Diana Drumm reporting from Cannes for The Film Experience
With the Palme d’Or announcement looming over the Croisette, critics and casual filmgoers are scattering to catch the festival favorites screening throughout the Palais and/or selecting their bets for the Awards ceremony. Yours truly is in a bizarre, hazy limbo between the two, writing up what’s left of my coverage and running to more screenings. Without further rambling, here are two more competition films (an Oscar favorite and an indie to look out for) along with my personal pick for Best Actor. Will Jane Campion and jury agree?
Bennett Miller’s true story drama looks at the relationship between Olympic wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and American old money heir John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), that would lead to a point-blank murder. Opening with black-and-white footage of a foxhunt (horses, hounds, riding gear) on the du Pont Foxcatcher estate, the film then cuts to Mark Schultz in not quite as posh straits, getting paid $20 to give a speech to an elementary school and chowing down on lukewarm ramen. So when he gets the call that John E. du Pont (apparently an avid wrestling enthusiast despite his status and it being a sweaty arm sport) wants to fly him out to meet, Mark leaps at the chance before getting any specifics on du Pont...
From there, du Pont invites Mark to stay on his sprawling estate and start up a training program for wrestling would-be Olympians to train for the '88 Olympics and combat the Russians and their sports program, with John “Golden Eagle” du Pont as the figurehead and self-dubbed mentor. With the overly codependent relationship turning sour (think Behind the Candelabra with amateur wrestling instead of Vegas showbiz), the unease between Mark and du Pont becomes more complicated when Dave (Ruffalo) is persuaded to join them on the estate and help coach the wrestlers.
Like Miller’s previous films Capote and Moneyball, Foxcatcher works with bare facts that are plenty interesting on their own but turns into a meditation and exploration of deeper themes. This film circles around a range of male insecurities from sibling rivalry and damaged childhoods to John’s delusions of grandeur (“I am an ornithologist, but more importantly, I’m a patriot”) and blatant mother issues (Vanessa Redgrave steals every scene she's in as Mrs. du Pont). This is the most Oscar-buzzed film of the festival, with word spreading that the three stars could win a joint Best Actor award from Cannes and follow up Oscar nods months from now.
All three actors went through incredible transformations and I’m not just talking about makeup and costuming. Tatum and Ruffalo capture the meathead physicality of still-in-training though not at their prime wrestlers while also juggling the brothers’ rivalry and inner struggles. Carell is nearly unrecognizable with muted vocal tone, gray hair, and that extra putty added to his not-so-small nose. Carell is not a stranger to obnoxious, delusional characters, but as du Pont he captures the affectation of wasted wealth, with unfruitful side projects and inconsideration for others (any and all efforts and people disposable or easily paid off). This is the one to look out for in the oncoming awards season even if it surprises without prizes here at Cannes.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria looks at the relationships between an aging established thespian Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) and a troublesome 19 year-old up-and-comer Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz). After the recent passing of her mentor, Maria embarks on a revival of the play that made her famous but this time she'll be playing the role her mentor played the 40something businesswoman Helena and Jo-Ann will take her fame-making role as the conniving 20something Sigrid. While preparing for the role in the Swiss Alps, Maria relies heavily on Valentine, her not-so-coincidentally 20something assistant, for both line readings and coming to terms with the changing tides of Hollywood (illustrated all too clearly when Maria bursts out laughing while Valentine tries to explain the deep dramatic appeal of a sci-fi film).
Meditating on themes beyond the plot mechanics of a European actress preparing herself for her latest role in a Fassbinder-like play, Clouds of Sils Maria examines the interplay of youth and experience, art and artifice and how the past haunts the present and determines the future. Maria struggles to live in the now as her past continues to haunt her from her impending divorce to this latest role (her predecessor and mentor, died a year after the original play's production). Maria’s anxieties come out in small lashes jealousy and pettiness, like mocking Valentine’s admiration for Jo-Ann’s performance in the latest big Hollywod franchise.
Binoche plays Maria as a borderline diva (think your vision of Binoche, then subtract the smiles), with both darting winces and bursts of laughter, but she never turns to the camp of a Norma Desmond type. She’s the sort of woman who’s pleasant enough when the conversation revolves mostly around her and her accomplishments, but will bite even those closest to her. Kristen Stewart mumbles through her assistant role, with her first eyeroll by the minute mark, but turns earnest when interpreting both Maria’s latest play and defending the dramatic worth of less-than-prestigious genre films in the hands of the right storytellers and actors. Oddly enough, Stewart’s traditional blasé adds an interesting layer to the character, who has bursts of passion over acting styles and shows a borderling creepy concern for Maria. As the hard-partying, home-wrecking, belligerent Jo-Ann, Moretz embodies the falseness of her character, to an at times irritating degree, capturing the vacuous rabidness of the worst of Young Hollywood (See also: Evan Bird’s character in Maps to the Stars).
With famous actresses playing famous actresses, it can be hard to separate the actress from her role (especially after a press conference in which Moretz said that there was “something more innovative in French cinema than American cinema” to a room of international press), but all three actresses offer plenty of nuance. That's something we’ve come to expect from Binoche but was surprising (at least for this viewer) from Stewart and Moretz. Although the film itself is a bit too lengthy for its own good with a few too many fade-outs and landscape shots (though what a stunning setting), the actresses shine through. But not enough to compete with the heartrending and stomach-turning of their Cannes Best Actress rivals previously discussed.
In a toss up between any of the three Foxcatcher male leads and Timothy Spall in the early favorite Mr. Turner, my gut goes with a three-way “upset” for Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum. Although Spall embodies the amazing spot-on caricature of J.M.W. Turner while balancing the character’s more intricately humane elements Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum not only bring their characters to life but also play off of each other to a marvelous degree. Mr. Turner follows Turner along his iconoclastic way but Foxcatcher amps up the interpersonal dynamics which the actors handle with understated panache to keep the audiences on its toes and the film well paced and suspenseful.
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 8 Maps to the Stars, Two Days One Night & Mommy | Day 9 Foxcatcher & Sils Maria