Week two of the 67th Cannes Film Festival began with the departure of the sun. The town seemed to exhale in one weary breath as five days of frantic activity were punished by moisture from above. Yet, as ever, films were around to restore spirits.
Journalists have it easy in comparison with the bold souls who stand near the red carpet holding up signs like: ‘Saint Laurent, Invitation, S’il Vous Plait’ and ‘1 ticket = 1 bissou’. Their holders are film-loving hopefuls who have travelled to Cannes to find patrons who have overbought tickets. They run the gamut from the very young to the very old, some dressed in tuxedos and some in t-shirts, some write their requests with elaborate artistry, others scrawl them in seconds on notepads.
In addition to being independently impressive, the three films in this Caméra d’Or report are united by having unusual female heroines. Without further ado…
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Jessica Chastain has such a delicate beauty that when watching her playing a normal character – as opposed where one where she signifies other-worldy grace – the planets seem misaligned. Watching her hooking up with a meathead in a club seems as absurd as noting a kitten has been sent to war. Aesthetic improbability aside, J-Chaz is a talented actress and her character in this long-winded title about Eleanor Rigby is an interesting one. The disappearance in question refers to her walking out of a marriage and returning to her well-heeled parents house to start all over again. The reason for this walk-out is teased gently to the fore. Eleanor (or ‘Elle’) is not the confessional type. Guarded, she uses her wits to deflect probing questions about her emotional wellbeing. Something massive has gone wrong and she doesn’t want to let it define her.
That same thing has gone wrong for her husband Conor (James McAvoy) who expresses his love for Elle in a ‘before’ segment by gesturing to both their bodies saying ‘one heart’. They spend most of the narrative apart and indeed, in the original cut, had their own separate back-to-back films. Yet producer and Divine Power Harvey Weinstein decreed this ‘unmarketable’ so their separate arcs have been woven together forming a dual narrative in which their capacity to continue caring for each from afar proves genuinely romantic.
They are supported by a fabulous cast on the top of their games that includes Viola Davis as a savvy teacher, Isabelle Huppert as Elle’s unfazable, permanently wine-sipping mother and Ciaran Hinds and William Hurt as soulful fathers. All character speak in the same stylised, slightly verse-like voice, and while this may jar for some, this collective voice is humble, smart, witty and infused with the melancholic awareness that life just doesn’t go how it’s supposed to.
In addition to rearranging the narrative, Divine Power Harvey Weinstein also sliced out 70 minutes leaving audiences to wonder, as with LVT’s Nymphomaniac, how close the finished work is to director Ned Benson’s original vision. His picture nonetheless is full of wonderful ideas. It is a rare and beautiful thing to encounter a new director with such a sophisticated view of all the lonely people and how they all need each other… eventually.
Love At First Fight
Adèle Haenel‘s Madeleine is no shrieking, squeamish chic. This is clear before she blends a raw fish then sips the bloody mess straight from the blender but that scene really drives the point home. Her unusual dietary interests come from a fixation on physical self-improvement, not to look good in a bikini, you understand, but to make sure she is prepared for the inevitable catastrophes awaiting mankind. Haenel is a fierce performer. Director Thomas Cailley has an absurd but deadpan sense of humour. Their combined energy creates something like a Werner Herzog rural romcom.
Cailley – who wrote and directed this over three years – was inspired by TV adventure-man Bear Grylls’ Man vs Wild. In this, he saw a living metaphor for man’s fight with nature. Gentle existentialism presents here, especially in the latter half where Madeleine goes to army camp and her sensitive admirer, Arnaud follows. The finale verges into magical realist, Daydream Nation, territory.
All this stays in background while the foreground pulses with a relationship that feels truly alive with all the awkwardness and confrontation that entails. Pacing is perfect and gender norms are inverted. Haenel is a laundry list of ‘difficult’ qualities. She is stiff and short-tempered, practical, independent, burning with personal conviction that she alone realises the gravity of humanity’s situation. Azais plays the loyal admirer: watching open-mouthed as the object of his affection stomps around. He’s sensitive, helpful, hopelessly besotted. This is a touching and enjoyable first film about youth, love and fear that verges into heightened territory in the name of making profound points.
When Animals Dream
“Your mother was beautiful and people were afraid of her, just like they’re afraid of you.” So says Felix, one of the many Nordic men in this feminist horror story, who can’t help but gawp at heroine, Marie. Newcomer Sonia Suhl has an angular look. Where Jessica Chastain is soft, she is hard; where Chastain’s hair is warm red, hers is icy blonde. Marie is a reticent teenager, joining her dad in dutifully caring for her wheelchair-bound mother before the action starts and her confidence blossoms, along with hair in strange places.
Danish director Jonas Alexander Arnby’s debut is a metaphysical body horror along the lines of Jennifer’s Body. The more Marie changes, the greater the persecution she attracts in her remote seaside town. Part of her transformation involves blood spouting from under fingernails and the most meaingful scene in the film has Marie definatly flaunting this feature to the distress of her father.
As with the two above films relationships unfold with minimal exposition. Marie is virtually mute as she cycles around the landscape where she belongs. Half smiles and glances are how she conveys her wishes. Events are underwritten and play out too dreamily to scare, while the horror genre elements are too schlocky to clearly fulfill the film’s metaphorical promise. When Animals Dream is still throroughly worth seeing, however, because it works as a mystery, albeit one that’s never neatly solved.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival runs until 25 May. There will be further HUCK reports.