Cannes 2022: The Awards, Close, Broker and Boy from Heaven
Only a couple of months after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s completion of their decades-long endeavor to totally delegitimize the Oscars, Cannes provided another argument for doing away with all cinema awards entirely. The Vincent Lindon-led jury of nine couldn’t manage to make admirable choices even as they lauded virtually half the contenders in the field. Then again, at least one member of said jury admitted to not knowing who or how old Jerzy Skolimowski is until after the screening of his radiant EO—ex aequo winner, nevertheless, of the Jury Prize (something like third or fourth or fifth place)—so maybe the joke’s on those among us who thought art might stand a chance this time. Handing Ruben Östlund his second Palme in five years for Triangle of Sadness is far from the worst possible outcome given the advance rumors, but there is no universe in which he should have two of the festival’s top prize before Skolimowski, Kelly Reichardt, Albert Serra, or David Cronenberg receive their first. Östlund’s now traditional post-speech primal scream was of course what we were all already doing internally; leave it to him to make it just another thing to sigh over.
Claire Denis shared the Grand Prize for her interestingly clumsy Stars at Noon with young Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont, whose Close was, for reasons no one can convincingly explain, a heavy favorite for the Palme well before the festival even began. Thus, I went in skeptical, despite not being a member of the camp who thought Dhont ought to have been lynched for his poorly-defended casting of a cis-male actor to play a trans girl in his over-feted 2018 debut, Girl. Another film about young individuals who get teased and bullied for signs of queerness, Close is shot and edited to exude an oppressive wistfulness, though I spent the initial half hour thinking that Dhont might be up to something truly bold. The two barely teenaged leads, Eden Dambrine and Gustav de Waele, are directed to essentially behave as though they were newlyweds—two boys clearly unaware of the exact nature of their affection for one another, and thus unrestricted in their public display of it when they start attending a new school. They cuddle, lovingly and casually grasp at one another’s arms when fearful or uncomfortable, and are visibly hollow when separated. Given the player’s genders and (especially) ages, it’s the sort of taboo scenario that a filmmaker like Catherine Breillat has often crafted into genuinely discomfiting art evoking complicated, generative ideas and feelings about cinematic representations of desire as well as the provocative relationship between realism, performance, and the potential problematics of sexual suggestion.
Would Close make a daring choice? Flirt with lines that representational arts can’t cross? Would it propose that its characters are thinking or doing things that verge on immoral, unethical, or inappropriate, prompting me to storm from the theater anxious to discuss its choices afterward, no doubt with viewers who felt more or less hostile toward its choices than I? I won’t spoil the direction the movie does go in, but I will say that what Dhont opts for is as easy, sentimental, and offensively useless as possible, amounting to an hour-long plea to his audience to please, for the love of God, don’t stop sobbing. Do I think that Dhont rendering his characters’ queerness retroactively meaningless by steering his movie where he did was intentional or malicious? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t make it not bullshit or harmful.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker, on the other hand, really should be getting way more shit than it is for being what is pretty unambiguously a work of pro-life propaganda. Another exceedingly gentle film about “brokers of goodwill” who sell abandoned babies on the black market, Broker operates from the position that anyone who thinks a woman should have an abortion instead of carrying out the pregnancy and then abandoning the baby simply needs to have their minds opened. Kore-eda devotes all of his movie’s 129 minutes to developing a sentimental trap for its audience to see the light, and dares us not to shed a tear when, during the film’s emotional climax, a character lists off several abandoned children’s names, thanking each of them for being born. Objectionable messaging aside, the movie is a total snooze, with the director coasting on autopilot; indeed, Kore-eda could’ve crafted a film with the opposite perspective and single-handedly saved Roe v. Wade, and I’d still be sitting stonefaced in front of his over-prescribed style of narrative construction. I guess if it had to win something, at least it was an acting prize for Song Kang-ho, though I’d like to think that the actor knows better.
Best Screenplay winner Tarik Saleh admitted during the winners’ press conference that he “hates to direct,” and honestly that checks out. As I was catching up with his Boy from Heaven on the festival’s final morning—well-rested, sufficiently caffeinated, and in a position to give a film my complete and undivided attention for the first time in weeks—I nevertheless found myself forgetting the movie as it was playing in front of me, so uninspiring was the visualization of its ostensibly exemplary script. Set at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo but shot in Istanbul, Boy is all signifiers pointing to something else, an example of what I tend to call an image-less movie; it doesn’t look bad, but it can’t be bothered to manufacture any sort of presence with what it’s showing. On the screen I saw a page, but I wouldn’t be able to describe this movie’s basic premise without Googling it first. I’ve complained in the past about how telling it is that Cannes gives out a screenwriting award but not one for either editing or cinematography, which just forwards the industry’s preference for literary and theatrical expressions over visual or rhythmic ones, as if our access to words isn’t held in sight and sound. Information comes in many forms, but I can’t read something unless I see it first.