REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘Nebraska’ Cools While ‘La vie d’Adele’ Warms Cannes

NebraskaWhat other way does a filmmaker like Alexander Payne get into Cannes than by going black & white? This isn’t so much about quality, since we know from experience even terrible films land at Cannes, but Payne’s style seems much better attuned to his regular venue of Toronto. His films play to wider audience appeal, so the intensely critical crowd at Cannes may not well suit Nebraska.

@misterpatches: Nebraska’s a simple, sentimental slice of Americana. Unexpectedly sweet considering Payne’s past work.
@daveyjenkins: NEBRASKA very rote in its construction, but details and texture lift it.
@guylodge: Less misanthropic, more amusing than Descendants, but just as patronising. Aren’t Midwesterners simple? Aren’t old folks funny?

Sounds like reactions to Payne are the same as they ever were, which is a good thing for his select followers and not so spectacular for those not taken with his more recent brand. Starring Will Forte and Bruce Dern as son and father, respectively, Nebraska‘s been playing positively as delightful with some, Scott Foundas of Variety in particular, who praises the aforementioned stars.

Dern is simply marvelous in a role the director reportedly first offered to Gene Hackman, but which is all the richer for being played by someone who was never as big of a star. Looking suitably disheveled and sometimes dazed, he conveys the full measure of a man who has fallen short of his own expectations, resisting the temptation to overplay, letting his wonderfully weathered face course with subtle shades of sorrow, self-loathing and indignation. Given the less innately attention-getting role (a la Tom Cruise in “Rain Man”), Forte does similarly nuanced work, his scenes with Dern resonating with the major and minor grievances that lie unresolved between parents and children. Had Payne not already used it, “The Descendants” would have been an equally apt title here, so acute is the film’s sense of the virtues and vices passed down from one generation to the next.

Not as enthused is Jessica Kiang of The Playlist, who found the performances to be problematic with their respective characters.

But of course the film is largely a two-hander and so really lives or dies on its performances. Dern is great for this role, but again kind of feels almost destined to be overpraised for a performance that doesn’t require a huge amount from him above “curmudgeon.” But there is a tiny moment of almost-pleasure that shows on his face near the end, in contrast to the blank wild-haired stares elsewhere, that’ll make it hard for us to argue with those who will passionately champion his contribution, so fair enough. Forte, for us, was more problematic. With the narrative of these performances practically already set in stone as soon as the cast was announced, it feels churlish to suggest that the casting-against-type of “Saturday Night Live” comedian Will Forte as Dern’s dutiful and slightly hangdoggish son, is anything but a roaring, surprising success.

On a more positive note, Dave Calhoun of TimeOut London really found the film to be a strong continuation of Alexander Payne’s focus on men approaching or within old age.

The film’s laughs are as low-key as Payne’s reflective but straight-shooting style of storytelling, and there’s a fair amount of sadness. There’s a last-minute dash for warmth, too, but mostly ‘Nebraska’ is fairly blunt about family relationships and friendships, while preserving the possibility that neither are necessarily bad for you and never getting too tragic or maudlin. One of the poignant questions that hangs over the film is whether Woody, played with real unshowiness by veteran character actor Dern, is going senile or is depressed, neither of which possibilities are helped by his lingering alcoholism.

Well I’m certain Bruce Dern and Will Forte will both have some champions for Best Actor, but they may just cancel each other out in the pursuit. Worry not of Cannes prizes, for Nebraska will almost certainly find a second wind in the Oscar heavy fall season. But if we’re looking to the more immediate prizes of Cannes, we may just have a new frontrunner.

@guylodge: Bad news for Berenice Bejo: Adele Exarchopoulos may have Best Actress in the bag. Will win jury points for “bravery”, but doesn’t need them.
@jake_howell: there’s still a few films left to go, but I think we just saw the fabled Palme d’Or, ladies and gentlemen.
@foundasonfilm: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR: A masterpiece of first love, sexual awakening, family, food, art…in a word, life.

Blue is the Warmest ColorYou hardly needed to float endless raves my way to convince me that Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele) would be something special. A 3-hour film about a lesbian sexual awakening caused by the emergence of Lea Seydoux? That’s practically the story of my life! It’s looking like that resonance really translates, with Justin Chang of Variety saying that its simple story is made absorbing by the performances of both Seydoux and bright newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos.

It’s a simple, even predictable story, yet textured so exquisitely and acted so forcefully as to feel almost revelatory. Always persuasive as a dreamy object of desire, Seydoux nonetheless surprises with the depth of her control; she has moments of stunning ferocity here, revealing Emma as a generous, open person whose hard, judgmental streak is inextricable from her artistic temperament. But the picture belongs to Exarchopoulos, completely inhabiting a role aptly named after the thesp herself; with her husky voice and sweet, reluctant smile, she plays virtually every emotion a director can demand of an actress, commanding the viewer’s attention and sympathy at every minute. Taxing as the 175-minute running time will be for some audiences, those on the picture’s wavelength will find it continually absorbing.

Sprawling has been a frequently used descriptor of the film, and Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter claims that Kechiche truly earns the epic length he tells his story with.

Less concerned with classic storytelling than with creating virtual performance pieces on screen, the film features dozens of extended sequences of Adele and Emma both in and out of bed—scenes that are virtuously acted and directed, even if they run on for longer than most filmmakers would allow. But such a technique is precisely why Kechiche belongs in the same camp as John Cassavetes or Maurice Pialat, eschewing narrative concision in favor of the messy realities of life, and creating works that can be as ambitiously bloated as they are emotionally jarring.

Well if you need any more reason to believe in the film’s emotionally devastating qualities, just take a look at Jordan Hoffman’s review for Film.com.

Listen, I don’t know if he’s on to anything, but there’s no doubt that seeing Adele and Emma in love – and in the act of making love – as presented by Kechiche and these two actors is something special, not just titillation. If your prudish hangups or need to cry foul over perceived exploitation prevent you from seeing that, you won’t like this movie. Which at least may save you from having your heart ripped out and stomped on at the end.

That just about covers today’s big debuts! It’s an attractive and enticing bunch, and there’s still even more on the way! Oh, your daily bit of gorgeous? Well both Grand Central and The Past may be past us (PUN ACCOMPLISHED), but Tahar Rahim is so excited to be at Cannes, how can we refuse?

Tahar Rahim, Cannes

PREVIOUS CANNES ROUND-UPS:
Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)
Young & Beautiful (Dir. Francois Ozon)
The Bling Ring
(Dir. Sofia Coppola)

The Congress (Dir. Ari Folman)
The Past (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian
(Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Like Father, Like Son
(Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

The Selfish Giant (Dir. Clio Bernard)
Blue Ruin (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Grand Central (Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski)
Shield of Straw (Dir. Takashi Miike)
Borgman(Dir. Alex van Warmerdam)
The Great Beauty (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
A Castle in Italy (Dir. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)
Only God Forgives (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
All is Lost (Dir. J.C. Chandor)
Bastards (Dir. Claire Denis)
Grigris (Dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)

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