In the middle of huge parties, Hollywood celebrities, and pink wine, Cannes also showcases some of the bleakest filmmaking of the year. They come in all shapes, sizes, languages. Lately, I seem to have stumbled into a troika of films about isolation and desperation. And, these three account for: one of the best films I’ve seen here, one of the must puzzling, and one of the most sentimental horror films in recent memory. That horror story, is Juan Antonio Bayona’s El Orfanato, the latest in a long line of Spanish scare films. This one, appropriately enough, was produced by Pan’s Labyrinth creator Guillermo Del Toro. While decidedly safer and sweeter than Del Toro’s work, El Orfanato is still an effective and beautiful look at the haunted home that once was an orphanage, and the spirits of troubled children still wrecking havoc on a small family. It’s not new territory, but imaginative in some sublime ways.
The most puzzling film I’ve seen so far has got to be Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. The colorful exploration on a group of celebrity impersonators, this one is gonna have its lovers and its haters. I’m still not sure where I fit in that equation. It’s the story of a Parisian street performer named Michael (Diego Luna), who lives his life as The King of Pop. Disenchanted with his outsider existence, he befriends a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) who whisks him away to a Scottish castle that serves as a commune for other famous faux faces (including Anita Pallenberg as Queen Elizabeth II, and James Fox as the Pope). Meanwhile, Korine intertwines a bizarre but entertaining story starring Werner Herzog as a priest in South America, who may have discovered nuns who fly. Oh, and it has virtually no connection to the celeb impersonators. The lives of which become increasingly traumatic as they prepare to stage an all-star revue to showcase their talents. On the surface, it feels sort of like Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, as made by Harmony Korine. It’s a bewildering film, equal parts frustrating and engaging, and reminded me a lot of Todd Solondz’s Palindromes. And, like that underrated film, this one will be very divisive. As a storyteller, it’s easily Korine’s most mature work and he’s put the harsh textures and disturbing imagery of his early work, more or less on hold. More or less. I have to say I defiantly agree with Glen Kenny’s bemused take on the film. I think he nails it in his writing.
To cap this isolation triple-feature, I just saw Julian Schnabel’s La Scaphandre et le papillon, and it’s an awesome achievement. I’ve been a fan of Schnabel’s painting, his photography, his filmmaking, and his Texas heritage. His third feature film, easily one of the frontrunners for the Palme d’Or, is the emotional true story of French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s paralysis and subsequent treatment. The hook, though, is that the Bauby autobiography from which it’s based, was dictated by the use of blinking his left eye and nothing more. Let me say that again: the man wrote an entire book by blinking his left eye. This sensational tale would get by on sheer shock value, but Schnabel’s portrait is a stylized and smart take on the sensitive material. We see Bauby’s lush yet haunted life before his paralyzing stroke, and we often see his world as he would. The performances are stand-outs, especially Mathieu Amalric in the lead role. Amalric is one of France’s greatest working actors, and hopefully this role will continue his journey into the minds of American audiences (his only real U.S. role to date was for Munich). Schnabel’s new film is a “wow” experience. I may even see it again while I’m here. Rather than play too bleak, I found hopeful and uplifting edges around the dark subject matter.