Cannes Report: Into the Wild

Latest films at the fest propel viewers into increasingly bizarre worlds (and one that’s delicious)

Ghosts haunt an antiquities-plundering grave robber. An alien encounter shakes transient stargazers to their very core. Posh prep schoolers stop eating to save the planet. A slew of films in Cannes showed life out of balance, a prevailing mood that the world is dangerously askew. When an incurable disease starts turning people into animals — right down to their fur, feathers, and scales — you know it’s time for a change.

Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera offered the most poetic vision of this imbalance, with Josh O’Connor as a nomadic Brit with an uncanny nose for divining the unlikely locations of buried Etruscan treasures. His otherworldly connection to the Italian landscape helps him and his band of merry marauders unearth marble statues and priceless artifacts.

But his longing for a lost love, and his nagging sense of betraying ancestral spirits, makes his out-of-phase existence even more soul-sickening. A picaresque fantasia about reckoning with the past to enlighten the present, La Chimera offers up Fellini-esque characters with Antonioni-level malaise, all on a neo-neorealist canvas that would make Rossellini smile (not for nothing does the film co-star his daughter, Isabella).

Scarlett Johansson looks disappointed in Wes Anderson’s disappointing ‘Asteroid City.’
Overstuffed new Wes Anderson

Whither Wes Anderson? Asteroid City finds the fussy filmmaker even more out of phase than his exhaustingly obsessive characters and their uninflected staccato cadences. His latest group of recycled insufferables — the wounded widower who’s a hapless dad, the precocious young teens discovering first love, the scolding scholars, the rigid militants, the zany artistes — all find themselves in a desert tourist trap featuring an enormous crater where a softball-sized intergalactic rock landed eons ago.

When an extraterrestrial makes a brief and sudden visit to survey the stone, the U.S. government puts the town on lockdown and all hell breaks loose. A nesting doll of dramatic conceits, this constipated effort is a play within a play within a TV show within a movie — how droll! The migraine-inducing hall-of-mirrors framing device seems like a desperate attempt to offer a metatextual ouroboros as profundity. Actors constantly break character to comment and question and pontificate, at a loss to understand the motivations and desires of their stifling roles. An accidental confessional from an empty-tank auteur?

Bizarre turns

The best Wes Anderson retort at Cannes was Club Zero, a somewhat starved satire featuring precocious, preppily uniformed teens who talk in uninflected tones and literally eat their own vomit. Jessica Hausner’s uneven but unnerving condemnation of Gen Z ennui stars Mia Wasikowska as a nutritionist guru who gets a plum gig at a tony British private school. “Conscious eating” is her mantra, casting a cultlike spell over her fiercely competitive, eagerly impressionable pupils. The less they eat, the more they help save the environment and reach higher plains of consciousness, they smugly smile with increasingly wan complexions, their egos swelling as their carbon footprint shrinks. It’s Wokeism as self-immolation, empty posturing dressed up as spiritual enlightenment.

You want problems? How about a wife who’s turned into a bear and a son on his way to becoming a wolf, in a world where people sprout wings and gain chameleonic skin. Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom is a French sci-fi thriller that takes the contours of a zombie apocalypse, but trades the undead conceit for human-animal hybrids—what the normies call “critters,” who themselves are just as fearful as they are feared. Imagine the Island of Dr. Moreau gene-spliced with An American Werewolf in London and you’ll get the gist of this strange, disarmingly serious commentary on family bonds, othering, and the overwhelming imperative to adapt, even harmonize, when the world goes sideways.

Exploring relationships fair and foul

It’s all about love. Cannes offered up a slew of relationship films that test the limits of devotion, taking hard looks at unhappy marital bonds and exploring the damage we all do — to ourselves, to others — when we’re not honest, burdened by what we think we should be or who we tell ourselves we are. Anger, disappointment, pride, shame, delusions of self-worth: These venal sins fuel a slow-roast spitfire.

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall puts love on trial, when the accidental death of her husband puts Sandra Hüller in the crosshairs of a suspicious French judicial system. A riveting courtroom drama about a rocky marriage’s tragic outcome, with a legally blind son as the star witness, Anatomy feels like a Bergman film as directed by Hitchcock.

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore dig into a teacher-student romance in Todd Haynes’ ‘May December.’

Todd Haynes’ post-camp catnip May December takes an even juicier look at love, re-examining with 20 years’ hindsight the tabloid scandal of a married teacher (Julianne Moore) who had sex with her middle-school student (Charles Melton)—then ended up leaving her husband, marrying the teen and, after a brief stint in prison, starting a family. Natalie Portman plays the actress planning to portray the predatory teacher, and discovers a world of half-truths, distortions, accidental confessions and outright delusions. Haynes weaves an extraordinarily dense meta-melodrama that compounds deceptions in a way that reveals wicked clarity.

Romancing the plate

One relationship story embodied the epitome of harmony as a sublime aspiration. The Pot-Au-Feu, Tràn Anh Hùng’s gastronomic reverie, stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel as an early 19th-century French couple who express their love for and devotion to each other through their daily work making transcendent cuisine.

Their labors constantly strive towards perfection, and their joy comes through the preparation of the mouth-watering courses, their meticulous eye for detail, and the precision with which they work. Their food changes with the seasons, and it expresses romance as an evolving experience with its own life cycle — to be savored, to be adored, to be nurtured, appreciated, celebrated, and eventually even memorialized. The result is a beatific tone poem that proves just how delicious love can be.

Juliet Binoche and Benoît Magimel express their love through their attention to food in ‘The Pot-au-Feu.’

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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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