In the old days, film festivals were the place to see movies about values; a hero rising against adversity or epic stories about freedom. This year, it is difficult to keep a tab on all the dead bodies, from the school massacre on the very first day of the competition in We Need to Talk About Kevin to Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, not to mention the entire Earth being wiped away by planet Melancholia.
There was only one death (onscreen) on This Must Be the Place, the English-language debut of Italian Paolo Sorrentino, but it is an important one. Now living at a castle in Ireland off of his royalties, a former superstar (Sean Penn) lives a very quiet life. When his father dies, he goes to New York to attend the funeral and discovers that he spent a good part of his life trying to get even with his tormentor at Auschwitz; since he hadn’t spoken to his father in the last thirty years, he takes it upon himself to find the man and confront him about the past, even though is very likely that the man is already dead. Penn was the president of the jury that awarded Sorrentino his best director award for Il Divo, which apparently spurred on a collaboration. If there are things that don’t work well (there is a certain awkwardness in the Ireland scenes), once Penn gets to the US, and the audience has gotten used to his strange character, the movie soars, and Sorrentino’s style seamlessly adapts to the moody road film and the American landscape. Though some things are left unexplained or unclear, the final reel is a very moving experience.
More dead bodies pile up in Drive, a sort of neo-Grindhouse ’80s throwback from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Bronson, Vallhalla Rising), period-loyal even down to the cheesy credits font and the synth-driven music. A movie stuntman and a car mechanic by day, a driver for hire for bad guys at night (Ryan Gosling) falls for a sweet waitress, his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan). A night hit goes horribly wrong, and when the bad guys threaten to come after Irene and her cherubic son, the stuntman has to find a way to save the day. Yes, it is a B movie, but it’s very fun and is elevated by some great performances (someone really needs to write a lead role for Bryan Cranston).
Another testosterone-friendly kill-’em-all flick: The Yellow Sea (or The Murderer), from Na-Hong Jin (The Chaser). In a region of China near the border with Russia and Korea, known for its high index of crime, a woman abandons her husband to go to work in Korea, leaving him with a large debt and a young daughter. Desperate for money, the man gambles compulsively, hoping to win enough money so his creditors will leave him alone. They connect him with a Very Bad Man who offers him a considerable sum to kill a man in Korea: he accepts, hoping to also be able to see his wife and bring her back. Things go, of course, terribly wrong, and the corpses pile up – this movie probably sets a new record for axe murders.
Death might be preferable to life in the very sad Take Shelter, previously screened at Sundance. Michael Shannon stars as a man who is slowly losing his grasp on sanity, and, worse, he knows it. American films have rarely succeeded at accurately portraying mental illness, but director Jeff Nichols has made a respectful, terrifying and serious film about a very serious theme – what film festivals used to strive for.
- Eduardo Lucatero