Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

From Cannes, new films by Gaspar Noé, Paolo Sorrentino, and Takashi Miike


7:30 a.m. Downpour in Juan-Les-Pins. I am rained out of the first screening of Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, which I will see tomorrow.

11:01 a.m. Paolo Sorrentino movies fracture early and often, but unlike the jigsaw-pile Youth (Grade: C-), they’re usually unified by a compellingly eccentric lead performance, be it Toni Servillo in Il Divo and The Great Beauty, or Sean Penn in This Must Be The Place. No such luck in this collection of half-baked Fellini-isms, in which a renowned composer and conductor (Michael Caine) mulls over an invitation to perform a royal birthday concert while staying at a Swiss health spa, where the guests include his daughter (Rachel Weisz), his filmmaker best friend (Harvey Keitel), a young movie star (Paul Dano, basically playing Shia LaBeouf), and a celebrity strongman with a Karl Marx tattoo on his back.


Unless slow-mo shots of sagging hotel guests set to classical music and broad jokes about Hollywood are your idea of great cinema, there isn’t a whole lot to see here aside from Dano’s interesting performance and a few good gags, the best of them being the delayed reveal of the role Dano’s character has been preparing to play. Without a strong presence—and Caine isn’t one here—to tie everything together, Sorrentino’s direction, typically all over the place, comes across as simply inane and tempo-less. The hotel setting and casting of Weisz serve only to highlight how much better fellow Main Competition entry The Lobster is at managing the absurd and unexplained, as well as more rudimentary things like framing an intriguing shot.

Highly artificial stuff like this tends to attract the o-word, operatic, but what it resembles most is an orchestra of bugles and ratchet noisemakers conducted like the Portsmouth Sinfonia. However gonzo Sorrentino’s ideas might be—a fantasy sequence where Caine’s Fred Ballinger conducts cows on a pasture, a nightmare presented as a pop music video—they’re made limp and lame by an amateurish sense of form, which comes as a surprise, given how often some of the director’s earlier films have navigated tricky switches in tone.


4:06 p.m. Gaspar Noé’s hardcore, 3-D relationship drama Love (Grade: C+) may be the least aesthetically outrageous thing the Argentinian-born director has ever made. Continuing the time-honored art house tradition of cutting unsimulated sex with circular boredom, Love unfolds as a series of spats and arguments between pigheaded American expat Murphy (Karl Glusman) and his Parisian girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock), seen in flashback by an older Murphy as he smokes opium. Noé’s camera is presentational and largely static, with every shot separated by a few frames of black screen, suggesting moments out of time.

The sex is, well, sex, set mostly to Erik Satie. Noé’s not out to transgress any boundaries here, and this very long gabfest (130 minutes, with audible snores in the audience) is more about the conversations that happen around a relationship than anything that happens within it. Working, as always, with intentionally crude archetypes (Murphy always fucks up, Electra has daddy issues, etc.), Noé remains a passable writer of very on-the-nose dialogue, though—even more so than in Enter The Void—he relies too heavily on presence-free amateur actors. (What one wouldn’t give here for even the unstable line readings of Paz De La Huerta.)


This is, in other words, woodenly earnest stuff, fixated on the same childlike oaths of protection as Noé’s other work and very eager to explain itself. (In one scene, film student Murphy outlines an idea for a movie that is basically this one.) Personal references abound: Murphy stashes his opium in a VHS copy of I Stand Alone, is obsessed with Noé’s beloved 2001: A Space Odyssey, and names his son Gaspar; seen as a younger man, Murphy is a foreigner going to film school in Paris, as Noé once was. Noé himself pops up in a hair piece as Electra’s ex-boyfriend, also named Noé. There is a close-up of what the viewer can only presume is Gaspar Noé’s cock. And yet…

Despite all this, Love is fitfully compelling as an exercise in limited style and psychological interiority. Murphy’s misogynistic, self-pitying narration brings to mind the bitter, alienated narrator of I Stand Alone, though Noé’s approach here is perhaps too measured (or too personally invested) to be corrosive. He retains a knack for visual composition and for the tenor of urban nightlife; his frames have the geometry of graphic novel panels and third-person, open-world games. An argument staged in silhouette in the back of a taxi makes bold, dramatic use of 3-D, and laser lights and strobes confuse the visual planes of a night club scene.


8:30 p.m. Unable to attend the screening of Yakuza Apocalypse, Takashi Miike instead sends a video introduction performed in full geisha drag. Twirling an oil paper umbrella, he explains that he has retired from directing “violent films” to work at a teahouse in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. God bless this man.

8:36 p.m. Cue screaming guitar riff and a dozen or so guys in bad suits getting sliced open with a sword. Yakuza Apocalypse (Grade: B/B+) is an exercise in inspired lunacy, built around one of Miike’s signature genre switcheroos: It kicks off as a conventional gangster picture, right down to the Goodfellas narration, before revealing that one of the characters is a yakuza vampire—not a vampire who happens to be a Japanese gangster, but a vampire whose blood-drained victims rise as low-level yakuza, gambling, shaking down locals for protection money, and spontaneously growing punch perms and tattoos. It gets much stranger from there.


As is often the case, Miike’s biggest assets are his clear affection for his actors and his sense of technique—the fact that he can convincingly mount a movie in one genre before switching to another, all the while maintaining a recognizable personal style. (See also: Audition, Gozu.) Though his approach skews more classical now—the bizarre long takes that once characterized his work mostly gone—Miike remains the foremost composer of the off-beat midnight movie. He builds out-there elements one on top of the other, to the point that the movie seems on the verge of toppling once the climax—volcanoes, kaiju, a tricked-out big rig, a mysterious killer in a frog mascot costume—hits fever-pitch. There isn’t a dull moment here.

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