Sonntag, 17. Mai 2015

68. Cannes: La tête haute (Standing Tall) / Tale of Tales

The 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival opened on a sober note with the decent, if unspectacular social drama "La tête haute (Standing Tall)". Telling the story of 16-year-old Malony (Rod Paradot), a child of neglect and disenfranchisement who grows up to be quite the model delinquent, it chronicles the struggles a marginalized young man faces in France today, as well as the endeavors and failings of the country's youth correctional system. Chronicle is the operative word here, because more than anything the film feels like a record of the many trips the protagonist makes to the judge's office, his failed attempts at rehabilitation and socialization, his improvements, relapses, breakdowns. Naturalistic to a fault, the direction wins points for its integrity but leaves one desperately hoping for some sparks, provocations, anything unexpected.

To be sure, there's no shortage of violent moments. Numerous verbal and physical confrontations keep the decibel level pretty high throughout. But both the story and the telling of the story feel awfully familiar, bringing hardly anything new to the reformed adolescent genre. This tired impression significantly lowers the impact of the drama, while the repetitive narrative structure or the slightly paternalistic, PSA-esque tone of the film doesn't help either.

Paradot is solid as someone raised to harbor anger and mistrust. The combination of defiance, cunning, masked innocence and pumped-up bravado in his expressions, somewhat reminiscent of Jack O'Connell's breakout performance in "Starred Up", turns him into a dynamite with a short fuse, dangerously charged and forcefully present. As his messed-up, loopy mother, Sara Forestier also delights, offering the film some effective comic relief. Catherine Deneuve's performance as the sympathetic child court judge is comparatively muted, cruising more on her formidable poise than nuanced characterization. Writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot shows heartfelt concern for the subject matter, but her approach to it might prove too rustic and her script can use some restructuring/streamlining.

Italian director Matteo Garrone's English-language horror fantasy "Tale of Tales" is a splashy re-imagining of three Gothic fairytales that, while not exactly meaningful in aggregate, stuns your every sense nonetheless. A depressed queen obsessed with the need to bear child resorts to a shaman, a lustful king gets entangled with two old women who might not look their age, a ruly princess tries to escape from an ogre she's married to by her father - the stories told are relatively simple constructs and bear no apparent contextual relations. Cutting from one to the other and back again, one might legitimately ask if it's all just a pointless exercise in style. But what style this is!

Furiously designed with a nasty contrast of colors and materials, the costumes, props, set pieces whip up storms of spectacles from frame one without ever sinking into juvenile frivolity. Unlike "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) or "Maleficent" (2014), the lush production springs not only from a spiked imagination but also a decidedly adult sentiment. Whether dashing through a stonewall maze or getting chased across the misty forest, you feel the pull of a sinister alternate universe and the uneasiness is just delicious. With the added sonic suggestion of a repressively somber string-based score, and even potentially farcical scenes like the underwater dragon slaying speak a genuine menace. No one from the international cast particularly stands out, although Salma Hayek and Toby Jones are both their reliable selves and own their eccentric, comically heightened roles with aplomb.

It's a pity the three parts of the movie aren't more organically connected to benefit from coherence or momentum. But by smartly drawing on the dark nature buried beneath most bedtime stories and hitting that tone of macabre playfulness with such remarkable precision, Garrone has achieved something that, as strictly two-dimensional and message-free as it is, thoroughly entertains, utterly bewitches.

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