Cannes Report: First Footage From ‘The Master’ Impresses & Yes It’s About Scientology

Cannes Report: First Footage From 'The Master' Impresses & Yes It's About Scientology
Cannes Report: First Footage From 'The Master' Impresses & Yes It's About Scientology

The Weinstein Company are feeling confident this year at the Cannes Film Festival, and why not? With three films in the lineup eaching earning a fair share of buzz — “Lawless,” “Killing Them Softly” and “The Sapphires” — tonight they decided to up the ante, and show off some previews for three films that will make up the rest of their impressive 2012 slate.

Taking place at the Majestic Hotel, the studio plied a select group of journalists with champagne and hors d’oeuvres before they were seated in the small screening room. Harvey Weinstein took front and center for a brief introduction, where he joked we were about to see restored footage of his bar mitzvah, before unveiling what were ulimately extended trailers for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “The Master,” David O. Russell‘s “The Silver Linings Playbook” and capping off with Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained.” So we’re kicking off our recap below with what is easily one of the most anticipated films of the year.

While a teaser trailer gave everyone a taste of what to expect earlier today, at Cannes we got a lot more footage from the film which again looks like another unique, cinematic world conjured by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starting with the voiceover and similiar bits of the same pieces from the trailer, the footage unspooled showed much, much more from the film. The first thing to note was that Joaquin Phoenix‘s character, named Freddie Sutton in the script leaked last year, is now named Freddie Quell. Falling along the general plot we already know, Freddie comes into the orbit of the enigmatic leader of a — religion? cult? — led by Philip Seymour Hoffman. And let’s be clear — while the name Scientology isn’t mentioned, this is clearly very inspired by the religion. While in recent months the production has taken steps — perhaps for legal reasons — to avoid drawing direct parallels, it’s something that’s going to be very hard to deny.

Wearing a pencil moustache and carrying an air of ambition and importance, not only does Hoffman look like L. Ron Hubbard, in the reel we saw, he describes himself as (among many other things) a writer, doctor and theoretical physicist. Those are all terms that have been used to describe Hubbard over the years. And there are more clues throughout, including some scenes from a very confident looking Amy Adams, who plays Hoffman’s wife Mary-Sue, saying that the the “only way to defend ourselves, is to attack.” Sound like any lawsuit-happy religious group you’ve heard of? And the final scene we were shown might as well be from an auditing session, with Hoffman’s leader peppering Freddie Quell with a serious of personality test style questions.

Visually, it looks fantastic with a graininess and color scheme that seems inspired by Technicolor/’50s film. And remember, this was shot on 65mm stock which is why we’re seeing the kind of texture we get less of in this increasingly digital world. The footage we saw also opens with a great, slow dolly shot down a hallway that was immediately reminiscent of something Stanley Kubrick might have done. The score throughout was the same as was heard in the teaser trailer, though with some added strings in the same atonal universe as “There Will Be Blood.” The cast overall looked universally strong with Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams highlighted. Freddie is portrayed as very much a wildman in what we saw, with Adams noting, “perhaps he’s past help…or insane.” With this line of dialogue followed later on by a shot of Freddie with his trunks pulled down, masturbating on the beach, it’s clear he’s a man looking for, or in need, of direction.

Overall, it was the best footage of the Weinstein lot, promising another Anderson outing that will be another memorably distinct and fascinating work. “The Master” opens on October 12th.

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