Body horror, sexy nuns and himbos galore
One of the most exciting parts of seeing films at the Grand Lumière, the biggest and best theater at the Cannes Film Festival (if not the world), is watching the red carpet arrivals on the video screen inside. the 2200-seat auditorium. For the world premiere of Sean Baker’s new film shot against the pandemic red rocket, the camera focused on newcomer Suzanna Son’s freckled face and charming half-smile. The camera tried to get a good picture of the handsome face of Simon Rex (former MTV VJ and horror movie star) but her hyper energy was too kinetic for the lens to capture. He rarely stood still.
Baker, on the other hand, was not only able to keep up, but was inspired by Rex’s shooting star energy to craft this wonderfully entertaining comedy about a former porn star named Mikey Saber who returns to her little girl. town in Texas when he has no other options. The film’s strength is its casting (by Baker himself) of different styles of actors: first-time actors (stars include Brenda Deiss and Ethan Darbone), skilled stage performers (Bree Elrod as Saber’s ex-wife) and artists like Rex who have been hiding in the public consciousness for 20 years, just waiting for the right frame. The enthusiastic standing ovation given to Rex and Baker at the end of the film seemed like gratitude for their search for real cinema in unexpected places.
This lo-fi production with occasional quick zooms had the feel of a 1970s comedy, especially in the way Baker framed the faces, with Son occasionally reminiscent of Sissy Spacek. Rex was like Mark Wahlberg’s best performances (I Heart Huckabees and boogie nights) in that he was the ultimate comic himbo. Open and unexpected comedy was a theme in two other festival highlights, Paul Verhoeven’s Middle Ages setting Benedetta and Julia Ducournau’s horror film Titanium.
Titanium passes through a setup involving car crashes, serial murders, sex with cars, the body horror of pregnancy, and an assumed identity to access the true heart of the film: a family love story between two crazy. The violent and uncomfortable images were relentless, so much so that I could feel my stomach turning. Equally squeaky were the comic relief scenes in which Vincent Lindon plays a wacky, strong firefighter who likes to dance. The film is like an unlikely crash between body horror and contemporary wacky French “comedy”. The film is fearless and fierce in its choices.
The comic touches Benedetta were different. I always expect exit laughs in a Verhoeven (Primary instinct, She, Showgirls) film, whether it’s an uncomfortable one or the comedy of extreme choices made coldly. Benedetta, however, was full of jokes. To Verhoeven’s credit, most of those gags were visual (Jesus as a romance novel cover star and the much-mentioned Virgin Mary dildo), but there was knowledge on the director’s part. He knew about the joke, so the audience was forced to participate as well. This joke was a slight disappointment for this ardent Verhoeven fan. I wanted the director and the characters to be so serious that I can’t help laughing, “WTF”. Being in on the joke eased that tension, unfortunately.
Although Virginie Efira, the woman who plays the titular Benedetta, fulfilled her role of playing an unhinged, passionate woman with a comically good mood. Efira is such a shining star in the French film industry, recently in the underrated film Sibyl, in which she plays an equally engaged role. Efira is like Kate Moss crossed with Ginger Rogers, with gorgeous round features and boundless liveliness. In my opinion, the contest for the best performer at Cannes pits Efira and Rex against each other in their sexy, naive, crazy and disarming characters.