By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Sicario

Trust in Denis Villeneuve. Announced earlier that he would be The One to direct a Blade Runner sequel, and with a stellar filmography that just keeps getting better and better, his latest film Sicario just absolutely set fire to this sleepy Competition, more or less napping after the duds post-Carol. It’s unlikely this is a Palme winner—thrillers like these aren’t typical recipients—but it’s nevertheless a top title here at Cannes, and one to watch over the year for a number of categories (that is, in addition to a possible acting or directing award on Sunday).

sicario

Sicario is a drug war chess game, and in the patriarchal underworld that is cartel hell the women are pawns and the men simply aren’t playing by the rules. Trying her best to keep her head above water in a violent Mexican desert that has none, Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate is utterly useless in the face of immorality on both sides of the law. Her superiors (Josh Brolin, a CIA honcho, and Benicio Del Toro, a well-dressed hitman) are enacting a shadow war in the bloody wasteland of cartel territory, taking out targets with weapons-free rules of engagement and a morbid pragmatism to their conflict.

Capturing all of this is the untouchable Roger Deakins, who keeps his cool where other films refused to (look at the earthquake-shake cinematography of Zero Dark Thirty, a film already very similar to this one, and see the difference in quality a steady camera can make). Night vision warfare, drone footage, modern run-and-gun combat, meeting room debriefs—all of it is here realized with an artistic touch, and Villeneuve’s signature unpretentious direction blocks the carnage of the crepuscular with a furious yet calm intensity. Exposition here is handled well and believably, the slight twists thrown into the mix aren’t obvious or melodramatic, and there’s a refreshing sense of detachment when we witness dialogue from further away—letting the reality and gravity of the environment sink in—than the easy close-ups of other productions that come with their guns cocked and their fingers on dramatic pressure points, eager to use their outdoor voices inside.

There isn’t really a beginning or an end to this film, because when it comes to dismantling illegal and horrific organizations, beheading one snake only results in the rising of another. So Blunt’s character is kind of floundering for a solid two hours, in essence doing very little, but it’s thematically appropriate.In a critical scene, Del Toro barks to her: “You are not a wolf, and this is the land of the wolves now,” and worse than death are threats on the lives and safety of daughters or wives. Boys and men are wasted in seconds, and it’s this male-dominated aggressive attrition that allows Blunt’s character to embody all of the feelings of helplessness and futility society accepts in the sidelines of the drug war. We see a pick-up soccer game briefly interrupted by the crack-crack-crack of an automatic weapon somewhere in the distance, and it’s the equivalent to the basic shrug you and I do in our North American metropolises when an ambulance or police cruiser wails by. Because that’s just how it is, and that’s how it will be. Or so the film concludes.

 

 

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“When books become a thing, they can no longer be fine.

“Literary people get mad at Knausgård the same way they get mad at Jonathan Franzen, a writer who, if I’m being honest, might be fine. I’m rarely honest about Jonathan Franzen. He’s an extremely annoying manI have only read bits and pieces of his novels, and while I’ve stopped reading many novels even though they were pretty good or great, I have always stopped reading Jonathan Franzen’s novels because I thought they were aggressively boring and dumb and smug. But why do I think this? I didn’t read him when he was a new interesting writer who wrote a couple of weird books and then hit it big with ‘The Corrections,’ a moment in which I might have picked him up with curiosity and read with an open mind; I only noticed him once, after David Foster Wallace had died, he became the heir apparent for the Great American Novelist position, once he had had that thing with Oprah and started giving interviews in which he said all manner of dumb shit; I only noticed him well after I had been told he was An Important Writer.

“So I can’t and shouldn’t pretend that I am unmoved by the lazily-satisfied gentle arrogance he projects or when he is given license to project it by the has-the-whole-world-gone-crazy development of him being constantly crowned and re-crowned as Is He The Great American Writer. What I really object to is this, and if there’s anything to his writing beyond it, I can’t see it and can’t be bothered. Others read him and tell me he’s actually a good writer—people whose critical instincts I have learned to respect—so I feel sure that he’s probably a perfectly fine, that his books are fine, and that probably even his stupid goddamned bird essays are probably also fine.

“But it’s too late. He has become a thing; he can’t be fine.”
~ Aaron Bady

“You know how in postproduction you are supposed to color-correct the picture so everything is smooth and even? Jean-Luc wants the opposite. He wants the rupture. Color and then black and white, or different intensities of color. Or how in this film, sometimes you see the ratio of the frame change after the image begins. That happens when he records from his TV onto his old DVCAM analog machine, which is so old we can’t even find parts when it needs to be repaired. The TV takes time to recognize and adjust to the format on the DVD or the Blu-ray. Whether it’s 1:33 or 1:85. And one of the TVs he uses is slower than the other. He wants to keep all that. I could correct it, but he doesn’t want me to. See, here’s an image from War and Peace. He did the overlays of color—red, white, and blue—using an old analog video effects machine. That’s why you have the blur. When I tried to redo it in digital, I couldn’t. The edges were too sharp. And why the image jitters—I don’t know how he did that. Playing with the cable maybe. Handmade. He wants to see that. It’s a gift from his old machine.”
~ Fabrice Aragno