I’ve finally gotten around to reflecting on what films I really enjoyed at Cannes. These are in alphabetical order because I hate choosing favourites among my favourites.
Alleluia (dir. Fabrice Du Welz)
I loved this beautiful, disturbing, strange take on the Honeymoon Killers story, though it strays pretty far from the original. When Michel (Laurent Lucas, who also starred in the director’s debut feature, Calvaire) and single mom Gloria (Lola Dueñas) go out on a date, the last thing she expects to find out is that he’s a scam artist who seduces women and steals from them. And yet, the connection Gloria feels is too strong to ignore, and soon the couple are scheming to rob unsuspecting women together – that is, if they can before Gloria’s jealousy gets the better of her. The two leads are terrific, and the other women that surround them are wonderfully real (older, vibrantly sexual, full of a genuine yearning for love). Du Welz has a masterful eye for visual composition and for creating female characters whose emotional needs are cranked to 11 (or eleventy thousand).
Cold in July (dir. Jim Mickle)
Based on the book by Joe R. Lansdale, this tight little movie is hands down one of the best suspense thrillers of the year. Michael C. Hall (Dexter!) is Richard Dane, a small town Texas picture framer who shoots an intruder in his living room one night. When the intruder’s father – a dangerous ex con played by a perfectly ruthless Sam Shepard – arrives at the Dane’s doorstep looking for vengeance, the two men end up on the dark path together, because of course, nothing is ever as it seems in a good Texas noir. Don Johnson stands out as Jim Bob, the flashy pig-farmer-cum-private-eye who helps the two men get to the bottom of an ugly mystery. Good lord, has Don Johnson still got it! I mean, schwing!
It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
Maika Monroe (who also stars in Adam Wingard’s The Guest this year) is great in It Follows, as Jay, a teenage girl who gets more than she bargained for while on a date with a seemingly normal, mild-mannered dude. Seems he’s the carrier of an unusual sexually transmitted phantom that stalks and kills it prey. Now Jay’s got to enlist the help of her cadre of teenage pals to help her outrun the danger – or figure out a way to beat it, without getting killed in the process. It Follows delivers a driving synthy soundtrack and a very tense atmosphere throughout. I especially loved Mitchell’s portrayal of realistic teenagers and realistic teenage sexuality that never veers into exploitative territory in spite of the subject matter.
Lost River (dir. Ryan Gosling)
Gosling got a lot of bad reviews for Lost River, but I think that’s mainly because people had their knives out for him. The film takes place in the ruined outskirts of Detroit, where single mom Billy (Christina Hendricks) struggles to keep her dilapidated home and raise two boys. Her teenage son, Bones, (Iain De Caestecker), has problems of his own, mostly dealing with local thug Bully (Matt Smith, whose transformation from the endearingly tweedy Doctor Who to total monster is impressive). The film wears its influences on its sleeve (Refn, Wenders, Lynch, and others) but is a strong debut feature that looks absolutely gorgeous, mostly thanks to Benoît Debie, the DoP behind films like Vinyan, Enter the Void and Spring Breakers. I’ll say this much: it’s better than anything James Franco has ever directed, and Gosling is at least trying to do something artful and different, which we should be encouraging in any emerging filmmaker, instead of snarkily mocking him for it.
When Animals Dream (dir. Jonas Alexander Arnby)
This film was totally mis-marketed as a horror film. It’s not one. It’s a completely stunning and deeply moving drama about how the difficulties of being a young woman and growing up in a repressive small community. When strange things begin to happen to 16 year old Marie’s body, she starts to learn that her family has bigger secrets than she ever realized, and that perhaps her heavily sedated mother is not a helpless invalid but something else entirely – something that she too is now becoming. A great metaphor for how women’s power is often suppressed for “their own good” because men don’t know how to cope with it. A very different transformation / coming of age story than Ginger Snaps, but dealing with some similar issues.
White God (dir. Kornél Mundruczó)
A very, very odd film about a girl and her dog. The first half plays out like an urban Hungarian Incredible Journey. Precocious 12-year old Lili is separated from her beloved dog, Hagen, a lively mutt who goes on a wild adventure trying to find his way back to her. After Hagen falls into the hands of some bad guys, the film takes an unexpected turn. The final act is straight out of the grimmest revenge film, as Hagen goes on a bloody rampage (flanked by about 200 other dogs from the city pound) to punish everyone who’s ever wronged him. I couldn’t tell: was this an art house film with magic realism elements, or was it a genre film that leaves an insane number of loose ends and open questions? Either way, it has to be seen to be believed.