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Cannes 2010: What exactly happened to Lodge Kerrigan?

May 20, 2010 |  7:55 pm


Idiosyncratic indie auteur Lodge Kerrigan introduced his Un Certain Regard premiere of his new movie "Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs)" on Thursday night with, "I would say 'Enjoy,' but if you know my work it's probably not the right word to use."

It's not, though sometimes "dazzling" and "moving" would be. Unfortunately neither of those adjectives sprang to mind after we finished watching the film a scant 75 minutes later. Unless you're a hard-core member of the indie circuit, you probably don't know much about Kerrigan, who made a couple of very good movies in the '90's ("Clean, Shaven" and "Claire Dolan") and then an especially good feature called "Keane" in 2004, about a 30-ish man searching frantically for his lost daughter in and around New York's Port Authority (but who in fact may have lost only his mind).

If they didn't already think that after "Clean, Shaven," everyone who saw "Keane" at its festival run thought they were witnessing the arrival of a major new talent; Kerrigan was a visual stylist but also a master storyteller with a streak of postmodernism (you could see traces Charlie Kaufman in his work) where part of the appeal of watching a movie unfold is determining what is and isn't real.

Kerrigan then disappeared for six years, which made this Mallick-like return to the world as we know it on Thursday all the more promising — and the fruit of his time away all the more baffling.

What "Rebecca H." is exactly is hard to say. The French-language film is certainly meticulously framed and crisply rendered, and it has some ideas on its mind. But it's hard to offer it much praise beyond that. The basic plot involves a woman (Pascal Greggory) who wants desperately to be like Grace Slick — or maybe she's just in a movie playing Grace Slick. The narrative folds back on itself at least three times in the first half hour, cutting from the frame to show we are watching Kerrigan filming a movie, and then doing it again, so we're not sure if we're watching a movie about a movie about a movie directed by Lodge Kerrigan, or just a movie about a movie from him. And at some point we stop caring.

There are long-held close-ups of Slick's face and long shots of the back of Gregory's head, fragments of video art installations and odes to the French New Wave. There are flashbacks to a brutal attack that seem jarringly out of place. There's even a scene about the film within a film premiering in Cannes. If Kerrigan just happened to throw that in because it made sense to him, it's a bizarre coincidence. And if he actually shot those scenes with this idea of showing them here, well, that's even weirder. Who puts scenes in their movie in the hope of scoring a festival in-joke?

Directors who want to take their work in a more experimental direction are fine by us. It's just that when a filmmaker has the evident ability to incorporate elements of the experimental into accessible works of entertainment — Steven Soderbergh, who produced or executive produced some of Kerrigan's work, including this movie, comes to mind — there's something tragic about watching them bypass the opportunity.

It was actually also a little sad to watch the tepid reaction to the film in the Palais. Kerrigan is a filmmaker with not insignificant talent. It's just not clear exactly how he's using that talent here.

— Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes


Photo: "Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs)". Credit: Cannes Film Festival

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woman (Pascal Greggory) no, it's Gerladine Pailhas ?


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