The buzz behind Paul Mescal’s Aftersun continues to grow at Cannes

Cannes Diary: It’s a while since a film broke out as noisily as Charlotte Wells’s movie

We are all a bit tired of the “superheroes ate the movie business” argument. Indeed, some people (notwithstanding Top Gun) come to Cannes to get away from the blockbuster predominance and to remember a time when variety in style and budget was a given for cinema.

Yet attendees have reacted vigorously to the characteristically articulate arguments made by James Gray, director of Palme d’Or contender Armageddon Time, in a video interview on Deadline. “I think the movie business made a critical mistake,” he said. “Here’s what happened: When you make movies that only make a ton of money and only one kind of movie, you begin to get a large segment of the population out of the habit of going to the movies.”

The comments echo those made by Martin Scorsese, though Gray was somewhat more forgiving of the superhero flicks themselves. “It’s not an argument saying that all comic movies are terrible. Of course they should be made,” he continued. “The slate though — the fact that it’s no longer broad-based for theatrical by the studios, means they have forced a smaller, and smaller and smaller segment of the population to like it.”

He could not, however, resist one low blow. “You cannot quote me a single line from Aquaman,” he said dryly. He is not wrong. There was a time when films in the style of Armageddon Time would have opened at the top of the box office. That now seems as long ago as the sack of Rome.

The buzz behind Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun continues to grow. Recipient of five-star reviews from this paper and the Guardian, the Scottish director’s debut picture, starring Paul Mescal as a Scottish dad adrift in Turkey, was picked up by MUBI for distribution in UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, India and Latin America. It sounds as if a bidding war was afoot for the biggest Anglophone territory.

The powerful A24, which is also handling Mescal’s God’s Creatures, eventually secured the North American rights for what IndieWire claims is in the “mid-seven-figure range”. It has been some time since a film broke out of International Critics Week so noisily.

This diary has been boycotting the Palm Dog, the jokey event honouring best canine performances, since 2019 when, as guest lists were drawn up following whispers of Quentin Tarantino appearing to accept for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irish Times was denied entry. Okay, it hasn’t actually happened in person since then, but we have been boycotting in our brain. We may relent this year, not least because there is news that Caspian Films and Wild Yak are shooting a documentary about the event. There are no formal odds issued, but punters are suggesting that the poodle from Riley Keough and Gina Gammell’s War Pony looks to be (ahem) a snout ahead.

And here are today’s reviews:

TORI AND LOKITA
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Director: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Cert: None
Starring: Pablo Schils, Mbundu Joely, Charlotte De Bruyne, Tijmen Govaerts Alban Ukaj
Runing Time: hr 88 mins

After all these years, we don’t need to dwell on the Dardennes brothers’ cinematic style. Once again a mobile camera trails behind characters as the filmmakers confirm how the disadvantaged are always on the move.

The current film focuses on the indignities of two recent African immigrants to the directors’ native Belgium. Mbundu Joely plays the teenage Lokita who, having helped the younger Tori (Pablo Schils) while both were travelling north from different countries, is now posing as his sister in order to secure residency papers.

It is an awful irony that almost everybody wants something from these kids who have literally nothing. The people smugglers, operating from a local church, are still bleeding them dry. A local chef, who moonlights as a drug dealer, has them dropping dope about the city with the pizzas.

The story properly kicks in when Lokita is sent to work as “gardener” at an intensive, warehoused cannabis farm. Tori is left without his pal for the first time in months.

There is something of Dickens in the way the pair’s relationship is centred as the only true thing in an otherwise fatally unkind society. In one particularly searing moment, Lokita, eating her microwave dinner alone in the warehouse, turns off the TV and, instead, stares at a still image of Tori on her telephone.

Otherwise true to their neorealist calling, the brothers, as usual, fall into some plot contrivance (and, as so often, knock a character unconscious with one blow) but the story is so propulsive and the characters so fully formed that only the meanest will complain. Lokita and Tori belongs to the lead actors: non-professionals coached into utterly convincing turns by two of the era’s cinematic originals.

At time of writing, with few breakouts from the competition, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne stand a decent chance of jointly becoming the first filmmakers to win three Palmes d’Or.

DECISION TO LEAVE
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Director: Park Chan Wook
Cert: None
Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Go Kyung-pyo, Lee Jung-hyun, Kim Shin-Young
Runing Time: hr 138 mins

If you were in the mind for stretching, you could see the latest from Park Chan Wook as an entry to the femme-fatale-deludes-random-patsy genre that hit highpoints with Double Indemnity and Vertigo. That doesn’t quite work.

Inspector Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is no dummy. Indeed, he is one of the smartest officers in the Busan police department. But you don’t need a PhD in advanced noirology to figure out that Seo-rae (Tang Wei), widow to a man found flattened at the base of a mountain, is playing the cop like a six-won violin from the moment he arrives on the scene.

What follows is a little too convoluted and little too breakneck for its own good. Park lays out the information in short scenes that give us little chance to get caught up in the tangled narrative. When Decision to Leave arrives to stream, more than a few disrespectful viewers will be making use of rewind (and possibly a notebook). The strands do all come together neatly at the close, but a few of those sub-narratives will have already shuffled out of the brain.

There is, however, no slackening in Park’s gift for atmosphere, emotion and humour. The director of Oldboy and The Handmaiden — both hits in competition at Cannes — has always had a gift for layering menace with excellent gags, and that melange is tastier than ever in Decision to Leave. He is assisted by terrific interlocking performances from Park Hae-il and Tang Wei.

Tang finds a new route unchartered by preceding manipulative broads such as Barbara Stanwyck and Kathleen Turner. Her unironic insouciance is so convincing even the most experienced viewer will be wondering if she deserves a break. The connection she makes with Park Hae-il is all the more convincing for it being founded on undemonstrative understandings. Not Park’s greatest film, but still pretty darn good.