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First day, a tale of two films

May 18, 2017 07:52 pm | Updated May 23, 2017 11:50 am IST - Cannes

From left, director Andrey Zvyagintsev, actors Maryana Spikav and Alexei Rozin pose for photographers during the photo call for the film Loveless at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017.

From left, director Andrey Zvyagintsev, actors Maryana Spikav and Alexei Rozin pose for photographers during the photo call for the film Loveless at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Sometimes claps (or the lack of them) says it all. The first day at Cannes proved to be a case of encountering diametrically opposite media reactions to the two much-anticipated films.

If Arnaud Desplechin’s French film Les Fantomes D’Ismael (Ismael’s Ghosts) met with a deafening silence at the end of the screening, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Nelyubov (Loveless) got a thunderous round of applause as the end credits began to roll.

The Russian movie, by the Leviathan filmmaker, is a stark and severe human document — in the barren landscape it paints, the desolate weather it evokes and the bleak story it tells largely through uneasy silences or plaintive, brooding music.

About a marriage on the verge of breakdown, it has a 12-year-old kid facing abandonment and neglect even as the parents seem to have moved on in their relationships. It’s not the ugliness before the final closure, more the boundless loneliness of the child that is devastating. A child who has no hobbies, who doesn’t play but sits at home at the table by the window to stare at the winter outside. It’s utterly cold outside and within as well.

Zvyagintsev puts the relationship in the larger context of the times, with the radio often bringing home the social picture into focus — news of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian crisis. It’s about times that are all about ambition and mobility, where relationships are but a step to further yourself in the social ladder. Zvyagintsev also weaves in humour as he brings in the anti-divorce policies in an office where the boss happens to be a devout catholic. It’s a world that is simultaneously iconoclastic but conservative at heart.

Things take a chilling, eerie turn when the boy disappears one fine day. The film moves ahead with a thriller’s tension — the search for the boy in forests and an abandoned building, the hunt in the hospitals and in elevator, the possible identification in the morgue. What tingles and scares most is how things are left open-ended and hazy.

Indian connection

While Nelyubov is pointed and intense emotionally, even in its ambiguity, Desplechin’s Les Fantomes D’Ismael loses its way and meanders. What happens when a love you thought you had lost returns after 21 years? A familiar theme on which a few Bollywood films have also been made. And, curiously, Desplechin’s film also has a Delhi connect, and flute and tabla playing conveniently in the background when the association is brought out.

It’s about people and relationships lost, it’s about regaining them and yet not quite being able to salvage life. It’s also about the weight of relationships and the urgency to escape them, about not being able to bury some of them, about losing someone who you have “rescued” and then not being able to reinvent life for yourself.

The need to shove in layers is evident in how dialogue and exchanges are made deliberately profound but things feel a trifle too manipulated.

“It’s five films compressed into one, like [painter Jackson] Pollock’s female nudes,” the director had said. But the threads are too scattered to come together to make a whole.

Desplechin’s film is also about filmmaking and myth-building, about film within a film, about parallel disappearances in the real and the reel world. About referencing other films, Vertigo (1958) and Laura (1944), for instance, all in a most obvious yet pointless way.

It’s the effortless presence of the actors — specially the togetherness of Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg — that gives heft to it.

Louis Garrel, who plays the mysterious diplomat Ivan Dedalus in the film within the film, the one who fell off the map, also plays Jean Luc Godard in Michel Hazanavicius’s new film Redoubtable . At the post-screening press conference, one of the journalists wondered if the film, on the most iconic French auteurs, wouldn’t have been a more worthy opener for Cannes in its 70th year. The query went uneasily unanswered.

What we were told is that there are two versions of Les Fantomes D’Ismael . We were shown what the director calls the ‘romantic version’, a seemingly simple, sentimental love triangle. According to Desplechin, the other is a more intellectual exercise. If the version we saw was a highway, then the original has many more lanes and bylanes, he said. We certainly wouldn’t be able to find our way in that if we got lost in this one.

Sex quotient

Both Les Fantomes D’Ismael and Nelyubov also brought in the mandatory nudity and sex quotient, quite early on in the festival. That too in a most rapturous and seductive way. Beautifully choreographed lovemaking scenes captured in close-ups is as French (and Russian) as it could get.

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