Cannes 2012: Sightseers, Le Grand Soir, The Paperboy, Holy Motors
Posted on Thursday May 24, 2012, 14:50 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Ben Wheatley's Sightseers has been on my radar since the director first mentioned it when we met in a fish and chip shop in Brighton last August. That the film was subsequently shot, edited and is now in Cannes is a testament to Wheatley's speed; it is a testament to his skill that it is dark and very, very funny; but it is a testament to his growing reputation that it was a must-see movie here.
Just as Kill List was a left turn after Down Terrace, Sightseers is a right turn after Kill List, and though all three films are recognisably the work of the same man, the way Wheatley switches genres so effortlessly is certainly impressive. Like a berserk Mike Leigh movie with a body count, it stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram as Tina and Chris, two awkward, single Midlanders about to embark on their first holiday as couple. Tina lives with her needy mother, and for a while it seems the old bird will scupper their plans to visit some of the most mundane sights in the UK. On the road, however, Tina decides to seize the moment and start a new life. Chris has a similar epiphany when he runs over a fellow traveller in a heritage site car park. Getting a taste for killing, Chris embarks on a secret killing spree, but when Tina finds out, her reaction surprises him.
To say any more would deprive this film of its much needed element of surprise, since it has a sinuous structure that switches from sight gags to hilarious deadpan one-liners and exchanges throughout. Both actors are fantastic, Lowe especially as the frustrated Tina, who spends a good deal of the film being jealous of Chris's new best friend, the inventor of the “carapod”. Oram is good too, though, and a lot of the funnier scenes are fuelled by their dry delivery (in one scene, traumatised by a litter-dropping lout in a heritage museum, Chris laments repeatedly, “You just don't expect to see that”). The violence, though not explicit, is certainly intense and will definitely limit the audience to those who are up for it. With the right push, it will probably tickle the Four Lions market, ticking all the right boxes of wrong, but the great thing about Sightseers is that beneath the fun and gore it actually has quite a serious intent. Replace “serial murder” with “potting shed” and you have a film that is about male/female relationships, about one partner's need for somewhere private and special and the other partner's desire to share. I actually thought Lowe might even be looking at a Bafta nomination, although the line about “brown lipstick” made me think again.
Another good, dry comedy was Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern's Le Grand Soir. This is another great, if slightly small-scale character piece from the directors of Louis-Michel and Aaltra, and though I felt a little underwhelmed at the time, it's really grown on me since. Benoit Poelvoorde and Albert Dupontel star as mohicanned punk rocker “Not” Benzini and his brother Jean-Pierre. “Not” is a dropout (real name something like Eric), and the film concerns the fallout from Jean-Pierre's marriage, as he first loses his wife, then his job as a mattress salesman, and likely custody of his child. Set in a provincial shopping mall, it's a very entertaining, warm-hearted and sometimes almost Tati-esque romp that may not break out at the box office but will certainly please fans of Delepine and Kervern's style, which is surprisingly cinematic in its staging – notably a scene in which “Not” tries to find Jean-Pierre a job while his drunk brother sits outside in a shopping trolley.
Laughter greeted The Paperboy too, but perhaps for very different reasons than its director, Lee Daniels, planned. Apparently once earmarked for adaptation by Pedro Almodovar, this lurid hybrid of bayou noir and erotic thriller is by far the weakest film in competition. Narrated by Macy Gray, whose character can recalls events she wasn't actually present at and at one point addresses the audience directly, The Paperboy is bizarre even by this festival's standards. Zac Efron stars as the drifting, smalltown son of a family of newspaper journalists, and he gets involved in a search for the truth when his older brother (Matthew McConaughey) returns from Miami to investigate an apparent miscarriage of justice that may have sent an innocent man to Death Row. Quite what anyone was thinking as the cameras rolled is beyond me – especially Nicole Kidman, who plays a murder groupie planning to marry the condemned man. She plays horny white trash scarily well, but it's the only bright spot in a horribly misjudged movie, a camp car crash that has already garnered its place in Cannes history thanks to a jaw-dropping scene involving Kidman squatting over a jellyfish-stung Efron and pissing on his cute, insensible High School Musical face.
The best film of the festival so far for me has been Holy Motors, a film so strange I actually don't know what to say about it as I have no idea what it's about or what it means. On a visceral level, it would appear to be one-time French golden boy's Leos Carax's answer to Inland Empire, in that it is a hallucinatory film about filmmaking. The magnificent Denis Lavant appears in ten roles, playing a mysterious man in a stretch limo who goes from one “appointment” to another, each time transforming into a different character. As a barometer of its weirdness, one favoured scene sees Denis Lavant as Mr Merde (a reprise of Carax's great segment of the 2008 three-in-one movie Tokyo!) eating Eva Mendes's hair before making her a burkha and stripping off to reveal a (not very realistic) hard-on. The film is full of such delights, and though it may be a little melancholy and weapons-grade pretentious at times, it is definitely an outstanding and curious film that somehow articulates some fundamental life problems in a wholly unexpected and lyrical manner.