At this stage of the Cannes Film Festival, disappointment inevitably sets in. Going in we hope for the best from the world’s top filmmakers and come up instead against a more prosaic reality. Among the Competition titles, only tough Hungarian holocaust drama “Son of Saul” and Todd Haynes’ glam lesbian romance “Carol” have gained serious traction so far.
Nothing that I’ve seen comes close to matching the storytelling moxy and cinematic spectacle of both George Miller’s non-stop action adventure “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Pete Docter’s animated family comedy “Inside Out,” from Disney/Pixar. Neither was included in the Competition at Cannes. I would love to see what would happen if the Cannes jury were judging these two meticulously scripted and crafted movies against the smaller-scale artful fare on display here. To my mind, both films rise to the level of art and should be in strong contention for this year’s awards.
While I admired Yorgos Lanthimos’ controlled and witty social parable “The Lobster” and Stephane Brize’s slice-of-life “The Measure of a Man,” neither Matteo Garrone nor Joachim Trier did as well with their English-language debuts (fractured fairy tale “Tale of Tales” and dour contemporary family drama “Louder than Bombs,” respectively) as their previous films. Both movies attempt to innovate with multi-region casts and points-of-view with less than felicitous results.
Still to come is Paolo Sorrentino’s second English-language film, “Youth” (Fox Searchlight) and Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated Mexican border mystery “Sicario” (Lionsgate). And late in the festival comes Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” (Weinstein).
In Un Certain Regard, Alice Winocour’s contemporary action thriller “Disorder,” starring magnetic Matthias Schoenaerts as a security guard trying to protect a rich woman played by the equally charismatic Diane Kruger, met a warmer welcome than Maiwenn’s emotional “Mon Roi” in Competition.
Also outside the competition, Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary “Amy” is an unsettling manipulation of multiple video elements including paparazzi and home movies into a non-narrated melange that captures as close as anything could what this tortured talent went through on the way to her early death. Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” played well here; at the gala Emma Stone brought welcome glamour as she tried to manage her long train on the red carpet, while Joaquin Phoenix, who gamely tackles Allen’s stiff philosophical dialogue in the movie, was a no-show. The festival did Natalie Portman a favor by slating her Israeli directing debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness” outside competition; the film shot in Hebrew and starring Portman met mixed response.
In the Quinzaine, Arnaud Desplechin’s intense coming-of-age romance “My Golden Days” was critically hailed and picked up by Magnolia; also building strong buzz are Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra’s black-and-white Amazon jungle drama “El Abrazo de la Serpiente,” and Jeremy Saulnier’s uber-violent “Green Room,” for which producer Broad Green is looking for another buyer.
“Inside Out” (June 19) screened in Cannes on Monday. (I’ve been sitting on my reaction since I was wowed by the film at April’s CinemaCon.) Disney’s John Lasseter took the bold step of postponing the release of the film to give it more time, which meant that 2014 boasted no Pixar release at all, while 2015 has two. It was worth waiting for. The best Pixar entry since Docter’s “Up,” “Inside Out” is a bold yet personal exploration of a world that has not been portrayed on film before: the brain.
In this case, Pete Docter (“Monsters Inc.” “Up”) came up with the idea of answering the question of what was going on inside the mind of his 11-year-old daughter, as adolescence was coming on. The extraordinary Pixar brain trust applied themselves to visualizing the inner workings of the brain–the closest comparison would be the hydraulic control room in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…But Were Afraid to Ask.”
Docter & Co.’s accomplishment is remarkable: in this “major emotion picture” they take complex research into the real science of the brain and simplify and visualize it to make a cohesive and accessible family movie. We are introduced to baby Riley and follow her growth to a happy young girl (Kaitlin Dias) who is going through a traumatic move with her parents from the midwest suburbs to big city San Francisco. Until now, she has led such a well-adjusted life –she’s a strong student, adores her parents and friends and plays competitive ice hockey–that her five inner emotions have been dominated by perkily optimistic Joy (Amy Poehler), who manages to keep Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) mostly at bay.
These five emotions are responsible for shuttling memories to vast memory banks, where pop jingles can play back forever and childhood imaginary friends can be forgotten in the trash pit of lost memory cells. Needless to say the move to San Francisco, where Riley’s parents are struggling to get settled, brings change. Soon this cheerful child is overcome by her other emotions. As Joy and Sadness get sucked into the myriad labyrinths of her brain, she loses confidence in hockey, no longer has established friendships to rely on and vents against her parents. In one hilarious sequence we see what happens inside Riley and her mother and father (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) at the dinner table as Dad decides to put his foot down (see trailer below).
We root for Joy and Sadness to find their way back to the control room–confronting an arduous series of tests and hurdles including a surreal dream sequence worthy of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”– in order for Riley to regain her balance.
What’s amazing about this movie is not just the captivating storytelling, but the fact that it changes the way we view the world. This simplified version of how the mind works is not inaccurate–and many of us will never see ourselves the same way again.