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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“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook

“Billy Wilder said to me, ‘Those of us who are hyphenates deserve a couple more beats,’ and I knew what he meant. As a director, you make sure a scene is not beat-heavy. You need just enough beats in the rhythm. Billy also used to say, ‘Whatever you do, is your mark. You don’t have to go out and impress someone. Let them look at your work.’”
~ Jerry Lewis