Cannes 2024: The Weeds of Yesteryear The Global Tofay

Cannes 2024: The Weeds of Yesteryear The Global Tofay Global Today

This article appeared in the May 24, 2024 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writingSign up for the Letter here.

Eephus (Carson Lund, 2024)

Affixed to the bus shelters all around the center of Cannes are celebrity photos from festivals past. Right outside my Airbnb, there’s Samuel L. Jackson in a backwards Kangol, from 2005, when he was here with Revenge of the Sith; farther down the hill, past the boulangerie where my flatmates and I source our emergency supply of baguettes, it’s Raquel Welch in a ’60s updo. On the barriers lining the Croisette—the festival’s main, oceanside street—are myriad pictures of stars from cinema’s different eras: here is a boyish Alain Delon in a red-carpet tuxedo; there is a distinctly swaggering John Wayne on a yacht, in a polo shirt with a popped collar.

Partly this is so tourists can be reassured that they really are in the presence of greatness. Partly it’s an infrastructure built up around remembering: posterity and continuity are core values here (which is why the Competition is so reliably larded with mediocre films by directors who won something here long ago, as if the Jury Prize awarded to Paolo Sorrentino’s Il divo in 2008 could ever justify herding 2,300 people into the Lumière for his latest snooze, Parthenope). Those of us covering the festival are charged with maintaining a tradition that dates back to the art film’s mid-century Golden Age, and engaged in building out the Anglo-European canon.

A number of entries in this year’s Cannes Film Festival second-guess such self-importance—and stress-test the broader liberal ideals that go hand in hand with that artistic heritage. This spring, protests against Western governments’ complicity in the mass slaughter in Gaza have riven film festivals and art institutions. Cannes hasn’t seen demonstrations of the same tenor or scale, but a nagging unease still pervades the atmosphere and the films—a sense that the lofty values of open discourse and artistic celebration in recognition of a common humanity are ringing hollow.

In Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson’s Rumours, the leaders of the G7 nations, gathered for their annual summit, find themselves suddenly cut off from the world they purport to lead, as their cell-phone signals drop and their aides become unreachable. They wander through a German forest lit like a ’30s Universal horror movie, surrounded by vague intimations of a larger societal collapse—it could be a climate disaster, it could be war, it could be self-aware A.I.—and menaced by an army of resurrected corpses, preserved in peat bogs, who gather in fog-shrouded clearings to masturbate, grunting furiously until achieving violent climax. As the heads of state panic and consensus frays, it falls to the Canadian prime minister (Roy Dupuis) to make a rousing speech, cut-and-pasted together from the other leaders’ banalities and rambling, in a triumphant act of coalition-building and a full-throated defense of the post-WWII “rules-based international order.” To which the audience of bog people respond with jerk-off motions vigorous enough to blow up the world.

The pointlessness of political rhetoric is also an implicit subject of Roberto Minervini’s first fiction feature, The Damned, which screened in Un Certain Regard. Set during the American Civil War, it concerns a Union Army unit patrolling a largely unpopulated area of the western frontier. Though this is the historical moment in which Abraham Lincoln’s speeches attempted to articulate and consolidate the American project, these soldiers, camped out in the Montana scrubland under wide purple skies, are largely unsure about what America is, or why they should die for it. The Damned alternates poetic landscape shots with outbreaks of confusing violence and scenes of conversation semi-improvised by a largely nonprofessional cast.

The soldiers discuss their reasons—or lack thereof—for enlisting, their beliefs (or uncertainties) about God, and their families and homes. There are readings from the Bible, but no other books, songs, or media; the soldiers play a game of baseball, but there’s precious little else in the way of a shared culture—especially as the company splits and the mission devolves into pure survival in a snowbound, existential wilderness. The Civil War looms large in Minervini’s previous documentaries (particularly 2015’s The Other Side and 2018’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?), which examine a nation’s unreconciled differences via explorations of white grievance and Black struggle. Here, he imagines that moment of rupture, and shows by what slender threads we’ve always been bound together.

In a less politically fraught vein, two of the best films at Cannes concern insular communities bonded by ritual and facing down a looming sense of finality. Tyler Taormina’s Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point and Carson Lund’s Eephus—both in Directors’ Fortnight, and both produced by the filmmakers’ collective Omnes Films—are ensemble pieces about beloved but waning traditions. In Eephus, beer-league baseball players in a New England town gather for a final game, not only of this season: it’s October, the leaves are turning, and soon the field will be paved over for new development. The film is nine innings of ball-busting banter, as players keep score with a pencil nub, chase down foul balls in the woods, and spit sunflower seeds—all the coffee spoons with which baseball buffs measure out their lives. Lund captures the essence of dailiness through the routines of the sport, and I was delighted by a cameo from Joe Castiglione, the longtime Boston Red Sox radio announcer, whose voice still accompanies me on most summer nights. Here, he plays a character who is feeling the inevitability of change—and the film can be seen to stand in for a number of troubling social developments just off-field and out-of-frame, including the erosion of monocultural objects such as our National Pastime, and the loss of communal third spaces like the baseball diamond.

In Miller’s Point, a comically large extended family gathers for its traditional Christmas Eve celebration at a soon-to-be-sold home in the suburbs. Both realistic and fantastical, the production design is a pileup of objects and signifiers from different eras, from a wood-paneled station wagon to a Roomba, all given a prosaic yet burnished Christmas-light glow by Lund’s cinematography (Taormina also produced Eephus). Jumping between rooms and generations, the loose narrative pulls together archetypal vignettes and sense memories concerning the negotiations of drinking at a party with your parents and the glimmer of green and red M&Ms in a cut-glass serving bowl. At one point, the camera pans across a teeming array of family photos and one young character names each relative for another, even younger character. Such images made me think about the posters outside my Airbnb, and the many ways, and reasons, to make meaning from images of the past.

Mark Asch is the author of Close-Ups: New York Movies and a contributor to Reverse Shot, Screen Slate, and other publications.

#Cannes #Weeds #Yesteryear

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