Cannes 2012: Brandon Cronenberg takes a (sort of) familiar path
CANNES, France--Growing up, Brandon Cronenberg got used to things getting a little weird. Like the time he went to a new school and was told by a classmate he'd never met before, "I'd heard you were coming, and I've been excited about it." Or the occasional wacko who would run up to him and say, "Your father's movies are speaking directly to me."
"Like, literally directly," the Toronto native said, smiling incredulously as he leaned back with a glass of water at a Cannes Film Festival hotel on Monday afternoon. “He would tell me exactly what it meant and how it very clearly related to his life, and how my father intended it that way.”
Cronenberg is the son of that Cronenberg, David, the 69-year-old director of classics like "The Fly" and "Scanners" and the master of so-called body horror, which has inspired a nearly religious following. For years Brandon resisted following in his old man's footsteps. He tried video art, poetry, other forms of creative expression. "I loved not being interested when I was younger,” said Brandon Cronenberg, now 32.
It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate what his father did; he just resented the attention and assumptions that came with it.
The switch flipped, he said, when in his late 20s he realized that he actually liked filmmaking, and that a principled stand for its own sake “was just kind of obnoxious.” He began making narrative shorts. Just a few weeks ago completed his first feature, a horror-movie-cum-social-critique called “Antiviral,” which had its premiere this week in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.
Though famous directors sometimes spawn other directors, David and Brandon Cronenberg have made film history: They are the first father-and-son tandem to premiere movies in Cannes in the same year. The elder Cronenberg’s movie, the Robert Pattinson-starring “Cosmopolis,” premieres later this week in the festival’s main competition section, as it reimagines a slim novel from the American critical darling Don DeLillo.
The younger Cronenberg brings his own degree of invention. Set in a science-fictiony near-future, “Antiviral” tells of a world in which people pay to have viruses from ill celebrities implanted in them. “People say it’s a horror movie, and I guess in a way it is, but when you look at the lengths our society goes to with celebrities, it’s not that big a jump,” Brandon Cronenberg said, citing an incident he’d heard in which Sarah Michelle Gellar told a talk-show audience she had a cold--only to find audience members cheering and leaning forward in the hope of catching it.
The “Antiviral” director said that despite some thematic similarities to his father’s work, he doesn’t see himself as being particularly interested in body horror; it just worked out that way for this film. “There’s a cultural fetish of the body that in a way I find grotesque, so it fit nicely with the fetish we have for celebrity,” he said.
Though “Antiviral” has received a mixed response, even the lukewarm reviews note the younger Cronenberg’s directorial chops.
For his part, David Cronenberg said he didn’t steer his son toward his line of work. “I had no dynastic ambitions for Bran particularly,” he told an audience during a panel he sat on with his son and Toronto Film Festival honcho Cameron Bailey. “Whatever he wanted to do was going to happen naturally.” (Brandon Cronenberg also has a sister, Caitlin, and a half-sister, Cassandra, from his father’s previous marriage.)
The veteran director said he did realize his son was taking to certain aspects of the filmmaking process. Even at a young age, David Cronenberg said, “I noticed he was incredibly sensitive to the music of film.” Cronenberg also said he observed that his young son shared his own fascination with nature and “the strangeness of animal life,” which he said informs many of his own films.
As for their shared cinematic experiences, Brandon said one of the first movies they recalled watching together was not a genre title but “Airplane.” “He didn’t laugh, though, which I thought was interesting,” David Cronenberg deadpanned.
With a nose ring and a slightly nervous but still down-to-earth manner, there is, like his wisecrack-prone father, nothing terribly prepossessing (much less creepy) about Brandon Cronenberg. That made childhood a slightly odd experience; strangers were hardly expecting something so normal. "They brought preconceptions about me based on preconceptions they had about my father," the younger Cronenberg said.
Some of those awkward encounters haven’t abated. After a Cannes screening of “Antiviral,” a man with a foreign accent walked up to Brandon and suggested a very...particular read on the film.
“He was just convinced that, because of how the word was said in his language, that the title was a play on ‘Andy Warhol.’ And nothing I could say could convince him that I wasn’t thinking of that.” Cronenberg paused. “I guess I’m getting some of those strange interpretations now.”
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Brandon Cronenberg. Credit: Cannes Film Festival