"Sex and violence go very well together, like bacon and eggs." So says David Cronenberg of "A History of Violence," which has been going over like gangbusters at Cannes and is now being bandied about as a front-runner for the Palme d’Or. He’s referring to an apparently very rough, though consensual, sex scene in the film, about a mild-mannered diner owner (Viggo Mortensen) living a peaceful life with his wife (Maria Bello) and child until an attempted robbery bring up his violent past. According to the Globe and Mail, Cronenberg went out of his way to show the consequences of each violent act in the film, showcasing the effects the main character’s actions have on his family, and, more literally, featuring brief shots of wounds.
Lars von Trier’s "Manderlay" also opened, to the typical mix of sneering and applause. During a particularly quotable post-screening press conference, Von Trier declared himself an unwilling American (due to the unavoidability of American influence, politically and culturally, we’ll presume) and said that this is why he makes films about America (he, of course, is famously transportation-phobic and has never been to the US). "Manderlay" follows Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard in the Nicole Kidman‘s "Dogville" role) in her discovery of a plantation that still has slaves, seventy years after emancipation. Her well-intentioned attempts to free them disrupt the fragile plantation social structure and eventually has them wishing to return to slavery. Von Trier acknowledges that it’s "quite clear" that the film can be seen as alluding to President Bush’s efforts to impose democracy in Iraq. We find Von Trier’s bludgeoning obviousness nail-on-chalkboard worthy, so we direct you to the Guardian if you want more.
In fact, in order to keep ourselves entertained through all the constant Cannes updates, we’d like to present the rest of this post in screenplay form:
"A History of Violence" makes you laugh at violence then feel bad about it. In effect, it deconstructs the American action movie. It is kickass. "Manderlay" is so far from kickass that I will let Tony Scott talk about it instead.
I am too busy attending official black-tie dinners with Atom Egoyan to write about such things at the moment.
I can no longer contain my bile, so I will hint at dark things by positing this: how in the world will Toni Morrison, who is on this year’s jury, take to Mr. von Trier’s film?
Lars von Trier
We tried several [African-American actors] who thought it was a good thing that the film was being made and that it was interesting. But they didn’t take part it in because it’s explosive stuff in the USA. The English actors were completely relaxed about it, and they said ‘yes massa’ to me every morning. They had a laugh.
I liked "A History of Violence." I liked "CachÃ©." I even liked "Manderlay." This is the best Cannes ever. Or, at least, it may be one of the best Cannes Film Festivals in recent years.
You are wrong, Roger Ebert. In actuality, film critics were left cold by early showings this year, but things finally warmed up with the return of tried and tested veterans at the world’s top cinema showcase.
Other Reuters Stringer
(They all play soccer. It is WACKY and HEARTWARMING.)
+ American Brutality, Scene 1, Scene 2 (Globe and Mail)
+ Lars von Trier acts as a slave to controversy (Guardian)
+ In ‘Violence,’ a Riveting Beat (NY Times)
+ Predictable Reactions to Lars von Trier (NY Times)
+ Strong entries raise the bar at festival (Chicago Sun-Times)
+ After a cool start, critics say Cannes picking up (Reuters)
+ At Cannes, filmmakers discover the beautiful game (Reuters)