By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: Loveless, Wonderstruck

The 70th annual Cannes horserace started Wednesday with native opener Ishmael’s Ghosts, which I haven’t seen, but word along the rue is… decidedly rueful. Noticeable changes from previous years include: Tighter security (fair enough) and a larger emphasis on tradition (Remember the last 69 festivals, guys? The Palais is festooned with homages to them! Also, a Netflix Palme is simply out of the question).

Now picture this: A jogger, wearing a Russian tracksuit, running in place on a treadmill on an outdoor patio. It’s frigid outside. As one of the final images of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, the first entry in the 2017 Palme d’Or competition, there’s nothing more to say. The director’s commentary on where his country stands is as subtle as the rest of his movie, which is to say: Not. But his story about a missing boy—and the estranged, stone-faced parents who both regret having a child at all—features Zvyagintsev’s laudable trademarks: Exquisite photography, measured performances, and ambitious thematic flourishes. We saw all of these, but most especially the latter, in Leviathan, with the destructive smashing of the house—a Biblical ending, to be sure. But where Leviathan felt big and moving, Loveless is more concerned with being profound than compelling, if this character study in Moscovian melancholy is compelling at all. I mean, sure: Its lack of heart is in the title. Beyond that surface reading, however, is a larger issue: This is bleak, pessimistic cinema that’s technically stunning but colder than Siberia.

But I’d take negativity over brimming positivity most any day, especially in the face of Todd Haynes’ young-adult drama Wonderstruck, the second film in competition.

Wonderstruck is two stories that become one: The first follows a kid who goes walkabout from his Gunflint, Minnesota home to New York City in the 1970s, attempting to track down a dad he knows nothing about. After a freak accident leaves him deaf, he is left to communicate via notepad to New Yorkers who help him out. Parallel to this Big Apple adventure is a young deaf girl’s experience growing up in 1920s version of that metropolis, confused and alone in the neglectful shadow of her silent-cinema-famous mother.

Following Carol—and to an extent, Superstar—Haynes’ latest movie is a flawed exercise in projecting the director’s indulgences onto a text that’s cute at best, sappy and dull at worst. If you reveled in Carol’s lovely period production design and adored The Karen Carpenter Story’s told-by-hand process, maybe you’ll find Wonderstruck a striking convergence of Haynes’ earlier works. (For the record, Carol is incredible.) But most pertinent is Wonderstruck’s saccharine air: If it weren’t for luxurious musical cues (featuring an original score that is a bit too same-y to Carol’s now-iconic music), a sound that’s assuredly Haynes’, Wonderstruck would be the spiritual sequel to Hugo, another exposition-heavy, all-ages-welcome love letter to being in awe of something grander than oneself. (Not surprising, then, when audiences learn the book it’s based on is by also by Brian Selznick.) Finally, given its central contrivance (the kid is deafened by a literal bolt of lightning), there’s something also to be said about how odd it is, directorially speaking, to derive most of the film’s emotional thrusts through long plays of gorgeous music.

Then again, I’m from Toronto. What do I know?

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“When Bay keeps these absurd plot-gears spinning, he’s displaying his skill as a slick, professional entertainer. But then there are the images of motion—I hesitate to say, of things in motion, because it’s not clear how many things there are in the movie, instead of mere digital simulations of things. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a car chase through London, seen from the level of tires, that could have gone on for an hour, um, tirelessly. What matters is that the defenestrated Cade saves himself by leaping from drone to drone in midair like a frog skipping among lotus pads; that he and Vivian slide along the colossal, polished expanses of sharply tilting age-old fields of metal like luge Olympians. What matters is that, when this heroic duo find themselves thrust out into the void of inner space from a collapsing planet, it has a terrifyingly vast emptiness that Bay doesn’t dare hold for more than an instant lest he become the nightmare-master. What matters is that the enormous thing hurtling toward Earth is composed in a fanatical detail that would repay slow-motion viewing with near-geological patience. Bay has an authentic sense of the gigantic; beside the playful enormity of his Transformerized universe, the ostensibly heroic dimensions of Ridley Scott’s and Christopher Nolan’s massive visions seem like petulant vanities.”
~ Michael Bay Gives Richard Brody A Tingle

How do you see film evolving in this age of Netflix?

I thought the swing would be quicker and more violent. There have been two landmark moments in the history of French film. First in 1946, with the creation of the CNC under the aegis of Malraux. He saved French cinema by establishing the advance on receipts and support fund mechanisms. We’re all children of this political invention. Americans think that the State gives money to French films, but they’re wrong. Through this system, films fund themselves!

The other great turning point came by the hand of Jack Lang in the 1980s, after the creation of Canal+. While television was getting ready to become the nemesis of film, he created the decoder, and a specific broadcasting space between film and television, using new investments for film. That once again saved French film.

These political decisions are important. We’re once again facing big change. If our political masters don’t take control of the situation and new stakeholders like Netflix, Google and Amazon, we’re headed for disaster. We need to create obligations for Internet service providers. They can’t always be against film. They used to allow piracy, but now that they’ve become producers themselves, they’re starting to see things in a different light. This is a moment of transition, a strong political act needs to be put forward. And it can’t just be at national level, it has to happen at European level.

Filmmaker Cédric Klapisch