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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“I had this friend who was my roommate for a while. She seemed really normal in every way except that she wouldn’t buy shampoo. She would only use my shampoo. And after a year it’s like, “When are you going to buy your own shampoo?” It was her way of digging in her heels. It was a certain sense of entitlement, or a certain anger. It was so interesting to me why she wouldn’t buy her own fucking shampoo. It was like,“I’m gonna use yours.” It was coming from a place of “You have more money than me, I just know it”—whether I did or I didn’t. Or maybe she felt, “You have a better life than me,” or “You have a better room than me in the apartment.” It was hostile. And she was a really close friend! There was never any other shampoo and I knew she was washing her hair. And clearly I have a thing about shampoo, as we see in ‘Friends with Money.’ I had some nice shampoo. So I found that psychologically so interesting how a person can function normally in every way and yet have this aberrance—it’s like a skip in the record. It was a sense of entitlement, I think. I put that in Olivia’s character, too, with her stealing someone’s face cream.”
Nicole Holofcener

“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