Cannes 2012: A fest filled with wild (and divisive) experiments
The silent film's sense of playfulness and disregard for convention pretty much infused the festival. Wherever one looked, there seemed to be another bold experiment — sometimes delighting audiences, often polarizing them.
Among the more well-received movies of the 65th edition of Cannes, which wrapped Sunday evening, was Leos Carax's “Holy Motors,” a surrealist romp through the streets of Paris. Some of its touches: A man biting the body parts off people at a cemetery-set photo shoot and limousines that spoke to one another in darkened garages.
Carax was hardly alone in his eccentricity. The Mexican director Carlos Reygadas offered “Post Tenebras Lux,” a dreamlike story shot with distorted lenses that featured a sex club where rooms are named after famous intellectuals. The film divided audiences but earned him the director's award.
Michael Haneke, the provocateur Austrian director of “Funny Games” and “The Piano Teacher” and a filmmaker who embodies a contemporary cinematic adventurousness, broke form himself by eschewing the violence and sex of his earlier work to make "Amour," a tender drama about aging, which took home the Palme d’Or prize Sunday evening.
And the Chilean Pablo Larrain directed one of the more unusual political films in recent years — a dramatic satire of the 1988 Chilean elections starring Gael Garcia Bernal that was shot to look as if the movie had been discovered on a VHS tape from the era. Tersely titled “No,” the movie became one of the fan favorites of the festival and scored a U.S. distribution deal from Sony Pictures Classics.
“I wanted people to feel like the archival footage we were using looked and felt like the rest of the movie,” Larrain told 24 Frames. “And I wanted to have a little fun with the medium.”
English-language directors did their share of wild noodling too. With “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg set nearly an entire movie in a stretch limousine as Robert Pattinson starred in a futuristic exploration of the end of technocapitalism.
The Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, meanwhile, tried his hand at an intensely heightened 1960's melodrama in “The Paperboy,” a period movie about race and murder starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron; the movie was so filled with over-the-top touches that it prompted pundit Eugene Hernandez to proclaim this the auteurs-gone-wild festival. Neither “Paperboy” nor “Cosmopolis” went over well with critics or festivalgoers.
Indeed, U.S.-set films, the subject of much hype coming into the festival, were also some of its biggest disappointments. Also faltering with festgoers was John Hillcoat's Prohibition-era “Lawless,” which starred Shia LaBeouf as a brother in a family of bootleggers.
LaBeouf and many Hollywood stars sought to use Cannes for another purpose: to reinvent themselves as more serious actors. Perhaps none did so more successfully than Matthew McConaughey, the romantic-comedy staple who established himself as a potential Oscar contender with his turn as an enigmatic homeless man in “Mud,” a contemporary spin on “Huckleberry Finn.” Directed by Jeff Nichols, “Mud” was by far the best-received movie of the English-language crop.
Attempts at a career makeover were also undertaken by the stars of one of the globe's biggest franchises. In addition to Pattinson's turn as a paranoid Wall Street mogul in “Cosmopolis,” Kristen Stewart, his “Twilight” costar and comrade in tween idoldom, tried a prestige turn in the long-awaited adaptation of Jack Kerouac's “On the Road.” The film received reasonably enthusiastic responses, as did Stewart for her role as Marylou from the iconic book.
“I just want to take good roles,” Stewart said, when asked by The Times about how this turn might propel her career. “That's true whether it’s a big movie or a small one, or a comedy or a drama, or if a director wants to try something completely new.”
She's in luck. Judging by this year's Cannes, plenty of filmmakers are willing to oblige.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Denis Lavant in "Holy Motors." Credit: Cannes Film Festival