Filmmakers at Cannes beware. Make an unpredictable movie well outside your comfort zone and sometimes, critics will heap you with praise, as they did when comedy director Michel Hazanavicius went dramatic with “The Artist” at Cannes and went on to win a bevy of prizes including the Best Picture Oscar. So with that success behind him, he took his one-shot chance to shoot a hard-to-finance passion project, a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 classic “The Search,” updated from World War II to the 1999 Chechnyan conflict.
He intertwines parallel stories of a young Russian-turned-soldier and a 9-year-old orphan. After the boy’s parents are gunned down by Russian troops, the boy runs away with his baby brother, sadly deposits him on a neighbor’s doorstep, and then is scooped up by a truck ferrying refugees. He runs away from the town orphanage and, near starving, is fed and taken home by a compassionate United Nations Rights Committee worker (Berenice Bejo, who won Best Actress at Cannes last year for “The Past”) who is preparing a paper about how the Russians are waging this brutal war not on terrorists but on civilians.
Hazanavicius feels strongly about his subject, but delivers a straightforward, earnest and timely narrative that points the finger at Russian aggression. But Cannes critics went for the jugular, criticizing the filmmaker for straying from his sweet spot–comedy–in favor of heart-tugging serious drama. “The Search” is well executed, although American movie star Annette Bening, even sans makeup, seems out of place. This costly period film’s chances of landing a top North American distributor willing to wage an Oscar campaign will be hurt by its wan Cannes reception.
Also caught in the crosshairs of Cannes critics was Ryan Gosling. “Lost River,” his debut as writer-director, shown in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, was dubbed “Crapalyptic” by one tweeter–which went viral. The response was not universally negative, but one can’t help wondering how this carefully conceived and executed film shot in the ruins of Detroit with strong visuals and performances would have been received if it had been an unknown. We will never know. Exactly how Warner Bros. will release this David Lynchian art film starring Gosling’s “Drive” costar Christina Hendricks and Saorise Ronin is also hard to fathom. (Mike Fleming reports that Warners is open to offers from specialty distributors,)
Canadian auteur David Cronenberg is no stranger to Cannes or controversy and will survive the drubbing from North American critics on “Maps to the Stars.” In this case, Cronenberg channeled novelist Bruce Wagner, whose stack of Hollywood novels pre-date both HBO’s “Entourage” and “The Player,” but this cold Tinseltown satire feels both familiar and dated. The cast delivers, but the movie does not. Interestingly, the global press corps was far more upbeat. Canadian distributor eOne will release the film in North America.