Stephanie Zacharek has been reporting online from the Cannes Film Festival. For much more, including a couple daft cartoons she drew, visit westword.com/movies/.
Even if Steve Carell’s performance in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher — a terrific one — ends up being the most lauded in the film, what Channing Tatum does is more complicated and more wondrous. Carell plays John du Pont, the eccentric heir, ornithologist and wrestling enthusiast who in the 1980s turned part of his lavish Delaware County, Pennsylvania, estate into a training facility for young athletes, crowning himself “coach” of a team he hoped would become Olympic champs. Tatum plays Mark Schultz, the Olympic gold-winning wrestler who nestled under du Pont’s wing for a time: The socially awkward but seemingly harmless benefactor set himself up as a father figure to Mark, eventually persuading Mark’s brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic gold winner, to coach the team.
Du Pont shot Dave Schultz dead in 1996. Miller’s movie attempts to explore, rather than explain, the events leading up to this bizarre murder; his actors aren’t so much giving performances as giving shape and life to human behavior, with all its shadows, kinks, and unspoken insecurities.
How, exactly, do you play an athlete who closes himself off emotionally, as Mark does when du Pont’s controlling monomania becomes too much to bear? Tatum pulls off the tricky feat of shading his character’s emotions without shutting down so much that the camera can’t pick them up. And his body, even with its firm arcs of muscle, is as graceful as a Brancusi poised to take flight; it tells us all the things Mark is afraid to say with his eyes.
Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard, the star of the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, showed up for the Cannes photo call in a minidress encrusted with a riot of buttons, a whimsical and rather adorable choice for an actress who, onscreen just a few minutes earlier, had made many of us believe she was a French factory worker. In the film, Cotillard plays Sandra, an employee at a company that assembles solar panels. She’s suffered a breakdown, and her boss has taken a vote among her co-workers: They can either forgo their bonuses and keep Sandra in her job, or, figuratively speaking, vote her off the island and collect the dough.
They vote for the dough, and the rest of Two Days, One Night is essentially a graceful theorem that proves Jean “In this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons” Renoir right, though it also proves, as Renoir knew, that people don’t have to be enslaved by their reasons.
One of the most annoying things a critic, or anybody, can say about an actress is, “She’s too pretty to be a factory worker/hooker/junkie.” The assumption is that people who have been graced with beauty should never have any cause to suffer, any reason to be stuck in the wrong place or with the wrong person. Cotillard’s Sandra is beautiful because Cotillard is beautiful; she also looks believably tired, careworn, anxious. Cotillard is capable of amazing lightness and luminosity, but she may be even better at carrying weight.
Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales is loose-limbed, rowdy and exhilarating. In its vibrant lunacy, and with its cartoonishly brash violence, it’s a little bit Almodóvar, a little bit Tarantino. Wild Tales is a collection of sketches, six in all, which have virtually nothing to do with one another aside from their astute, and not necessarily generous, view of human nature. In one sequence, an asshole speeding down the highway in a fancy new Audi (Leonardo Sbaraglia) yells “Redneck!” as he passes an unshaven thug in a dirty truck (Walter Donado). Then, naturalmente, Audi Guy gets a flat tire, and Mr. Redneck proceeds to make his life miserable, using every tool at his disposal (including some you really won’t want to recall while you’re eating).
If you’ve ever loved a terrible person, Mike Leigh’s quietly sensational Mr. Turner — a biopic of sorts covering the last 25 years of the life of the great nineteenth-century British painter J.M.W. Turner — is the movie for you. Human beings don’t figure largely in Turner’s work; when they appear at all, they’re often small, blurred figures at the mercy of the sky above and the sea below. You can read that as a lack of interest in human nature, or as a kind of personal humility in the face of the vast range of colors and textures, and, by extension, sounds and smells and feelings, that make up the world around us.
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As played by Timothy Spall, Turner isn’t the sort you’d necessarily want to cuddle up to. Only occasionally does he use actual words to communicate. More often, he makes his feelings known using a vast vocabulary of growls that emerge from the depths of his throat. Presented with a visitor he doesn’t wish to see, Turner makes the sound of a bear snuffling through garbage and finding nothing of worth. Mr. Turner, majestic in its stubbornness, may be Leigh’s finest picture; Spall has always been a terrific actor, but this is the performance of his career.
Maps to the Stars
The screenplay of David Cronenberg’s latest is written by Hollywood satirist Bruce Wagner, whose work suggests he thinks he’s much funnier and sharper than he is. Still, whenever Julianne Moore is on screen — which, thankfully, is often — Maps to the Stars works like gangbusters. Moore is terrific and fearless playing a Hollywood actress in desperate decline: She does one scene perched on the toilet, moaning to her assistant, Agatha ( Mia Wasikowska), about how “backed up” she is, and would Agatha run to the store and pick up a little something to help? The more she natters, the longer her shopping list gets, expanding to include tampons and sweets from Maison du Chocolat (“You can get them at Neiman’s”), an unholy combination if ever there was one. But even with all that brassy hair, arranged not-so-gracefully on the can, Moore never looks totally trashy, and her radiant dignity just makes everything funnier.
Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu is set in 2012, just after Muslim extremists have moved into northern Mali en masse, immediately setting and enforcing rules that almost defy comprehension: They ban soccer and the playing of music; socializing between men and women that’s considered unwholesome is punishable by severe beating.
What little I knew about Timbuktu beforehand made me fear it would be one of those movies that sets out to punish Westerners with guilt over how easy our lives are. I was wrong, in the way that it’s so important to be wrong now and then. The core drama of Sissako’s film involves a goat- and cattle-herder (Ibrahim Ahmed), his loyal, astute wife (Toulou Kiki), and the couple’s twelve-year-old daughter (Layla Walet Mohamed), as well as an orphan (Mehdi AG Mohamed) the family has taken in. The group makes its home in a tent somewhere amid a whiskery, deserted terrain; all of their neighbors, justifiably terrified by the new order, have left, but this solid little family vows to stay. Tragedy strikes in the form of an incident that is in no way morally justifiable, yet tragically understandable. Sissako shows a light touch whether he’s mapping the contours of tragedy or comedy — and, astonishingly, considering the gravity of the subject matter, Timbuktu embraces both.