There is no better place than Cannes to be reminded of the differences in taste and perspective between oneself and the rest of the critics’ world. But this year, the fierce reviews that Lost River, Ryan Gosling’s first foray into directing, received after its premiere in the Un Certain Regard section, made me wonder what was actually at stake here. Judging from the 10-minute-long standing ovations for one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs before and after the screening it was clear that it didn’t have anything to do with a waning of his celebrity power – in fact, it didn’t really matter to the majority of the audience what film was on show that night as long as Gosling was in the room. Looking at it more closely, his fairly impressive directing debut seems to have fallen victim to the same fate as Nicholas Winding Refn’s brilliant Only God Forgives (starring Gosling in the lead role and clearly serving as an inspiration for his own surrealist end-time tale) the year before: most critics didn’t know (or didn’t care) what to make of its alluring blend of affecting visual beauty and sparse (if, in Gosling’s case, slightly messy) narrative, and the few who loved it at first sight were instantly stared at with incredulity.
Watch the trailer for Lost River:
All in all though, there weren’t as many exciting films on offer as last year, despite some terrific surprises. In particular, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (his fifth feature film since his 2009 directorial debut I Killed My Mother) yielded beautifully raw emotions, caustic humour and moments of cinematic brilliance. And outlandish Argentine competition entry Wild Tales, by Damián Szifró;n, was a popular, hard-hitting and often hilarious portmanteau comedy featuring a bunch of diverse and increasingly hysterical characters who spectacularly lose control and go off the deep end.
Resembling last year’s mad dash for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, the biggest buzz this time revolved around David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. A highly charged, cynical ghost story about today’s fucked-up Hollywood society, it stars Mia Wasikowska as the troubled daughter of a self-help guru who is battling her internal demons while working as a PA to a fading yet feisty actress (Julianne Moore).
Atom Egoyan’s cliché-ridden The Captive was the weakest competition entry for me, It faced strong competition from Olivier Assayas’s pretentious The Clouds of Sils Maria and from The Search, Michel Hazanavicius’s clumsy follow-up to The Artist, a muddled and sentimental war drama about a human rights worker who takes in a young Chechen refugee during the war in 1999. I also didn’t enjoy Asia Argento’s Un Certain Regard entry Incompresa for all its cockeyed quirkiness, although nothing could have topped the critics’ complete and unanimous disapproval of Olivier Dahan’s opening film Grace of Monaco.
But there was some noteworthy (if unsurprisingly rather heavyweight) art-house fare on show in the Competition this year. Nuri Bilge Ceylan impressed jury and critics alike with his three-hour-plus Chekhovian drama Winter Sleep about a wealthy, retired actor who runs a mountaintop hotel and fills his days with writing and dealing with his failing marriage. Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev draws more decisively on Tarkovsky’s inheritance in the poetic imagery and the gravity of his slow-paced, powerful and elusive thriller-drama Leviathan.
The usually slightly neglected midnight screenings were strong this year with David Michôd’s The Rover, his superb follow-up to Animal Kingdom (2010), and Kristian Levring’s conventionally plotted but deftly crafted Danish Western The Salvation. The third film screening at midnight was Chang’s rather predictable and slightly dull thriller The Target, which fell short of expectations but still managed to deliver the fun, big-screen action spectacle it was intended to be. In comparison, and more convincing in its mission to prove that the crafty and clever Korean crime thriller is not dead, was Kim Seong-hun’s A Hard Day.
Watch the trailer for The Rover:
Apart fom Lost River, the other standouts in the Un Certain Regard selection included Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s unwieldy and progressively surreal drama Jauja and the only German festival entry, Amour Fou, Jessica Hausner’s rigidly stylised but original and witty portrait of the troubled Romantic writer and poet Heinrich von Kleist and his accomplice Henriette Vogel in the lead-up to their joint suicide in 1811. Typically, this year’s crowd-pleasing Un Certain Regard winner, Kornél Mundruczó;’s White God , split the critics once again: some saw it as clumsy and misguided social commentary, while others reacted warmly to the remarkable acting range of the dogs starring in the film.
On the whole, even with (or perhaps because of) the wide diversity in the reception of the films and a little less hype about the programme, these highlights prove once more that Cannes remains a great hunting ground for the weird, wild and unexpected.
Festival report by Pamela Jahn