The return of the golden palmés

It is said that the Cannes competition has a lot to do with the select club for already established filmmakers. It’s true. A number of former palmés d’or land in the race from one cuvée to another. Saturday, two of them competed again for the supreme consecration, by revealing the faults of their country. I named the Swede Ruben Östlund, crowned here in 2017 for the very au gratin The Square and the Romanian Cristian Mungiu, who had won ten years earlier thanks to the unforgettable 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days. My little finger tells me that neither of them will reap a new palm this year…

The brilliant Mungiu is the leader of Romanian cinema in this millennium, leaving with other Cannes prizes for Beyond the hills (2012) and Baccalaureate (2016). In his latest opus, with the mysterious title NMR, more unequal than the previous ones, it has not lost its social fiber, nor the acerbic criticism of its poor country in Eastern Europe, torn between its adhesion to Europe, globalization and the traditions of autarky which nail to the ground.

Although served by a sometimes lame rhythm, Mungiu remains a great director of actors and an ace of the troubled climate that the thread of circumstances stirs in his cesspool. With dark images and patient situations, he gives us the portrait of a Romanian half-Hungarian, violent and disturbed, fleeing his job in Germany after a brawl, back in his village in Transylvania. The wife he beat, his traumatized son, his sick father and his sophisticated mistress surround him there with more or less joy. In the background: a racist community which, after getting rid of the gypsies, intends to chase three charming immigrant workers from a cheese factory out of the landscape, because they are different, that’s all.

In a long static shot, a stormy village meeting gives us a demonstration of xenophobia, so hateful that it hurts. At the same time shedding light on the malaise of the inhabitants of the place who have welcomed Hungarian and German elements over the decades, without wishing to push hospitality further.

Bears prowl, the forest hides secrets, shadows resembling silhouettes of the Ku klux klan set fire to the house sheltering the undesirables. Family chronicle, return on the history of the country so often invaded, clash of times, NMR plunges into a world where rare figures of modernity clash with the crowd of disgruntled villagers. The scenario writer, by mixing with the social drama of the clearings of humanity, of which the love which the antihero carries to his son, avoids the trap of the simplism. The destiny of this outdated man, who can only sink into tragedy, becomes emblematic of the forces that are tearing the whole of Europe apart. Here, in this tense microcosm, on the edge of the explosion that Mungiu has been able to carve up, undue lengths lead him astray at the end of the journey without his having managed to knot all his threads.

Cruising is no longer fun

Swede Ruben Östlund is a caustic filmmaker, with the art of pinning down the failings of modernity with merciless second-degree humor, hilarious visual gags and shattering soundtracks.

In Without filter, we find him sometimes jubilant by his dialogues and his style, sometimes out of breath, while his three-part film widens the gap between social classes for a delirious satire with unequal distribution. The filmmaker grapples with the frivolity of a couple of influential models, first in conflict over money matters pushed to the point of absurdity, then on board a cruise transformed into a pure nightmare. The captain (Woody Harrelson, perfect) gets drunk with an old Russian oligarch, the storm rages, making the wealthy passengers sick. Place in the vertigo of scatological effects and vomit in explosive effects. A grenade seals the announced shipwreck. All this against the backdrop of alcoholic discourse opposing the virtues of communism and capitalism, of an abyssal bad faith. Because everyone here has their hands in the plate.

Then here are the Robinsons stranded for a social turnaround. Because the humblest of employees, who masters the codes of survival, becomes the queen of survivors on an apparently deserted island. Poor and rich change roles, like in a Lina Wertmüller film. Good track, but exploited to the core, by dropping certain characters, by misplacing their psychology on the way, until distilling boredom. So much so that this satire, at times so funny, ends up doubly shipwrecked on its island, after losing control of an initially tightly woven montage. Misery !

Odile Tremblay is the guest of the Cannes Film Festival.

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The return of the golden palmés