Despite masterly names on the list, like Spanish giant Pedro Almodovar, British legend Ken Loach, Elia Suleiman, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick and Marco Bellocchio, the ongoing Cannes Film Festival opened two of its most important sections--Competition and A Certain Regard--with disappointing fare.
American auteur Jim Jarmusch had given us great cinema like Broken Flowers and Patterson, but his opening shot, The Dead Don't Die, made little sense. Touted to be political – at least that is what the festival chief, Thierry Fremaux, quipped at his opening media conference – and even environmentally conscious, the competition entry was bizarre. If it was political, it was cursorily so with one of the characters wearing a hat with the words: Keep America White Again. Clearly, Trump bashing. And with the earth going off its axis that the Jarmusch work talks about, there are hints of the looming environmental crisis.
Set in a fictional American town of Centerville, The Dead Don't Die, narrates how strange happenings engulf the place. The moon hangs low, night does not fall and television reports say that the earth has slipped off its axis. The result could not have been more eerie with the dead rising from the graves. They literally dig themselves out, and looking hideous, begin to walk around the town, pouncing on the living, sucking their blood (like vampires) and eating up the flesh. Ugh! Really, not the ideal title to kickstart a 12-day event.
The three cops in Centerville – Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) – are on their toes. Helping them in their mission is Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who behaves like a Japanese Samurai, and uses her huge sword to chop off the heads of these monstrous zombies. This is the only way that they can be silenced. Lots of heads roll, some sliced off, some shot and decapitated.
As the town begins to grapple with this ghostly invasion that threatens to wipe Centerville off the map – and with reports coming in of more such disasters in other parts of the world -- it seems like the end of civilisation. The cops are absolutely clueless as how to handle this supernatural happening, and Robertson has never seen anything of this kind in his long career. And in his usual bumbling manner, he tries to knock the zombies out.
Clearly, The Dead Don't Die was not the kind of movie that Cannes should have opened with; Jarmusch's work was not even worth a slot in Competition. The film just did not go anywhere, and in spite of all the flesh which got scattered all over the screen, the narrative itself had little meat and seemed flat, as deadpan as Murray's expression.
And when the curtain fell, the ovation was as muted, clearly a huge let-down. The festival had opened its 72ndedition with a work quite unsuitable for the occasion, many felt.
Also, the festival could not have made a more inappropriate choice for ringing in the A Certain Regard section – the second most important category after Competition. A Brother's Love by Monia Chokri focusses on a sister's platonic affections for her brother. And this leads to a whole lot of awkward situations when the man begins to date a girl. The sister, Sophia (Anne-Elisabeth Bosse), is 35, but has done very little after graduating.
While she tries to find a job, she is completely broke and decides to share space with her brother, Karim (Patrick Hivon). His ties with his sister are very strong, and this becomes apparent when they visit their parents in the suburbs. The family dynamics play out here. The parents are divorced, but the father still stays very close to his ex-wife, and the two bicker like old married couple. Chokri uses this to convey Sophia's relationship with Karim. And when the doctor, who helps Sophia abort her child, falls for Karim, the muddle and confusion begin to creep in.
A Brother's Love despite its provocative theme and jokes does not hit the right notes, and most scenes appear laboured and forced. The performances are not top notch, and the work meanders along a lane of boredom. A Brother's Love is certainly not the kind of work that will appeal to a cross section of the people.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival for many years)
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