Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for The Film Experience...
With the festival dwindling away (as well as this writer’s sanity -- blame the multiple transit strikes, weather and barely affordable lodging), we are closing in on the more probable awards contenders. Out of the hubbub heard in person and online, along with opinions from mine own wonky eyes, here are three that could possibly take home either the Palme d’Or or Best Actress. (Juliette Binoche in Sils Maria I have yet to see...)
Mommy, Two Days One Night and Maps to the Stars after the jump...
Two Days One Night
The Dardennes brothers are no strangers to the Croisette, with two Palme d’Or wins behind them (1999’s Rosetta, 2005's L’Enfant). Their latest Two Days, One Night is a very strong bid for a third. Falling within the Dardennes oeuvre of Belgian social realism, the film follows Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a working-class woman, canvassing her coworkers to keep her job at the local solar-panel factory. Realizing that the company could get on without her, the boss decides to put it to a vote amongst the workers as to whether to keep her on and forfeit their bonuses to pay her salary or to downsize her and give them each their €1000 bonus.
After a tainted vote, the boss is convinced to recast the vote the following Monday. With the film starting on Friday afternoon, that leaves Sandra only two days and one night to convince the majority in her favor (9 out of 16 co-workers). She goes door to door over the weekend, fighting for her job, pleading. Responses vary from apologies to the earlier vote, refusal to speak with her, punches thrown, etcetera. It’s a panorama of the human condition from sympathy to greed to apathy. All the while, Sandra, who is still recovering from a recent bout with depression and popping more than her prescribed amount of Xanax, is on the verge of a real breakdown. If she loses her job, not only will she have to go back on the dole, and her family will lose much more.
As bizarre as this reads, Two Days, One Night is something like a naturalistic, socially conscious, current-day European take on High Noon meets Rocky, highlighted by its lead’s remarkable resolve through both downturns and upturns with the support of specific members of their community. And as with both of those movies, it hinges entirely on whether the central character can overcome the obstacles and vulnerabilities.
Garbed in light-washed jeans and neon tank tops, the makeup-free Cotillard overcomes her glamorous looks to give us a heartrending performance of a working class woman on the edge. Sandra is not comfortable in her own skin, let alone asking other people to save it. Along the way, she discovers a newfound worth and becomes prepared for whatever’s next, thanks to the unexpected kindness of acquaintances and family. Cotillard has tackled other uneasy women before (La Vie en Rose’s Edith Piaf, The Immigrant’s Ewa Cybulska, Nine’s Luisa Contini, etc.), but this is possibly her most authentic feeling; one without the trappings of face-altering makeup, sepia-tones or show tunes. This is raw Cotillard, not just physically but also emotionally. Spanning only three days, Cotillard is able to strike to the core of Sandra (encompassing her self-doubt, apprehension and lackluster confidence) and then convey the shift of that very being into a redemptive ending, with Sandra still Sandra just more optimistic.
Maps to the Stars
In another more bizarre, twisted, satirical, jaw-droppingly “wouldn’t that be awesome in a weird way” Palme corner is David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has also made his way down the Croisette, with Maps to the Stars being his fifth Palme d’Or contender and having won the Jury Special Prize for 1996’s Crash. Tackling the Hollywood scene head-on and filled with eerie pseudo mythos bordering on the poetic machinations of Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor (including a recitation-turned-motif of Paul Eluard’s “Liberty”), Maps to the Stars follows a vivide ensemble including a powerful family on the rise, two twenty-somethings on the cusp of breaking out, and an actress on the decline.
The family includes a darkly-dressed, possibly guy-linered John Cusack as a maniacal self-help guru-author-therapist-yogi (or as Cusack describes him, “Elmer Gantry meets Colonel Parker”), the eerily cold yet emotional Olivia Williams as a show biz mother, and Evan Bird as their too-famous-for-his-own-good son (or, as Bird describes him “kid from Home Alone meets Justin Bieber”) who is the face of a $750 million franchise and on his way to a Narcotics Anonymous chip. The two twenty-somethings are Mia Wasikowska as a fresh-from-Florida would-be writer who came to Hollywood on the suggestion of twitter friend Carrie Fisher (played by real-life Carrie Fisher and with a Debbie joke thrown in for good measure) and Robert Pattinson (in his second Cronenberg collaboration, after last year’s Cannes contender Cosmopolis) as a chauffeur by day and actor by all-too-rare hire. Finally, as the over-the-hill actress, Julianne Moore not only links all of the above characters together but steals the entire movie in a tour-de-force performance.
