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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“The purpose of film isn’t to present the kindness of the world.”
~ Isabelle Huppert

The Promised Land steers into the fact that the United States can mean whatever people want it to mean. You may not be able to be Elvis, but you can sure as shit impersonate him for a living. America, like its current President (at least as of this article’s publication), is so dangerous precisely because it’s a blank canvas on which anyone can project their dreams. Whatever it is that you see for yourself, there’s someone you can pay for the pleasure of believing that it’s possible. In his view, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate con, a delusion that prevents us from seeing our circumstances for what they are.

“Forget the Matrix, it’s the invention of happiness that blinded us to the truth. The rich got richer and the poor help them do it. Jarecki doesn’t argue that the American Dream is dead; he argues that it was never alive in the first place — that we were all lobsters in a pot full of water that was boiling too slowly for any of us to notice. And now it’s time for dinner. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. Elvis has left the building.”
~ David Ehrlich