Cannes 2011: 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is triumphant return for a festival stalwart
Director Lynne Ramsay made the kind of successful return to Cannes everyone was hoping for when her new film, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," screened for the media Thursday morning.
A tragedy in multiple keys, difficult to watch but impossible to turn away from, "Kevin" reinforces Ramsay's reputation as a director in complete control of all aspects of the medium that dates back to her award-winning shorts and her Cannes feature debut with "Ratcatcher," a film that won her the BAFTA award for Best Newcomer in British film. With "Kevin," Ramsay presents her first feature since "Morvern Callar" in 2002.
"Kevin" also provides yet another showcase for the formidable acting skills of Tilda Swinton, who is on fire as a mother attempting to come to terms with her life after her son's part in a high school massacre. With a raw yet controlled performance that covers a wide emotional spectrum, Swinton has to be an early favorite for the festival's best actress award.
Cowritten by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear (also her husband), "Kevin" was adapted from the novel by Lionel Shriver that won Britain's Orange Prize for Fiction. It does without the book's epistolary structure, which would have meant extensive voice-over, and as far as Swinton is concerned, that was a bonus.
"Words in many ways makes looking at life really complicated. I think cinema went downhill when words came in," Swinton said at Thursday's press conference. "This film was an opportunity to be this interior and this lonely; lack of words was if anything an easy thing. It's not about facts. It's about feelings. Being a parent is like writing one long letter you never send. At the end of the day the only thing you can hear is your heartbeat."
Despite its Columbine-esque material, "Kevin's" filmmakers unanimously felt that, in cowriter Kinnear's words, "this is a film about family, about a mother and a son, the high school killing is just the background," a sentiment Swinton agreed with.
"We fantasized about alternative titles for this, and one of the ones we came up with is 'Performance,'" the actress said. "The film really does deal with the concept of artifice, of the disconnect between roles in the family. Kevin feels like his parents are reading from cue-cards, that they're all faking it."
"Was she a good mother?" filmmaker Ramsay asked rhetorically. "It's not black and white."
Eighteen-year-old actor Ezra Miller, who plays Kevin, admitted that "to my horror I do feel a little connected" to his character. "One of the very intense realities of being human is that all sorts of good and all sorts of bad exist in all of us. I could have been Kevin."
-- Kenneth Turan in Cannes, France
Photo: Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Credit: Cannes Film Festival