Blonde-dyed, botoxed and busting at the mental seams, Moore’s character Havana Segrand is a famous actress, or at least known well enough for teenage stars to joke that she’s a G.I.L.F. (aka “Grandmother I’d Like to Fuck”). After a few not-so-successful years, including a T.N.T. gig for the money, Segrand is desperate for a decent role and willing to claw however deeply for it, and I mean claw deeply (read: kinky shenanigans). Almost intentionally taunting any semblance of sanity, Segrand is pursuing a role in an upcoming indie remake of her dead mother’s classic film. In a genius fucked up turn, Segrand is not only haunted by her mother’s legacy (with her classic film playing and referenced throughout) and their dysfunctional-bordering-on-abusive relationship but this figurative haunting becomes a manifestation and takes physical albeit ghostly form in the blonde, lithe Sarah Gadon. While grappling with this, Segrand hires Wasikowska’s twenty-something as an assistant, resulting in one of the most perversely hilarious employee-employer relationships ever (slaying The Devil Wears Prada for the title) riddled with bitchiness, competition and faux-sisterhood (e.g. in an already much tweeted about moment, Segrand asks the assistant for a laxative mid-constipation on the toilet).
Moore is no stranger to transformative roles, but as Segrand, she manages to be both a satirical caricature gone mad and a vulnerable vindictive woman on the edge. She captures the blustered bimbo but also gives her the heart, depth and meaning lacking from those very same women in real life (or at least the C-list and Real Housewives variety we see on television all too regularly and to which we’ve become nullified). Although Cronenberg and Moore deny that she is based off of anyone in particular, let’s just say Moore manages an amalgam of all of the worst traits of your favorite has-been actresses without making you boo her off the screen. Quite the feat, and one only Moore could have done with such rabid panache. (I encourage you to hazard a few guesses for actress influences in the comment section below.)
Our third Palme D'or option today is the “pretty, pretty please with sugar on top," because this-is-so-good, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. At only 25 (same age as Orson Welles during Citizen Kane, just sayin’), Dolan is also a veteran of the Croisette, having won the Queer Palm (for 2012’s Laurence Anyways), the Regards Jeunes Prize (for 2010’s Les amours imaginaires retitled Heartbeats Stateside) and a triple crown of sorts with the Prix Regards Jeune, C.I.C.A.E. Award and SACD Prize (all for his 2009 debut I Killed My Mother). Taking place in the not-so-distant future of 2015 Quebec, Mommy is about a widow Diane “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval, a frequent Dolan collaborator) grappling with her unruly, A.D.H.D.-ridden son Steve (Antoine Oliver Pilon), who was just kicked out of boarding school/detention center after starting a fire in the cafeteria.
Following the thematic suit of Dolan’s semi-autobiographical debut I Killed My Mother, Mommy looks at an intensely close mother-son relationship with near-blood-curdling, expletive-laced screams, paired with an ear-popping soundtrack (Dido, Counting Crows, Celine Dion) and intimately intricate use of aspect ratio (will not spoil other than write that the whole of the Lumiere clapped at one particular moment). Looking like Prince Geoffrey (the middle one) from Lion in Winter melded with Lord Darnley (blonde Timothy Dalton) from Mary, Queen of Scots, tow-headed Steve is a younger, off-Ritalin maniacal combination of those two, with his cocky charisma, manic behavior and violent outbursts. With the strung-out, frizzle-haired stress of Marisa Tomei and cool strength of Diane Lane combined with Sandra Bernhard’s foul mouth, mother Despres stands toe-to-toe with Steve. Stubbornly making sure he has some sort of future, she works a not-so-glamorous gig to pay for homeschooling supplies, relents in letting their stammering, former highschool teacher neighbor (Suzanne Clement, also a frequent Dolan player) take over in order to take on more work to pay the bills, and flirt-enlists a semi-creepy lawyer neighbor to help Steve’s upcoming school fire legal case. Dorval spits slings of expletives and hurling hugging words of reassurance with the same intensity. Her embroidered-jeaned, brunette with blonde tiger-streaks mommy is a force to be reckoned with. Neither Dorval or Dolan shy away from Mommy's crassness, vulgarity and unadulterated boldness.
My Vote... If I Had One...
With under 30 credits to her name (and mostly known for her work with Dolan), Dorval is not a household-name like Marion Cotillard or Julianne Moore, but that could actually bolster her dark horse possibility for Best Actress with Jane Campion's jury. Isn’t it better to reward new talent than give yet another trophy to Oscar darlings (however deserved)? Out of these three actresses, Dorval’s tears were the most palpable as she runs ragged and jagged as a woman with divergent maternal and survival instincts. Cotillard’s Sandra wanes noble with her working class values and Moore’s Havana slips mesmerizingly into moments of unadulterated evil - they're worthy choices, too. All three films craft multi-faceted characters, and the actresses do them admirable justice, but Dorval transcends offering a gut-wrenching, eye-sobbing, gaggle-laughing range of emotions. All three films are superb but Dolan’s Mommy has an extra kick (both emotionally and stylistically) that knocked its first viewing into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Cannes Diary: Day 1 Arrival & Opening Night | Day 2 Grace of Monaco | Day 3 Mr Turner & Timbuktu | Day 4 Amour Fou & The Blue Room | Day 5 The Homesman Press Conference and The Homesman Review | Day 9 Foxcatcher & Sils Maria
Diana Drumm, who recently completed a stint as one of 8 young critics to take part in the 2nd annual NYFF Critics Academy became a member of our team this February. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her home page. See her previous posts for The Film Experience here.