8:05 a.m. Having learned an alternate route into the city during yesterday’s cab ride, I arrive earlier than usual at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, where the big Cannes premieres are held. Five days into the festival, the red carpet looks filthy.
8:30 a.m. “Pain serves no purpose.” Symbolically injured in a skiing accident, lawyer Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) is sent off for a six-week stay at a beach-side physical rehabilitation clinic, where the recovery process triggers memories of her decade-plus relationship with restaurateur Georgio (Vincent Cassel). Playing in the Main Competition, Mon Roi (Grade: C+), the latest from mononymous actress-turned-director Maïwenn (Polisse), is about as subtle as that structure implies: an overlong fun-couple-drifts-apart drama intercut with loaded imagery about learning to walk on your own, the pain of healing, and so on and so forth.
This is effectively an actor showcase, and Bercot (who also directed the opening night film, Standing Tall) and Cassel are both fine in roles distinguished more by quantity than quality, even if they’re a lot more interesting to watch when they’re flirting than when they’re fighting. Plenty of dishware and stemware gets broken, snot pours out of noses on and down tear-stained cheeks, and failings are admitted to in between screaming matches. Meanwhile, Louis Garrel—cast against type in a comic relief role—steals every scene as Tony’s younger brother, never raising his voice above deadpan mock-protest.
2:02 p.m. Ghost world: A corrective to Sea Of Trees’ inane treatment of death and supernatural, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s sweet, strange Un Certain Regard entry Journey To The Shore (Grade: B/B-) invents a whole mythology of the afterlife without using a single special effect. One evening, piano teacher Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) turns around to find her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), missing for three years, standing in her kitchen. “I’m dead,” he says, explaining that he drowned himself in the ocean, and that it’s taken him this long to walk back to her. Now he needs her to help some of the people who treated him kindly along the way. They pack suitcases and get on the first bus out of the city.
Unfolding in three eerie, more or less self-contained episodes, Journey To The Shore posits a world where ghosts eat, sleep, and hold down jobs, distinguished from the living only by the knowledge that they are dead. Best known in the U.S. for his otherworldly, elliptical horror films, Kurosawa is fundamentally a long-take classicist, crafting drama and tension through arrangements of characters within the frame. Here, he sometimes goes outright theatrical, slowly dimming the lights in the middle of a scene, or gradually bringing them up to reveal what’s on the far wall of a room.
Like his miniseries Penance, Journey has a de-saturated, very digital look, which only underscores the theatricality of Kurosawa’s direction, which often focuses on two characters traipsing around a room as though it were a bare stage. And yet no one could ever accuse this weird, slow-going movie of being filmed theater. Kurosawa goes for creepy and jagged, slipping in bits of gentle humor, and getting a lot of mileage out of the old trick of panning back to reveal a character who wasn’t there before.
5 p.m. The biggest discussion topic for critics at Cannes isn’t the movies, but where and when to eat. The Palais, the festival’s main complex, is situated on the Boulevard De La Croisette, which is packed with identical, over-priced restaurants with patios that spill over into sidewalk. Get farther into the narrow alleys of the city, and you find the little bakeries and cafés where most of the critics eat, with an ashtray at every table.
7:16 p.m. Turns out the best Arnaud Desplechin movie at Cannes isn’t the one directed by Arnaud Desplechin. The French filmmaker’s eclectic influence is all over Louder Than Bombs (Grade: B+), Joachim Trier’s sensitive and complicated English-language debut, about a suburban New York family still struggling with the aftermath of a parent’s suicide. (Suicide seems to be the big theme at Cannes this year, also figuring in Journey To The Shore, Sea Of Trees, and, to a lesser extent, in The Lobster and Mon Roi.)
Employing multiple third-person narrators, obscured quotations, and playful shifts in time, Trier (Oslo, August 31st) navigates lives in stasis: eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), a sociology professor who doesn’t want to go back home to his wife and baby; dad Gene (Gabriel Byrne), stalling before a retrospective show dedicated to his late wife, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), an acclaimed war photographer; and youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid), 15, living mostly in his own head, still unaware of the circumstances of his mom’s death.
With its dead ends and changes in perspectives, Louder Than Bombs is the kind of multi-faceted, ambitious, incompletely resolved American drama that American filmmakers never seem to get around to making: novelistic in subject and structure, but completely cinematic in the way it expresses itself, even if Trier’s camera style never rises to the sophistication of his influences. Still, this is a film of superb performances, mysteries, and moments of earthy poeticism, like the way a drunk girl’s piss snaking down a driveway cuts into a teenage boy’s tear. Some might complain that this is a movie about people doing nothing about nothing, but it contains plenty.
10:30 p.m. In Green Room (Grade: B), Jeremy Saulnier’s much-anticipated follow-up to Blue Ruin, a punk band takes a last-minute gig at a skinhead roadhouse, and find themselves fighting off a gang of machete-wielding white supremacist drug dealers. Bringing to mind Álex De La Iglesia in its oddball characters and gonzo gore, this thriller further establishes Saulnier as one of the craftiest and most promising genre filmmakers working in the U.S., even if it amounts to little more than a machine for dispensing shocks.
Like Blue Ruin, it’s a genre film where fuck-ups and desperation drive the action. Saulnier has no qualms about maiming and killing off characters early and often, and it’s not really a spoiler to say that almost the entire cast (which includes Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart, and Blue Ruin’s Macon Blair) ends up gruesomely dead. Abdomens are sliced open with box cutters, cheeks are blown through with shotguns, and throats are ripped open by fight dogs.
The writer-director’s M.O. is to never linger, pivoting every violent demise into a new situation that needs to be escaped from as quickly as possible, which leads to another and then another; he has a knack for making every change in circumstances feel unexpected. Sharply cut and focused on the off-beat minutiae of everything from crashing on a promoter’s couch to siphoning gas to making a murder look like an accident, Green Room runs almost entirely on Saulnier’s filmmaking energy. The final shot—of survivors all but shut down by exhaustion—seems like the only logical endpoint.