safe hands with her; she knows how to toy and have fun with it. Sure, the onscreen sexuality is slightly toned down in this new take, but even then, she puts female desire on display subtly and believably. making Siegel’s film appear the male wish-fulfillment version of what female sexual awakening looks like. The Beguiled filled my female eyeballs with unapologetic, impure mischief, with moments of understated sexuality more sizzling than anything explicit. Thank heaven for a woman behind the camera and a group of “vengeful bitches” unafraid to go the extra mile.
L’Amant Double (Competition)
François Ozon can always be trusted to shake things up a bit at a film festival. During last year’s Telluride, his gorgeous, black-and-white period melodrama Frantz became a sleeper, word-of-mouth hit among festival-goers. It’s hard to believe the same artist is behind L’Amant Double, which charged the audience with a jolt of energy on top of the festival’s final weekend after more than a week of mostly heavy and serious competition titles. A sexy, deliciously silly and twisty thriller that laughs in the face of commonplace reason and ecstatically dials up its weirdness at every plot turn, Ozon’s film was a welcome reminder of the possibilities of cinema and its ability to fiendishly pull the rug from under a viewer. Everyone in Cannes was mesmerized by the presence of Twin Peaks at the festival, but those who mostly prioritized the competition section titles got a generous taste of Lynch with toppings reminiscent of Hitchcock and De Palma in L’Amant Double.
In Ozon’s latest, with weirdness and body horror galore, simpleminded logic is an afterthought and Marine Vacth has it her way with Jérémie Renier with a strap-on. Next to this, 50 Shades looks like kids’ material. The story follows Chlóe (Vacth, giving major "Emmanuelle Béart-meets-Juliette Binoche in the 90s" vibes), a young woman seeking psychological therapy to battle her fears and nightmares, which often cause her physical pain in her stomach. Her therapist is Paul (Renier), who is quick to be seduced by Chlóe’s mystique and forwardness. Once their relationship takes a romantic turn, Chlóe finds a new therapist in Paul’s twin brother (Renier again), who seduces Chlóe with what he calls his “hands-on approach.” It would take out all the fun to reveal where this story goes (and perhaps sensible descriptions would even betray Ozon’s intentions). Just know that you’re in for quite a ride with stylized split screens and multiple twins from hell.
Good Time (Competition)
The Safdie Brothers Joshua and Benny have choreographed a chaotic, non-stop stress-inducing dance in the streets of New York City once again, following their tantalizing and brutally affecting addiction drama Heaven Knows What. The qualities and dramatic signposts that defined their earlier film—a boundless sense of energy, wild unruliness, alarmingly extreme close-ups and characters constantly on the move in pursuit of salvation—are present in Good Time too, and they seem even more distressing than they have been before. In that regard, part of the credit surely goes to the nerve-racking electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never and feverish cinematography by Sean Price Williams that in unison light up the film like a loud, frenzied theme park. Good Time opens with a close-up of Nick (Benny Safdie), while he’s in a therapy session due to his learning problems. You can see the process is emotionally hard on Nick and that he is suffocating under the weight of his mental shortcomings. After this brilliant character introduction, enters his brother Connie (Robert Pattinson, in a truly career-defining performance), who quickly yanks Nick out of the doctor’s office with anger and urgency. The two head, where else, to rob a bank. The moments that follow—a detailed account of the robbery, followed by an unsuccessful escape plan—are a thrill ride, in which we get to learn that Connie both protects and manipulates Nick. At the end of the lengthy ordeal, which is a contender for one of the best opening sequences of the year, Nick gets caught but Connie manages to escape, with a whole night ahead of him to make things right. His pursuit takes him to many corners of New York and introduces us to several side characters, each of them adding a different layer to the story in small, cleverly written parts. The Safdies are perhaps a bit heavy-handed with their style, but this level of visual confidence and creative risk-taking demands respect (and in the case of a tiring film festival, keeps you wide awake and on edge.) That’s no small feat.