Cannes 2013 Capsule Reviews: Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), Grand Central, and Borgman
Boom! Arnaud Desplechin has fallen right into the arthouse movie trap of making a film in a foreign language, like Wong Kar-Wai, Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami before him, and, lo and behold, the result is a very creaky film that will surely prove a huge disappointment to fans of this idiosyncratic director.
Jimmy Picard (Benicio del Toro), is a Native American man who has been suffering from crippling headaches for years, before being sent to see Georges Devereux, a quirky French psychotherapist played by Mathieu Amalric in mad professor mode. That's it for the plot of the film. The main thrust of the picture takes place in the sessions between the two men -- how they reveal things in each other. Devereux extracts stories from Jimmy P. about his dreams, his childhood, his loves, and his time in the Second World War. A lot of this is related in flashback, with a few stark scenes where both men observe the dreams together, or Jimmy P. looks back on a childhood recollection, at a remove from his memory.
But large problems begin almost immediately: despite Del Toro engaging with his character and presenting a plausible person, Jimmy P. never becomes as gripping a case study for the audience as his shrink and film director seem to think he is. From there, the film struggles desperately to drum up interest in its story. The picture is further hamstrung by the structure that it has to have: it consists of so many talking scenes, so many head-to-heads with spoken thoughts and emotions: you begin to crave a beautiful, moving picture. Anything would do: a sudden large bang, a sun rising somewhere or other, a marching band crashing into the audience: anything to distract you from the tedium of two guys hanging out and chatting.
Throughout it all, Desplechin's gift for directing him hasn't exactly deserted him -- everything is well made and artfully decorated, with a classical style -- but what is severely missing is his sharpness, his wit, some of the outrageous flights of fancy that characterised his earlier work. I thought for sure that his approach would be much more metaphorical, more magical, but over and over Desplechin retreats into dour realist classicism, as he tells his medium story straight. The whole thing has the wet dog smell proper to films that have failed to come together.
Grand Central - dir. Rebecca Zlotowski
In his second Cannes film after Asgar Farhadi's The Past, Tahar Rahim takes the lead role of Gary Manda, a young man down on his luck who is recruited to work in a nuclear power plant. Those of you hoping for Simpsons-style shenanigans involving radiation gags may be in for a let-down. Gary falls for the girlfriend of a senior colleague, played by Lea Seydoux, and takes increasingly more risks in his dangerous work environment, as the film piles on the tension from the halfway mark. The whole thing reminded me in style and tone of Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry, in its depiction of one person integrating a new working class environment, and trying to stay ahead of the game.
Grand Central is an impeccably mastered film from a technical standpoint, articulating its anti-nuclear gist very well and creating a host of believable characters who inhabit this detailed and plausible world. Assisted by her actors, Zlotowski creates people who live and breathe, right down to her smaller characters. Importantly, the people she has created all seem to be living on the brink: marginalised in society, poor, they are also living in a kind of hopelessness that the director shows very well: in the sex in which they take solace, in the shabby birthday parties and celebrations, in the risks the men take at the plant, putting their bodies on the line. There is some particularly strong work on men in the workplace, with a bold aesthetic of plastic and metal, and mem soaping themselves down in this frigid environment, to avoid deadly contamination.
Zlotowski tackles her central love story in the same way -- head on, showing two people who need and cling to each other. The great passion that we are clearly intended to see sadly never quite takes off- - the chemistry doesn't quite seem to be there between Rahim and Seydoux - but is still a good love story, full of good touches and camera work that exalts the two leads. Rahim puts in a great performance as usual, and there is some terrific support from Denis Menochet, Olivier Gourmet and Johan Libereau, three great faces and personalities inhabiting rough, torn men.
Grand Central's strength is its muscular, full-on depiction of the world it portrays: full of heart and guts, it fizzes with unapologetic passion and candour.
Borgman - dir. Alex von Warmerdarm
The competition returns to form, after the misstep of Jimmy P., with this entertaining oddity from the Netherlands. Telling the story of a mysterious man who arrives in the home of a well-to-do young couple and gradually takes control of their lives, Borgman exerts a strange hold on the audience from the outset, which rarely lets up until the end.
The film begins in the woods, where a man is being hunted by three men with guns. He evades them, and runs into an anonymous town, to a modern, stylish house owned by a man and woman who initially reject him. The woman soon takes pity on him, however, and invites him in for a bath, starting a chain of events that get progressively more disturbing and violent. Borgman - the name the strange man gives the couple - invites four acolytes to help him, and they go about beating up and/or murdering people close to the couple in order for Borgman to gain access to the family. Having bumped off the gardener, he takes on the man's job and sets about destroying the garden as well as the lives of his hosts.
All of this cruelty, these violent and unsettling events, takes place in scenes filmed almost jauntily: the whole thing is laced with an offbeat wit, and the various deaths and ordeals we witness are seen as minor miracles, little acts of magic almost. At the same time, Borgman and his entourage act as if his putsch is a job or duty: he seemingly has set out to colonise these people, and will do anything to get there. Part of the delight of the film stems from wondering who is going to get it next, how it will happen - and why. Why is he doing this? What is it for? Who is he? The film provides no easy answers - it is, as much as anything, an existential creation, asking questions about money, sex, culture and family.
Borgman will suit fans of Funny Games and Dogtooth: certainly on a formal level, with most of its action taking place in this house, it is reminiscent of both; but it also shares a questioning outlook with the Haneke film and a queasy, comical perspective on violence with Dogtooth. There is a theatrical, almost burlesque tone to the film though, which is all its own.