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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“It’s a film festival’s job—and increasingly so—to create moments of recognition, of enjoyment, of shock, of learning. Not of consumerism. Not of implementing cultural policy. But moments without pretence, unclouded by vested interests, by intervention, by cynicism, by everyday business. Committed to nothing but the thing itself. Under obligation to nothing, to no one, not even to the filmmakers themselves. To basically seek access to a form that does not yet exist, a place no one has been to, a time that has not yet come. ’A form that thinks, and a thought that forms,’ as Jean-Luc Godard has it.”
~ Hans Hurch, late director of the Viennale

“There’s a mass belief that if you’re texting, you’re somehow not interrupting the conversation—you’re not being rude. It’s an illusion of multitasking. I started filmmaking when people didn’t expect to have a phone on set, when it would’ve been seen as unprofessional to pull out a phone. Phones have become a huge distraction, and people work much better without them. At first it causes difficulty, but it really allows them to concentrate on what they’re doing. Everybody understands. I’ve had a lot of crews thank me. With a set, we’re trying to create a bubble of alternate reality.”
~ Christopher Nolan