Cannes this year, at least to outside observers… has been weird. Major director’s like Woody Allen, Lars Von Trier, and Terrence Malick have brought films to the festival only to find buzz non-existent, or weakly polarized. Much bigger news has been made out of Von Trier’s silly Nazi comments (and a resulting toothless “ban” from the festival), but these major films aren’t not walking away from the soon-to-be-closed festival with a ton of heat. There is however, one film that seems to have strongly stuck a chord with most that have seen it, and I’ve already mentioned in once before in an article about a Step Brothers rap album of all thing. It’s called We Need To Talk About Kevin, and it’s about a mother dealing with the aftermath of her son’s brutal murderous rampage, as she forces herself to continue living in the same town and to endure the scrutiny from everyone around her. Some peg it as the clear front-runner for the Palm d’Or.
From all accounts the film is powerful, horrific, and and supremely well acted. Acclaim is not universal, but it still seems to have picked up the most strongly positive –if relatively quiet– buzz of any film at the festival. Tilda Swinton’s name is getting tossed around for an Oscar already, while John C. Reilly is also praised for playing an oblivious father who doesn’t understand his wife’s relationship with her son. He also fails to see that his son is a complete psychopath. Considering similarly interesting dynamics among the parents of the Columbine motherfuckers, as described in the fantastic Dave Cullen book, I’m very interested to see how these relationships play out in Kevin.
Lest you think this sounds too much like Orphan, keep in mind there’s nothing supernatural here, and that the film takes place after a tragedy has already occurred. Still, it’s remarked to be on par with a horror film for much of its run time. Entertainment Weekly is running an article from a clearly affected viewer, and also included some quotes from director Lynn Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Caller).
…it’s the realism that makes it chilling. Imagine The Omen, The Bad Seed, or anything from the killer-kid genre of thrillers, but stripped of supernatural hokum and starting at the place those tales usually end, with focus on a lonely, guilt-addled survivor instead of the victims.
A tragedy in multiple keys, difficult to watch but impossible to turn away from, “Kevin” reinforces Ramsay’s reputation as a director in complete control of all aspects of the medium…
Even the writer of the novel on which it is based, Lionel Shriver, has been uniquely enchanted by this reinterpretation of her story (which went through a number of rejections before being published and catching on completely organically).
Allowing herself to look washed-out and haggard, Tilda Swinton is brilliantly cast as Eva, and seems already to have replaced my own flickering image of my narrator. Though the script is sparse, her silences exude an overload of conflicting emotion – a dismay, anguish, loneliness, and fury too dangerously combustible to express. John C Reilly brings to the role of Eva’s husband Franklin a weight, presence and warmth that rescues the father from seeming simply a dupe in the face of his son’s sunny pretense of being a normal, rambunctious boy. And the two child actors who play Kevin when younger both capture the exasperation with the meaningless adult world that I tried to impart to the novel’s character, as well as providing Kevin a seamless physical continuity as he grows up.
The film is an interpretation of the novel, of course, and Ramsay was obliged to edit out multiple scenes, lest the film run to 10 hours. But here’s what’s fab: the book still exists, inviolate. All the dialogue Ramsay eliminated is still in the book. All the scenes she couldn’t dramatize are still in the book. All the literary reflections that have evaporated into a wordless interplay of colour and space are still in the book.
…and there are plenty of more deeply affected reviews you can search out for the film. What’s clear is that the movie has made a splash, and if it does well with the Cannes awards, it will have a better chance of being picked up. Currently there’s some serious worries that there’s no commercial avenue by which the film can be marketed, and that audiences are too thin-skinned for such a real film. Those things may be true, but pile enough gold on it and surely someone will nut up and buy the thing- at least, I hope someone will. This sounds unmissable.
Until we hear more about the hopefully forthcoming release of the film, you can take a look at these clips (via NBC PopcornBiz), which are very well chosen. Each gives a look at a different aspect of the film, and each makes it clear that the acting and the filmmaking really are top notch. Expect more if and when we hear it.
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