Cannes 2022: It’s the Spinal Tap sequel you’ve been waiting for

Festival diary: Rob Reiner plots fictional rock stars’ return, while there’s trouble in TikTok Land

Rob Reiner has arrived in town to talk up the most enticing of sequels. Close to 40 years after the world’s greatest fake band got lost in Cleveland, a follow-up to This is Spinal Tap is making its way towards adoring fans. When not rounding up potential funders, Reiner will be presenting a free beach screening of the original film as part of the Cinema de la Plage season.

It seems the idea emerged when Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, who played core members of the band, proposed the idea of writing a Spinal Tap book. “It was going to be an oral history of the band,” Reiner said. “For half we’d be in character, and talk about the band’s lives and how they came together and what they’ve been up to. In the other half we’d be ourselves and talk about the experience of making the film.”

In the course of conversations, the team considered stepping back to the camera. This might not be a terrible idea. The “band commentary” on the DVD of This is Spinal Tap, recorded many years after the film, show they are capable of successfully revisiting the durable characters. It seems Reiner will be taking inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz.

“The idea is that the band hasn’t seen each other for 10 or 15 years and they come back for one more tour and one thing leads to another,” he continued. “Once we get started, we’ll figure things out. We only had the bare bones of an idea on the first movie.”

Honouring Varda

The festival has so far been restrained in its celebration of the 75th anniversary. But one gesture has gone down well. Since 2007, attendees have enjoyed second screenings of competition titles in a tent-like structure seaward of the Palais named, in honour of that 60th festival, the Salle du Soixantième. From this event forward, the venue will be known as the Salle Agnès Varda. Varda, one of the key French directors to emerge from the new wave, died in 2019, just weeks before receiving the honour of appearing on that year’s festival poster. She had 13 films in the official selection and was a member of the jury in 2005. The Salle Agnès Varda now sits alongside festival venues named for critic André Bazin, director Luis Buñuel, cinema pioneers the Lumière brothers and, somewhat incongruously, the composer Claude Debussy (well, he did grow up in Cannes).

TikTok hoopla

You may remember some hoopla about TikTok coming on as an official sponsor of Cannes and of collaboration on a semi-official short film competition. The social platform is said to have invited 20 “creators” to the event. It seems there are already problems. “After a persistent disagreement over the independence and sovereignty of the jury for the TikTok Short Film Festival, I have decided to step down from my position as president of that jury,” said Cambodian director Rithy Panh. Ouch!

When You Finish Saving the World
★★★★☆
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg. Starring Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Alisha Boe, Jay O Sanders, Billy Bryk

If you were feeling cynical you could argue that Jesse Eisenberg’s debut feature, which opened International Critics’ Week, is very much the sort of film you’d expect that actor and writer to make. Based on an “audio drama” he wrote for Audible, When You Finish Saving the World stars a mildly scruffed up Julianne Moore – no conditioner, John Lennon specs – as Evelyn, a midwestern woman at odds with her son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard). She runs a shelter for homeless women. He performs indie rock – like a less angular Pavement – for a few thousand followers on social media. Evelyn cares very much about the importance of her work. Ziggy has no interest in politics until he becomes attracted to a passionate socialist in his school. Peeved at various other differences, Evelyn fastens upon the teenage son of a woman in her charge and plots to make him into the son she really wants.

The film is, if not on the same street as Noah Baumbach’s work, then certainly in an adjacent neighbourhood to that Eisenberg collaborator. There are no great twists or revelations. The development of character and the teasing of relationships is what really matters here.

Yet this remains a delightful comic-drama fired with a singular quiet passion. At the premiere of the film, Eisenberg noted that coming from the world of acting, he saw casting as among the most important of the director’s jobs. The interplay between Moore and Wolfhard is persuasive throughout. Evelyn, a passive-aggressive liberal to her fingertips, is unable to give Ziggy the ticking-off he deserves and, instead, deflects her frustration into “improving” another teenager. Her son is caught up in the usual morass of warring hormones. His dad, played by familiar-faced character actor Jay O Sanders, remains barely seen in medium and long shots throughout. The eventual coming together is a wonder of delicate plotting. An essential dispatch from American indie central.

Eight Mountains
★★★★☆
Directed by Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch. Starring Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Filippo Timi, Elena Lietti, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Cristiano Sassella, Lupo Barbiero, Francesco Palmobelli

It might be a bit early in Felix van Groeningen’s career to speak of a “return to form,” but, after a stumble with the pallid Beautiful Boy, the Belgian film-maker reminds us why his The Broken Circle Breakdown was among the most acclaimed films of 2012. Adapting Paolo Cognetti’s bestseller Le Otto Montagne, van Groeningen and co-director Charlotte Vandermeersch take us through the lengthy friendship of two very different Italian men. Pietro (initially Lupo Barbiero, later Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Lupo Barbiero and Alessandro Borghi) meet in the early 1980s when the former, frail city boy from Turin, holidays with his parents at a depleted hamlet in the Alps. Whereas Pietro is sensitive and intellectual, Bruno, no less intelligent, has a sturdy physical connection with his home landscape. He is not just from the mountains. He is of the mountains.

We do not encounter much formal plot in the film’s leisurely drift through the decades. Pietro falls out with his father. Bruno actually beats up his own dad. They eventually come together to build a house from raw stone in the shadow of the ever-looming mountains. But diverging careers take them apart again.

What sets Eight Mountains apart is the film-makers’ brilliance in edging the emotional conflict forward through sublimated passion, offstage catastrophe and visual correlatives. It has become a cliché to suggest that landscape – or a city – is a character in its own right. But, in a story where so little is left unsaid, it is hard to overestimate the influence of the gorgeous alpine vistas. It seems almost perverse that the directors have chosen to shoot those backgrounds in a narrow ratio, but everyone is doing just that these days.

The Cannes film festival runs from May 17th until May 28th.

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