By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: The Transfiguration

transfiguration

Out of the darkness, the remedy to tired post-Twilight vampire movies arrives in Cannes with little to no fanfire: U. S. director Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration, a debut that drives an sturdy stake into familiar material while breaking new ground in urban realism.

Following taciturn Milo (Eric Ruffin), an orphaned young kid living with his war veteran brother in a seedy Brooklyn apartment, the film and its protagonist are obsessed with all things vampire. Which makes this film, at first, very meta: Milo name-checks 2008’s Let The Right One In as one of his favorite examples of vampire logic, a field he’s in the process of researching extensively through bingeing old classics and “cultivating” first-hand experience.

The result of Milo’s inquiries find that there are, perhaps, realistic vampires—or more accurately, real vampires: bloodsucking mortals that aren’t allergic to garlic, are able to stroll under the sun, and can comfortably bathe in holy water. Vampires with groceries to buy and internet bills to pay. Yes, as the film suggests, maybe the actual vampires begin by hurting animals and watching gore videos online—before randomly murdering strangers for a strict monthly diet regimen.

Steeping the film in the realism of Brooklyn’s school of hard knocks, the film opens with an attack—in a bathroom stall, of all places, where initially it’s taken as a public sex act. Squeamish be damned: The Transfiguration doesn’t shy away from Milo’s exsanguinations, which are a necessary evil for this complex and excellent commentary on urban hardships to work.

Using an unstable handheld camera, O’Shea casts a light on his rough-and-tumble apartment block that’s rife with violence and poverty. It’s a setting that will feel real, which is a brilliant thematic tie-in to Milo’s fascination with the realities of what vampires would be—not the sparkling skin and chiseled faces of Stephenie Meyerdom, a canon summarized here as “sucking.” Because as other horrific crimes begin to occur throughout the neighborhood, maybe Milo isn’t the only monster running around the streets of New York City.

Finally, it’s unsurprising to learn newcomer Eric Ruffin had a role in 2013’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, a film that essentially takes place around the corner from this genre-tinted entry. Playing opposite an ideally cast Chloe Levine, Milo’s at-risk youth friend and romantic interest, Ruffin joins filmmaker Michael O’Shea as two talents to watch.

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“With every table in the dining room occupied and me, the only waiter, neglecting the needs of a good fifty patrons, I approached Roth. Holding out Balls as a numbness set into the muscles of my face, I spoke. “Sir, I’ve heard you say that you don’t read fiction anymore, but I’ve just had my first novel published and I’d like to give you a copy.”

“His eyes lifting from his iPhone, he took the book from my hands. He congratulated me. Then, staring at the cover, he said, “Great title. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself.”

“These words worked on me like a hit of morphine. Like two hits. It felt as if I was no longer the occupant of my own body. The legs had gone weak, the ears warmed, the eyes watered, the heart rate increased rapidly. Barely able to keep myself upright, I told him, “Thank you.”

“Then Roth, who, the world would learn sixteen days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity, “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”

“I managed, “It’s too late, sir. There’s no turning back. I’m in.”

“Nodding slowly, he said to me, “Well then, good luck.”

“After which I went back to work.”
~ Julian Tepper

“Any form of physical or sexual assault is a very serious matter, potentially a legal matter. But I’m also wondering, what about having some kind of “extreme asshole” clause? I know lots of people who have been abused verbally and psychologically. That’s traumatizing, too. What do we do with that?  It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility. You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.”
~ Steven Soderbergh