Cannes Descends Into Madness

Severed Limbs, Slaughtered Tourists, and Screeching Mermaids at the World’s Marquee Film Festival

If the films at Cannes reflect the current state of the world, then we’re all in the mouth of madness. From serial-killer slaughters to acid-fueled massacres, the festival has been riding the crazy train all week.

Zombies, Villagers, Zombie Villagers

It’s one thing to have a zombie flick competing for the top-prize Palme d’Or. But two? The day after Jim Jarmusch’s ghoul comedy The Dead Don’t Die opened the event, Cannes programmed Mati Diop’s Atlantics. Set in Dakar, the moody supernatural romance follows star-crossed lovers Ada, the fiancée of a wealthy African scion, and Suleiman, a lowly construction worker. When bleak prospects lead the desperate Suleiman to join others and try to sail to Spain, disaster strikes. Then Suleiman and his ill-fated companions return to land, their milky eyes completely glazed-over, for some creepy payback time.

If that’s not cuckoo enough for the world’s most prestigious line-up of films, then take a gander at Brazilian entry Bacurau. Directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles spend the first hour of their outback thriller leisurely setting up life in a small village way off in the northeastern boondocks of Brazil. Slowly but surely, strange things start happening after the death of a town elder. A farmer’s horses run free in the night streets. A delivery truck toting a tankful of potable water leaks its cargo because of a half-dozen bullet holes.

And then Udo Kier shows up. The eccentric German actor, a straight-faced favorite of provocateurs like Andy Warhol and Lars von Trier, packs serious firepower, leading a band of gung-ho gringo tourists on a sporting rampage. Suddenly Filho and Dornelles’ social drama of on-the-margins po’folk becomes a 21st century version of The Most Dangerous Game.

But these villagers fight back. Hard. “We have taken a powerful psychotropic drug, and you are going to die,” says one of them before he and his neighbors unleash some seriously baroque violence with all manner of weapons, including a few sharp machetes.

I Lost My Body

Seems like this is the year of severed limbs. The eerily beguiling animated film I Lost My Body, a darky charming standout in the sidebar section Critic’s Week, chronicles the adventures of a scrappy right hand in search of its owner. If that’s not strange enough, it’s based on a book by the screenwriter of meet-cute misfit romance Amélie. And, believe it or not, I Lost My Body has the same winning mix of bittersweet whimsy and swooning heartache. That, plus a protagonist straight out of the Addams Family.

Infamous for embracing genre fare, the older Cannes parallel section Quinzaine des Realisateurs has a rich history of premiering startling work like Mean Streets and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This year is no exception, opening with Quentin Dupieux’s surreal shock-comedy Deerskin. Take Oscar-winning French star Jean Dujardin, put him and his twinkling eyes in an ill-fitting suede hippie jacket festooned with fringe. Then throw in an old video camera and just watch as a soon-to-be-divorcé frozen out of his bank account slowly loses his mind.

Jean Dujardin stars in ‘Deerskin.’

“Killer style,” Dujardain says, checking himself in the mirror and scheming to take away all the other coats in the world. Who knew an overhead fan blade could turn into such a deadly tool? “I always wanted to make a grotesque film,” said Dupieux after its first screening. “And I wanted to make a film about a madman. Not just a mad film.”

To The Lighthouse

He should have stuck around for The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers’s salty-dog descent into lunacy. This rapturously bleak horror fantasy stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two 19th century wickies who lose their minds while tending to a coastal New England beacon. Dafoe is in charge, a bearded alcoholic seaman named Tom Wake with a gimp leg, an ivory pipe, and a Captain Ahab growl.He cracks the whip on underling Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), who spends his weeks shingling, polishing, whitewashing, toting coal in a wheelbarrow, and emptying the shit from their chamber pots, all while the elements pummel them with rain and wind.

“Bad luck to kill a sea bird,” spits Wake to Winslow, which of course means that one of chirping gulls surrounding them is doomed. And, in turn, are they. Cue screeching mermaids, whiskey-soaked brawls, menacing tentacles and even a visit from Poseidon himself. Majestically terrifying, The Lighthouse is a delightful ordeal.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in ‘The Lighthouse’.

After its rapturously received premiere, the director took to the Cannes stage with his stars to talk about the film and the physical toll it took. Pattinson mentioned how even the three weeks of rehearsal was an ordeal. “It was one week,” said the director. “No way!” said Pattinson, laughing at his gaffe. “That was one week?”

In the midst of all these supernatural visions here in Cannes, how apt that the Quinzaine also bestowed its Carrosse d’Or lifetime achievement award to genre master John Carpenter. When asked if he preferred to show his monsters in the open or keep them in the dark, the director of iconic chillers like Halloween and The Fog simply replied, “Either one, as long as I can hear the screams.”


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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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