Friday, May 13, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011/Day Two/Afternoon

Two films today so far, one more this evening, and then a short train ride to lodgings in the lovely, and blessedly quiet, seaside Ville of Juan les Pins. Thus far last evening's forecast of grimness has proven rather too true. Australian Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is clumsy, cloyingly enigmatic, and simply bad. Why this film made it into the big arena at Cannes, so to speak, escapes me, though some point to the influence of Jane Campion, another Aussie who loves psycho-sexual undergrowth. A comely but poor college girl slides into an exotic kind of highly lucrative prostitution, and it is downhill from there. The problem is not with the premise or nudity or eroticism (of which there is not really any), all of which can benefit stories (for grown-ups), but in characterization, bad script, portentous cutting, and farcical contrivance all in behalf of who knows what psychological profundity. How a film about al of this could prove so very boring, even painful, well, that is a wonder. Aronofsky's Black Swan, another fairy-tale contrivance, was also a bad film, but it at least was mostly lovely to hear and look at, despite its churning stew of Freudian twaddle.

A much better, though equally uncheery film, is British writer-director Lynn Ramsay's We Have to Talk About Kevin, a tale of dysfunction that makes Rosemary's Baby feel like warm family melodrama. Young married Eva (Tilda Swinton in a great performance) gives up her career to mother, about which she feels ambivalence, to say the least. Sure enough, her own little Cain loathes mom from conception onward and is determined to make her suffer (potty training is a real hoot). Two things save the film: a puzzling but enticing scramble of the narrative and, in addition, a multitude of arresting visual strategies, though these sometimes come with the subtlety of sledgehammer. Nor does the heavy-duty symbolism help insofar as it disperses more red than a blood bank.

From the first frames we know little Kevin is up to no-good, and the only question that sustains the film is what horror he'll finally do to spite mommy. The finale provides a surprise that wishes to pivot the story (and maybe Kevin), but given what we've seen, it's hard to swallow, especially after all that red stuff.

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