Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann. Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Christian Mungui’s Graduation. Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
Those films all played In Competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and all of them were passed over for the Palme d’Or in favor of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Like the Academy Awards, not every Cannes jury is going to get it right, but the George Miller-led jury was especially wrong in 2016. Though to be fair, that kind of judgment would suggest that I, Daniel Blake is a bad film, which is not entirely true. Like Loach’s previous films, it’s well-intentioned, competently made, socially conscious, and anchored by persuasive performances. But there’s a naivety and arrogant simplicity to the work that makes I, Daniel Blake particularly problematic. To suggest that it’s didactic would seem gravely inadequate.
So, in Band Aid, we have a film that actually utilizes its devices to explore grief, failure, and unhappiness as a therapeutic exercise. Why doesn’t it work? Part of it comes from the toothlessness of its insights, which seems to stem from its naïve and privileged white, liberal polemic. Every intriguing idea Band Aid offers is undercut by the film’s recurring sense of vanity. Let’s say that Anna and Ben aren’t exactly hurtin’ despite their professions (Anna as an Uber driver and Ben as a lazy freelance graphic designer can apparently cover the cost for a single family home). That air of vanity makes all of their confrontations seem especially disingenuous, given that these self-identifying artists aren’t exactly making the sort of personal sacrifices that, let’s say, Llewyn Davis makes.
As a formal object, My Cousin Rachel is adept if not especially remarkable. Mike Eley’s exterior visual palette can at times seem bleached in sunlight, but the interiors, particularly candlelit sequences, are notably lush. Meanwhile, Rael Jones’ twitchy score eventually catches up with the thematic intentions of the film. My Cousin Rachel is by no means a great film, but it is a surprisingly good one, particularly given my reservation about its theatrical and unconvincing opening stretch. But as was the case with last year’s Complete Unknown, it’s Rachel Weisz as auteur that elevates the potentially maudlin into something notable. Michell may not possess the formal sophistication of Hitchcock or Roeg (and honestly, who does?), but with Weisz in tow, the two serve du Maurier exceedingly well.
The discouraging reality regarding Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night is that it happens to suggest everything but means, ultimately, nothing. The film’s practices far exceed its theory; it is something that can be appreciated, should be appreciated, as a formal object. But crack the surface of its richly composed exterior and silence the thumping of its percussive and kinetic score and it exposes itself to be a terribly hollow exercise. It’s not to suggest that It Comes at Night is without merit, but rather that its thematic poverty is wildly disproportionate to its formal sophistication. Shults is a skilled craftsman but there’s something regrettably amateurish about the way he communicates his ideas.
Martin’s a very likable presence that somehow manages to cut through the more jejune elements of his screenplay. He’s funny in a precise and bright way. But this is a film that’s fundamentally about the grieving process and it all comes across as terribly flat and disingenuous. The film lacks specificity. It’s most intriguing element, which sees Martin illustrate his anxieties, where the death of his mother sees Death surface within his drawings, is a terrific cosmetic component but never feels fully ingrained within the thematic intent of the narrative. Same goes for Kevin Kline’s narrative, which is often handled haphazardly – the film’s recurring joke that highlights Kline’s technological ineptitude is so tacky and unfunny that it stunts any progress the film makes toward sincerity. There’s nothing raw or vivid or especially profound about Dean’s observations. It’s a film that conceals any sense of emotional anxiety for something palatable and non-confrontational. The world is more complicated than what the film posits. It can be comforting, sure. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for. But then there’s Garden State.
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