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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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas