TIME movies

Review: Sex and Death, French-style, in The Blue Room

The Blue Room
Alfama Films

A Georges Simenon novel comes to cool, illuminating life in Mathieu Amalric's fine Gallic thriller

Two things that people do all the time: have sex, and worry about it. Or, as Georges Simenon wrote: “Can there be a more intimate communication between two beings than copulation?” Yet American films have largely forgotten the power of sexual drama. Thank heaven for French movies like Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, which compactly addresses the ecstasies and occasionally dangerous consequences of intimate contact.

Simenon had ample opportunity to consider the dramatic possibilities of adulterous liaisons. According to his own testimony, he had sex with more than 10,000 women. As productive as he was profligate, Simenon wrote at least 200 novels, about 80 of them featuring the gruff, wily Inspector Jules Maigret, and a similar number of short stories. His no-nonsense prose and his view of modern life as ugly, brutish and short had a deep influence on the French cinema in its realistic mode. The astringent minimalism of French directors over the past 60 years may have been perfected by Robert Bresson, but it was inspired by the netherworld in which Simenon characters dwell.

The Belgian writer often portrayed men and women drawn into affairs that end in pain or violence. Among his finest essays on the wages of sex is his 1964 novel The Blue Room. As director, co-adaptor and star, Amalric has made the book into a film that is splendidly taut, forcefully understated and, at just 76 minutes, blessedly concise. It earns admiration both for the mood it creates and for the melodramatic excesses it avoids.

Julien Gahyde (Amalric), an apparently content husband and father, has for the past few months indulged in an affair with Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), the sultry wife of one of Julien’s old classmates. A tigress in bed, the passionate and possessive Esther bites Julien’s mouth, as if signaling to attentive eyes — those of his wife Delphine (Léa Drucker), for example — that he belongs to her. If she were free, Esther asks him, would he leave Delphine? His answer is enigmatic.

Two sudden deaths later, Julien and Esther are arrested, though the prosecuting judge (Laurent Poitrenaux) shines his primary searchlight on the philandering husband. The titular “blue room” refers not only to the site of his illicit assignations but also to the color of the trial chamber at the end of the film. Both are places where sex leads to severe judgment.

Shooting in the old “Academy ratio” (before wide screen) and making exemplary use of composer Grégoire Hetzel’s similarly classic score, Amalric expertly draws the noose of circumstance around Julien. He creates recurring visual motifs, like the housefly that indicates the first sign of trouble; the fly shape also appears as a drop of blood, from Esther’s love bite, on Julien’s white shirt.

Amalric plays an adulterer with the hapless half-grin of someone condemned for the merest infraction; in France, a husband’s sexual transgression is often considered no more serious than a parking ticket. The revelation is Cléau in her first major film role. (She also cowrote the script with Amalric.) Her unconventional beauty can express the allure of a dream lover or the quiet scheming of a demon. In a performance that disdains operatic excess, Cléau never raises her voice. She can seduce or threaten with the merest smile. Like this excellent little film, she achieves maximum impact with minimal means.

TIME movies

Addio, Lido: Last Postcards from the Venice Film Festival

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Roy Andersson's 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence' Roy Andersson Filmproduktion AB

The world's oldest film fest concludes with prizes for Swedish and Iranian movies and a trio of promising efforts from the Biennale College

In the flurry of hype and hope that is the first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival, not many paid attention to the award ceremony of TIFF’s senior sibling, Venice. Yet the world’s most venerable extant film festival, which concluded its 71st edition Sat. evening, offers a cornucopia of world premieres in the (usually) balmy paradise of the Lido, an island a short vaporetto (water taxi) ride from St. Mark’s Square. The Jury, headed by composer Alexandre Desplat, awarded its Golden Lion to Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence — a worthy choice — and its two actor prizes to Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver of the confounding Italian-American domestic drama Hungry Hearts. (Both films play in the next few days at TIFF.)

This year’s filmmakers ranged in age from the 20-somethings who made features sponsored by the festival’s Biennale College to the 105-year-old Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, represented by the short film The Old Man of Belem, a modern-day dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. We bid them all a fond addio, with some final postcard reviews from the 2014 Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica.

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

Roy Andersson’s films are caviar for connoisseurs. In a career spanning nearly five decades, the 71-year-old Swede has made only five feature films, most notably Songs from the Second Floor (2000), an elegantly designed series of static tableaux filled with absurd or surreal elements. After the 2008 You, the Living comes A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, the conclusion to his trilogy on “being human.” Reflecting favorably on the movie’s dark comedy and impeccable cinematic austerity, the Venice Jury awarded it the festival’s top prize.

Often referred to as Ingmar Bergman crossed with Monty Python, the director could also be a Scandinavian Samuel Beckett, “laughing wild amidst severest woe.” In Pigeon, Andersson recasts the Vladimir and Estragon characters from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as two salesmen, Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Vestblom), peddling vampire fangs and “Uncle One-Tooth” masks to residents in no mood for childish fun.

In 37 skits shot with an unmoving camera, Pigeon ranges across history, from the era of dinosaurs to the 18th-century court of Swedish King Charles XII to World War II and the modern day, where people encounter death or slog through life, often to the tinny phrase, “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.” Except for a few smiling children, few do fine in Anderssonland, and some perish dreadfully. In the sour and scalding climactic sequence, dozens of African men, women and children, all in chains, are herded into a giant copper pot and roasted; their screams will provide a symphony for the entertainment of European colonials.

Not nearly as glum as it sounds, Pigeon fills its soundtrack with flamenco music, waltzes and its recurring theme, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” used as a drinking song in one of the most joyful scenes. The movie can enchant careful viewers with its absurdist collisions and the cunning arrangement of figures searching for meaning while trapped in a bleak landscape. A behind-the-scenes video shows Andersson grinning with pleasure and complimenting his actors after wrapping a shot. He’s much like a mischievous god, watching merrily from above as the creatures he fashioned go down the tubes. —M.C.

TALES

Iran’s foremost female director, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, who hasn’t made a fiction feature in eight years, returns with this strong, poignant drama of interlocking stories, some of which revisit characters from her earlier works. Like A Separation, the first Iranian film to win the Foreign Language Film Oscar, Tales reveals an Iran less exotic than familiar; its citizens, especially its women, face challenges of universal pertinence. A recovering drug addict who now tends to battered women is threatened by her violent husband. An infirm old lady struggles to get the payment owed her from a closed factory and then, in a powerful sequence filmed in a single shot, leads her coworkers in a protest bus ride.

Some vignettes have an aching tenderness, like the tale of the illiterate husband who needs to know what’s in a letter to his wife from a man who had once hired her for a “temporary marriage”; to learn the letter’s contents, the husband must turn to his son, and then his wife. Finished in 2011, Tales received its world premiere at this year’s Venice, where it won the screenplay award. As the documentary filmmaker who serves as the movie’s linking character says hopefully, “No film ever stays in a drawer.” All festivals should open for this remarkable achievement. —M.C.

JACKIE & RYAN

“It’s a good place to be from,” says Jackie (Katherine Heigl) of her hometown Ogden, Utah, which she has returned to after years in New York as a recording artist and a wife and mother. The wife part is over; she is battling her ex, long-distance, for her fair share of their estate and custody of their daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). What does Jackie need to set things right? A hobo musician named Ryan (Ben Barnes). Hoppin’ a freight train to Ogden, he befriends Jackie and, when taken to the home she shares with her suspicious mom (Sheryl Lee), sings duets with Lia and offers to patch their roof for free. Ah, the seductive, possibly dangerous stranger — Jackie & Ryan could be Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, but with bluegrass as the aphrodisiac instead of chili.

Writer-director Amy Canaan Mann made an atmospheric thriller, Texas Killing Fields, that premiered at Venice three years ago. Jackie & Ryan marks a big step down: a rural romance that plays like a Sundance reject, and whose only surprise is its lack of any surprises in plotting or performance. Heigl, in her first indie film after years as a rom-com princess, works hard but reveals little of Jackie’s inner life, should the character have one. And Barnes, who played Prince Caspian in the Narnia movies, and costarred with Heigl in The Big Wedding, lacks the required outlaw sexuality. The Jackie-Ryan collision doesn’t strike sparks, it strikes out. —R.C.

ITALY IN A DAY

From the first moment, when five lovely girls chirp the movie’s title to the tune of the Chordettes song “Lollipop,” Gabriele Salvatores’ documentary sings the wonder and charm of Italy. Following the scheme of Kevin Macdonald’s 2011 Life in a Day, which solicited worldwide contributions on YouTube of moments from July 24, 2010 and whittled the 80,000 submissions into a feature-length tapestry of moods and behaviors, Salvatores and his team created a national family portrait from 2,200 hours of homemade videos recorded from midnight to midnight on Sat., Oct. 26, 2013. The result is 86 minutes of enchantment that won a sustained standing ovation from the Sala Grande audience.

Among the hundreds of this movie’s stars are: an Italian astronaut eating lasagna in a space station; a young man who thinks the perfect, “fantastic” Saturday night is spent at home in bed with his dog; a woman informing her parents (demonstrative mama, deadpan dad) that in nine months they will be grandparents; and a father melting in tears of joy as he holds his newborn child. Not all the clips are so easily inspirational. Two men, playing with their daughter Lara, had to marry in Canada; in Italy, one of them isn’t recognized as the girl’s father. An old woman can’t remember the names of her children, including the one who is talking to her. (Told his name is Gabriel, she asks, “Are you an angel?”) A middle-aged man is trapped in his home because he has agreed to be a state’s witness against the Mafia; he accepts his confinement “so everyone else can breathe free.”

Pope Francis makes a cameo appearance; one male nurse says he is grateful to the Pontiff for noting that, “If God had been human, He would be a nurse.” Several contributors mourn the country’s decline, yet stay there from inertia or love. Others say Italy may be on life support, but a nation is like its people: “You don’t prepare for dying, you practice living.” A man offers this wisdom: “Live life with ease. We’re all just passersby on Earth anyway.” In one revolution of the planet, Italy wrote this irresistible love letter to itself. May the whole world soon be able to read it. —M.C.

BIENNALE COLLEGE CINEMA

Last year Venice premiered three films it had developed and sponsored (with a microbudget of €150,000 each, or about $200,000) in a program called Biennale College Cinema, headed by Savina Neirotti of the Torino Film Lab, and aiming to bring international festival attention to budding filmmakers. One feature in that first batch — Alessio Fava’s Yuri Esposito, about a man with a medical condition that forces him to move at one-fifth the speed of everyone else — was a real find that should have received much wider exposure. Another, Tim Sutton’s musical drama Memphis, opened in U.S. theaters last week. This year, all three finalists were of relatively high quality. (Note: I appear on a Venice panel that convenes critics and Biennale College filmmakers, but that gig didn’t color the opinions expressed below. These movies really are pretty good.)

Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia’s H. is a minimalist zom-dram, which depicts the spare surrealism of things gone slightly wrong — a refrigerator screw floating upwards — then spectacularly so, as 34 bodies line the banks of the Hudson River. The Troy, N.Y., location is pertinent, since the two main characters (well played by Robin Bartlett and Rebecca Dayan) are named Helen; and the movie can be seen, if you squint, as a reworking of the Trojan War, updated from ancient battle to body-snatchers plague. I’d expect H. to go to Sundance, where audiences will be drawn in by the ominous sound track, including one of the best BOOMs ever, and by the horses, the creepily lifelike baby doll and the giant head of the classical Helen floating slowly downstream.

Blood Cells, written and directed by Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore, is an example of the dour British cine-mode known as miserabilism, where the U.K.’s have-nots tumble through gaping holes in the social safety net. Yet the movie, about the drifter Adam (Barry Ward) trying to decide whether to return home after 10 years, is as visually sensuous as it is dramatically bleak. Farm scenes have a lush, painterly aspect; an image of the urban dawn holds the flirtatious promise of radiance. The movie, which follows Adam as he wanders about the country, reluctant to confront his family ghosts, ambles with the logic of a dreamer who keeps receding from his destination. And like the other films in this year’s Biennale College class, the performances are of the highest quality. Ward (who also starred in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, a competitor at this year’s Cannes festival), has the presence of a craggier Michael Fassbender; and Hayley Squires, as his London girlfriend, bewitches with her husky voice and melodramatic eyebrows.

H. and Blood Cells are estimable art films, deserving of a place in almost any festival. The third College entrant, Duccio Chiarini’s Short Skin, is a real movie — a sensitive sex comedy that could play in commercial theaters, and is set for a theatrical release in Italy. Edoardo (Matteo Creatini), a Pisan teenager, wants to get started in the love game but is handicapped by the anatomical peculiarity suggested in the title. If he can just get some surgical attention, he can stop trying to pleasure himself with an octopus — a seaside variation on the pastry in the first American Pie movie — and receive the graces of two helpful young women: his longtime friend Bianca (Francesca Agostini) and the free-spirited band singer Elisabetta (Miriana Raschilla).

Funny and tender about male adolescence at its most — ouch! — vulnerable, Short Skin was not just the class of this year’s Biennale College; it was one of the smartest, most enjoyable films at Venice 71. —R.C.

TIME movies

The Venice-Toronto Express: Three Films at Two Festivals

Ethan Hawke as an ace pilot on drone duty in Good Kill and the Chinese child-abduction drama Dearest highlight festivals in Italy and Canada

It’s the week when film festivals are in full flower. Venice began Aug. 27 and concludes tomorrow; Telluride commandeered the long Labor Day weekend; and Toronto, the biggest, started last night and ends Sep. 13. Usually movies that premiered on the Lido show up in force at TIFF, but not so much this year. Toronto did pick up Venice’s one-Pacino-two-Pacino double bill of The Humbling and Manglehorn. TIFF is also showing 99 Homes, with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon butting egos over the housing crisis. But it ignored the Katherine Heigl indie romance Jackie & Ryan, the elegantly animated feature The Boxtrolls, and even the esteemed Iranian feminist drama Tales. They couldn’t find slots among Toronto’s 300 features.

We’ll get to those and other significant Venice films tomorrow. For now, here are tips on three promising films we saw there and which have been exported from the Italian to the Canadian festival.

GOOD KILL

In 1997, in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, Ethan Hawke played a person with the stigma of being human-born in a genetically improved future world. Seventeen years later, in Niccol’s less fanciful, even more troubling Good Kill, Hawke is Maj. Thomas Egan, an Air Force fighter pilot now sitting at a console in a Las Vegas camper steering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — drones — to their targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other war zones. As Tom’s boss, Lt. Col. Johns (Bruce Greenwood), says about this controversial form of remote-control weaponry, “Drones aren’t goin’ anywhere. In fact, they’re goin’ everywhere.”

Johns acknowledges that, for the high-flying Tom, a desk-jockey job as the first-person shooter in a Realpolitik video game known as “Warheads on Foreheads” is like going “from a Ferrari to a Ford Fiesta.” But being grounded to play World War Wii isn’t Tom’s most aching concern. It’s that the Defense Department and the CIA have expanded the targets from a “personality strike” — with near-certainty that the subject in the crosshairs is a terrorist — to a “signature strike,” an educated guess. The curt questions for Johns escalates from Tom’s “Why do we wear a flight suit, Sir?” to the proposition posed by young Airman Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz) after a drone attack that likely took out innocent civilians as collateral damage: “Was that a war crime, Sir?”

In a nebulous defensive action against barbarous insurgents who behead journalists and let the atrocious videos go viral, the U.S. government’s surgical strikes can seem a clean antidote to a rancid threat. Our enemies don’t play fair with civilians; why should Tom feel an idealistic itch if the pickup truck he’s ordered to incinerate, which may carry explosives, has a woman and her child visible in the back? Wrestling with these dilemmas puts a strain on Tom’s marriage to the former Vegas dancer Molly (January Jones), who finds him more emotionally remote than when he was home between combat missions.

The domestic scenes drag down the dramatic pace but underline Tom’s isolation from his work, as incarnated by Hawke with a stalwart anxiety far from the careless banter of the father he plays in Boyhood. In the air, Tom could chalk up a “good kill” — a bomb he was sure took out some bad guys. (He never considers whether the intelligence that led to those raids was as iffy as the orders he now receives for drone strikes.) The film finds its most plausible, exciting life in the camper, where Tom can detect a cowboy bravado in the voice from Langley telling him to drop the big one and don’t ask why.

Set in 2010, and “based on a true story,” Good Kill percolates with the tension of a war within the war: between the High Command’s conviction that the target is worth hitting and a career warrior’s ethical convictions. Hawke’s Tom still has a conscience; and like his character in Gattaca, he has to wonder if he’s the one of the few humans left in this brave new war. —R.C.

HUNGRY HEARTS

In the old Hollywood phrase, they “meet cute”: New Yorker Jude (Adam Driver, from Girls) and Italian émigrée Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) get locked together in the fetid bathroom of a Chinese restaurant. Within one four-minute scene, recorded in a single shot, they argue, panic, recoil from the stench of his ordure and fall in love. Writer-director Saverio Costanzo seems to be setting up an indie screwball comedy, as these attractive opposites get married and have a son, but as it turns out, he has other plans: he sharply detours into a low-key, and thrill-free, horror scenario about a woman who believes her baby has paranormal powers and practically kills him with her odd notions of child-rearing. Hungry Hearts aims to be less Bringing Up Baby than Rosemary’s Baby, and gets nowhere near either of those films or any other good one.

Mina is a virtual orphan: her mother dead, her father estranged. Alone in the world, she seems dependent on the loving, increasingly baffled Jude, and his sensible mother Anne (Roberta Maxwell). Then she gets pregnant and consults the fortune teller who says she will have an “indigo baby” of uncommon gifts. When the child is born, she deprives him of most foods, which compels Jude to care surreptitiously for his underfed child. “My son vomited meat — what do you know about that?” Mina asks accusingly. Both the father’s and the grandmother’s attempts at intervention prove fruitless until the film’s end, by which time most viewers will have become exasperated trying to figure out what is driving Mina, and why two major film festivals decided Hungry Hearts was worth showing. —M.C.

DEAREST

Baby abduction and trafficking are epidemic in China. The one-child policy put a premium on young male lives; the highly prized little boys couldn’t legally be bred in bulk, so many were stolen from parents who would do anything to get them back. In February, the government broke one ring, arresting nearly 1,100 traffickers, and saved 382 abducted children. Those big numbers can catch the world’s attention, but one story can touch the heart: That is director Peter Chan Ho-sun’s achievement in Dearest, the true tale of a man who lost his son, fought to get him back, then lived with the ambiguous consequences.

Since his divorce from Lu Xiao-juan (Hao Lei), Tian Wen-jun (Huang Bo) has raised their son Pengpeng. The three-year-old disappears one afternoon while playing with friends and doesn’t return. Heartsick, Wen-jun goes to extraordinary lengths to publicize his grief — making videos, singing on street corners — and dealing with blackmailers who demand a fortune for a child they don’t have. He keeps going because, as he explains, “Hope is like food. Without it you die.” Eventually Wen-jun and Xiao-juan get reliable word of Pengpeng’s whereabouts on a remote farm and, in a thrilling sequence, abduct the child abducted from them.

The film then shifts boldly to focus on Li Hong-qin (Vicki Zhao Wei), who had raised the boy for half his life and, not knowing the circumstances of his arrival on the farm, thinks of him as her own. When the authorities take away her other child, also an abductee, and place her in an orphanage, Hong-qin engages a young lawyer (Tong Dawei) to get the girl back. Essentially an epic movie (Wen-jun’s story) and its intimate sequel (Hong-qin’s) in a single 2hr.10min. package, Dearest has some of the propulsive force of Chan’s martial-arts marvel Dragon / Wu Xia and the capacious heart of his Comrades, Almost a Love Story.

Huang Bo, best known as a comic actor, invests a furious intensity in Wen-jun; but the exceptional performance is that of Zhao Wei, who became a star in China and Hong Kong by flashing her big brown eyes in a series of winsome dramas and farces. Here, playing a simple, rural woman with few tools to retrieve her children, Zhao Wei crafts a symphony of pathos and desperate strength. She embodies the movie’s belief that — deprived of the only thing they love, and resolved to fight for it — anyone can rise to heroic or tragic grandeur. —M.C.

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Olive Kitteridge at Venice: An Our Town for Our Time

Jojo Whilden - HBO

Elizabeth Strout's Pultizer-wining novel becomes an HBO miniseries about tough women and sad hearts

Olive Kitteridge, directed by Lisa Cholodenko from playwright Jane Anderson’s script, is adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction. It stars Frances McDormand as Olive, Richard Jenkins as her husband Henry, John Gallagher Jr. as their son Christopher, Zoe Kazan as Denise Thibodeau and Bill Murray as Jack Kennison. The movie, which will be shown on HBO Nov. 2nd and 3rd, had its world premiere this week at the Venice Film Festival, where we saw it and shared our thoughts, as follows.

MC: I had started reading the book in New York, just before leaving for the festival, and completed it the night before the screening. There are many ambitious films at Venice this year, but one of the richest and most rewarding was the movie that unspooled in my head as I came to know and live with the characters Strout created.

RC: It happens that the first screening of Olive Kitteridge, which concentrates on a couple married for some 40 years, was scheduled for the evening of our 45th wedding anniversary. Do we watch the movie for four hours, or have a delightful memorial dinner at some lovely Lido restaurant? Since I hadn’t read a page of the book, and Mary had been enraptured and haunted by it, I thought she should decide whether we go to the film and how long we stayed.

MC: We let the movie decide. If it grabbed Richard and didn’t seem to me like a betrayal of the book, we would stay. For decades at festivals, we’ve had a signal when a movie exasperates one or both of us: raising the five fingers of one hand, meaning that if it doesn’t drastically improve in the next five minutes, we leave.

RC: And after two minutes of Olive Kitteridge, you flashed the five!

MC: I was jolted by the opening scene of Frances McDormand as Olive in the woods, gun in hand, preparing to kill herself. I thought it announced a film that was going to turn all the delicate nuances of the novel into blatant, explosive statements. Yet things quickly calmed down; the storytelling got sharper and the characters soon bore a family resemblance to those in the book. We stayed for all four hours.

(READ: Ruth Reichl’s recommendation in TIME of Strout’s Olive Kitteridge)

RC: Yes, we happily binge-watched a miniseries, as we did with the much longer Breaking Bad, except this time in a theater in Italy. And watching it reminded me what I and many movie critics have acknowledged for years: that the finest realistic drama is on TV, where filmmakers can expand their visions to epic length while highlighting small, true moments that might get left on the cutting room floor in a two-hour movie. That’s true not only of recent American shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men but of European made-for-TV masterpieces of the 1980s: Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Kieslowski’s Decalogue and Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. It follows that one of the most acute and lived-in works at the Venice Film Festival should be an HBO miniseries, even if it was only four hours.

MC: If it had been longer, it would have been truer to the book, which is a novel in the form of 13 related short stories about Olive, her husband Henry and the people of Crosby, Maine. This fictional locale, where lives and destinies intertwine, recalls earlier towns in novels (Winesburg, Ohio), plays (Grover’s Corners in Our Town) and films (Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life). The title of Strout’s book announces that Olive is the main character; and we soon realize that Henry is Crosby’s emotional anchor. But they are minor players in some of the stories, making Stroud’s point that everyone in Crosby is important, that each person has his or her own tale to tell, his or her own aching heart, filled with wistful dreams and small or crushing tragedies. I’d say that the HBO version is a good adaptation of a great book.

RC: In a book of 270 pages, there are, according to one computation, 94 characters. In fact, there are many more. The HBO film all but ignores some of Strout’s major secondary characters, if I can call them that, like Angie the piano player and the Harmon-Daisy-Bonnie triangle. This might have been a 13-part series, with one episode devoted to each of Stroud’s chapters. But we have to remember two truisms about novels made into films: 1. The book is also better, because it came first and because its prose can describe the inner workings of its characters. And 2. The movie isn’t the book. Filmmakers have to be able to follow their own impulses. Cholodenko and Anderson — and McDormand, who optioned the book and serves as an executive producer — decided that the way to streamline Olive Kitteridge was to focus on Olive Kitteridge.

MC: Among the topics of Discussion at the end of the book, presumably for teachers and students to mull over, is the question: “Do you like Olive Kitteridge as a person?” That’s a blunt way of synopsizing a complicated character. In an early scene Henry leaves her a Valentine’s Day card and is shocked to see she threw it in the garbage. Her curt reply: “I already read it.” Henry is one thing: a decent man with a kind thought and word for everyone in town. And Olive, a high school math teacher who gives most of her students C’s, is many things — not so much contradictions as variations on a species of New England righteousness. Henry would say of his neighbors that they are just humans struggling to do their best. Olive refers to them as dopes, saps and nuts.

(FIND: Frances McDormand in the Top 10 Coen Brothers moments)

RC: That’s Olive. She speaks her mind with a stern wit bred of her belief that life contains many hardships. That gives her a kind of radar for souls in torment, like Kevin Coulson (Cory Michael Smith), the one student she gave A’s to, and who has returned to Crosby to blow out his brains in the woods of the home where his Valium-addicted mother killed herself. Olive maneuvers Kevin into saving a life instead of taking one, and confides that her own father committed a shotgun suicide. Many Crosby lives end in abrupt violence; one character quotes the line of John Berryman (a suicide and the son of a suicide) to “Save us from shotguns & fathers’ suicides.” Other lives trail off pathetically in nursing homes. Olive is heroic because she faces these hard facts, and Henry is heroic because he knows the same small-town secrets but finds a way to smile through them.

MC: That doesn’t mean he is superficial, a blinkered optimist. Henry has his share of psychic aches, one of which may be his marriage to Olive. He also develops a crush on Denise, his assistant at the pharmacy, whom everyone calls mousy but whose innocent vitality appeals to an older man. His relationship to her is akin to Olive’s with her fellow teacher Jim O’Casey (Peter Mullan), who drives her to school each day; the puffs of a cigarette they share on a porch are as close as they come to acting on their mutual attraction. Olive and Henry both see the signs of the other’s possible liaison, but they don’t speak much of it until 20 years later, when Henry erupts: “You wouldn’t have lasted with your poet.” And Olive snaps back, “Or you with your mouse!”

RC: Henry can take Olive more or less in stride, but their son Christopher can’t. He sees her stern discipline as abuse, and later in life, when he’s become a podiatrist and has failed in his first marriage, shouts at Olive, “Admit it for once. You were a horrible mother.” From our perspective, we see that she was a caring mother with a harsh tongue. She misjudged her son’s ability to take what he dished out. A lot of people find Olive unbearable or, as the local kids call her, “a witch.” One of the few males who matches her in grouchiness is Jack Kennison, the Bill Murray character, whom Olive meets late in her life. Both have lost their spouses, and are living “in Hell.” Olive asks him, “Are you feelin’ poorly?” And Jack says, “Just soul-poor, Olive.” Thus, despite all their differences, they form an alliance of the soul-poor, the forlorn and bereft.

MC: The Olive of the book is heavy-set, more a Tyne Daly figure. Yet McDormand has the emotional weight to be faithful to Olive while lending the character her own gritty wisdom. The tight smile is familiar from her Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Marge had a brighter view of life, but both are women a moviegoer wouldn’t want to tangle with but do want to know. It’s an exceptional performance, and Cholodenko, who directed McDormand in Laurel Canyon and also did The Kids Are All Right, deserves a lot of the credit.

RC: I think that toward the end, when Henry is no longer a voice in the movie, it loses the lift of his affable sanctity. We have seen Olive through his eyes; if he can love her for all her foibles, we can surely appreciate and admire her, for all her tensile strength. I can’t imagine an actor who could convey Henry’s calm goodness, his preternatural forbearance, better than Jenkins. Would it be appropriate for me to observe that Jenkins married his current wife in August 1969, just a weekend before you and I were wed?

MC: It would not. But we could mention that when the Olive Kitteridge screening was over, just before midnight, we got in the local bus to go back to our hotel, the Hungaria, hoping to get a late bit of food. Suddenly the heavens opened in a deluge of biblical or comical proportions. Running from the bus to the Hungaria, we got drenched. The night clerk let us in, and said he could offer us sandwiches and wine, which we happily consumed in our room/

RC: I’d guess that Henry and Olive Kitteridge never had such a satisfying anniversary dinner. And a show.

The original version of this post misstated the dates that HBO will premiere Olive Kitteridge. It is Nov. 2nd and 3rd.

TIME

The Cannes Palme d’Or: Who Won and Who Was Robbed

"Winter Sleep" wins Palme d'Or
Nuri Bilge Ceylan wins the Palme d'Or at the 67th Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2014. Mustafa Yalcin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The 3hr.16min. Turkish drama 'Winter Sleep' took the top prize in a festival short on masterpieces and pizazz

No startling surprises, no unarguable triumphs. The 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival offered the predictable pleasure of worthy work rewarded tonight, as Jury President Jane Campion announced that Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep had won Cannes’ highest prize, the Palme d’Or.

Over its 3 hour, 16 minute duration, Winter Sleep probes the psychology of a Turkish landowner confronting crises from his young wife, his sister and his aggrieved tenants. Playing on the second full day of the 11-day Festival, the movie was immediately touted as a Palme front-runner. Winter Sleep fulfilled its promise when presenters Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, in town for the 20th anniversary of the Palme d’Or champ Pulp Fiction, presented Ceylan with tonight’s biggest award.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the Cannes winner Winter Sleep)

Best Actor went to Timothy Spall for his portrayal of the painter J.M.W. Turner in the Mike Leigh bio-pic Mr. Turner. In a minor upset, Julianne Moore took Best Actress for her fearless comic turn as an aging actress in David Cronenberg’s hate letter to Hollywood, Maps to the Stars. Bennett Miller was named Best Director for Foxcatcher, the true-crime tale of two Olympic wrestlers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) and their troubled patron (Steve Carell in a chilling turn as zillionaire John du Pont).

The Grand Jury Prize — second place — was awarded to the Italian Alice Rohrwacher for The Wonders, the tender tale of a beekeeeper and his four precocious children. The portentous, politically prickly Russian drama Leviathan reeved the Screenplay award. The silver-medal Jury Prize was shared by baby-faced Xavier Dolan, 25, for his convulsive, compelling family portrait Mommy, and perpetual enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard, 83, whose Adieu au langage addressed the concerns of a man, a woman and a god — in 3-D. Godard was not present at the ceremony.

The full list of the Campion Jury winners:

Palme d’Or: Winter Sleep, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Grand Prize: Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), Alice Rohrwacher

Best Director: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Jury Prize: Mommy, Xavier Dolan, and Adieu au langage, Jean-Luc Godard

Best Screenplay: Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin, Leviathan

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Maps To The Stars

Best Actor: Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner

Ceylan’s stately accession to the Golden Palm began 11 years ago with a Grand Jury Prize for Uzak (Distant), followed by the Critics’ Prize for Climates in 2006, Best Director for Three Monkeys in 2008 and another Grand Jury Prize in 2011 for his police non-thriller Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. At 55, the presumptive heir is now le roi de Cannes.

In his acceptance speech, Ceylan noted that “This year is the 100th year of Turkish cinema, and it’s a good coincidence I think. I want to dedicate the prize to the young people of Turkey,” and added, in an allusion to the 11 deaths in antigovernment protests that began in May 2013, “especially those who lost their lives during the last year.”

Campion, the Australian filmmaker whose The Piano shared the Palme d’Or with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine in 1993, read out the winners. Looking like Meryl Streep’s more severe sister, and managing to mispronounce the names of most of the jurors with whom she had spent that past 11 days, Campion received an affectionate kiss from Festival President Gilles Jacob, retiring at 83 after 38 years at the Festival. Jacob told her, “Jane you know what you mean to me.”

It was a night for big emotions. Dolan, the French-Canadian wonder boy who wrote, directed and starred in his first film, I Killed My Mother, at 19, paid tearful tribute to Campion, saying, “Few films changed my life in the way that your Piano did,” and speaking to “people of my generation: There are no limits to our ambitions excerpt the ones we build for ourselves.” More tears.

(READ: Mary Corliss’s review of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy)

Spall gave the longest, most passionate and entertaining speech. Pulling out his cellphone to read a speech he had written on the flight back to Cannes, he began reading his thanks but was interrupted by a beep: “Oh, I got voicemail.” He spoke of his leukemia treatment at the same time Leigh was winning the 1996 Palme d’Or for Secrets & Lies. Briefly, overcome, he said, “Oh, sorry, I’m crying. Sentimental old fool.” When the audience applauded, he murmured, “Thank you. The irony of your applause is not lost on me.” Spall spilled out his gratitude to his director, the cast and crew, ending, “Most of all I just thank God that I’m still here and alive.”

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Mr. Turner)

In a year with eight winning films chosen among only 18 contenders in the official competition, not many worthy works got slighted. Two we’re sorry for: the Argentine comedy Wild Tales, which brought satiric intelligence and fun of the highest order to this mostly mopey fortnight; and Two Days, One Night from directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time winners of the Palme d’Or. Their thoughtful drama featuring a spectacularly solid performance by Marion Cotillard — who still has not won any official award at the Festival she so frequently graces. They wuz robbed.

(READ: Mary Corliss’s reviews of Wild Tales and Two Days, One Night)

In prizes awarded by other juries, the first-film Caméra d’Or award went to Party Girl (directed by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis), the rambling account of a former dancer in blowsy middle age. Leidi, directed by Simón Mesa Soto, took the Short Film Palme, with special mention to Clément Trehin-Lalanne’s Aïssa and Hallvar Witzo’s Ja Vi Elsker. May we be citing these filmmakers’ feature films in Cannes coverage in future years.

So we bid adieu, or rather au revoir, to our 41st visit to this Riviera festival. As we say each year, with fingers crossed, à l’année prochaine! See you next Cannes.

TIME movies

The Cannes Countdown: Six Contenders for Major Awards

IFC Films

Some sensational actresses, including Marion Cotillard, Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche, vie for top awards at the world's biggest film festival

Cannes chugs to its conclusion, like a Riviera train overfreighted with international stars and world-class directors. They are all anxiously awaiting the Saturday closing ceremony, at which a jury headed by filmmaker Jane Campion will bestow its awards, above all the coveted Palme d’Or for best picture. Last year that prize went to the sexy French drama Blue Is the Warmest Color. This year — who knows? Among the 18 films in competition, some have staked strong claims, including two bio-pics — Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher — and Xavier Dolan’s turbulent family psychodrama Mommy.

We have covered those films in previous Cannes reports, and will address one more contender, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, before tomorrow’s prize show. Below are short appraisals of six important movies with a prayer for the Palme and a good chance to reach U.S. theaters.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT. Marion Cotillard has earned an Oscar, as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose in 2008, but never a Cannes Best Actress award. In her fourth consecutive year at the Festival (after Midnight in Paris, Rust & Bone and The Immigrant), the luminous star insinuates herself convincingly into the role of a working-class wife and mother in this excellent effort from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Two-time Palme d’Or winners for Rosetta (1999) and L’enfant (2005), the Belgian brothers cast Cotillard as Sandra, on leave for depression from her job in a Seraing solar-panel factory. Learning she is to be laid off after a vote of her coworkers, Sandra must spend the weekend petitioning them to change their minds before a Monday re-vote and let her stay, which means each employee would forfeit a 1000-Euro bonus.

The Dardennes’ original conception was to pit a below-average worker against the wavering consciences of her peers. But their on-screen Sandra is just a decent woman out of work and luck. Canvasing her 14 colleagues in a secular Stations of the Cross, she lays out her case to each one (in scenes shot in one long take) and gets different, often poignant reasons for their yes or a no. This race-against-time scenario lends an urgency to the socialist maxim, “From each according to his ability, to each according to her need,” that is at the heart of the Dardennes’ concern. This might be a provocative film with any leading lady. With Cotillard — looking fatigued yet fabulous in tank tops and jeans as Sandra makes her desperate rounds — it is also an actor’s triumph. —M.C.

(READ: Mary Corliss on the Dardennes’ The Kid on the Bike)

THE SEARCH. In any festival, the most eagerly anticipated film often turns out to be the most disappointing. That is the fate of this 2½hr. super-serious war-and-remembrance film from Michel Hazanavicius, whose blithe wordless comedy The Artist premiered at Cannes two years ago and won Academy Awards for best picture, writer, director and leading actor. Set in a Chechnya devastated by war, and loosely based on the 1948 Fred Zinnemann film of the same title, The Search puts an NGO dogooder (the excellent Bérénice Bejo) in touch with a Muslim Chechen child (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev) traumatized by seeing his parents slaughtered by Russian soldiers. Learning, hugging and copious finger-pointing ensue, not least in the film’s depiction of a young soldier (Maxim Emelianov) so brutalized by his training, in Full Metal Jacket style, that he is turned into a soulless killer.

Hazanavicius says he made the film “to oppose the absurd theory according to which all Chechens are terrorists.” That is absurd. Not all Chechens, or Afghans or Somalis, are terrorists. But some are, and their actions brought the Russian army into Chechnya. Another discredited theory is that the mediocre, muddled followup to any Oscar-winning film deserves a choice spot in the Cannes competition. —R.C.

(READ: Mary Corliss’s review of Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist)

WILD TALES. “Pasternak,” the first of six stories in Argentine writer-director Damián Szifron’s omnibus comedy, is the shortest. The people on a flight slowly realize that they all knew a man named Gabriel Pasternak, that they in some way wronged him and that he secretly paid for their tickets. Finally they learn that Pasternak has taken over the cockpit and is about to crash the plane.

Beginning with this deliciously sour anecdote — the only terrorist-hijacking story we know of that’s played for comedy — Szifron weaves a tapestry of outrageous revenge in fables set in a roadhouse diner (“The Rats”), on the open highway (“Road to Hell”), in a DMV office (“Bombina”), among the corrupt members of a rich family (“The Bill”) and at a wedding ceremony where the bride learns her new husband has had affair with one of the wedding guests (“Till Death Do Us Part”). Except for “The Bill,” they are smart, tart, beautifully performed mini-epics of grievance escalating to a kind of sanctified madness. Wild Tales deserves Cannes’ Screenplay prize, and your delighted patronage when Sony Pictures Classics opens this in the U.S. —M.C.

MAPS TO THE STARS. Obscene misanthropy enlivens this inside-Hollywood comedy written by Bruce Wagner and directed by Canada’s David Cronenberg, more than 40 years into his film excavations of the human body as its own deadly parasite (Rabid, The Fly, Naked Lunch). Diseases of the heart and spirit ravage the entire movie business, most prominently a guru-masseur (John Cusack), his stage-moth wife (Olivia Williams) and their two kids — one a obnoxious TV moppet crashing into puberty (Evan Bird), the other a refugee from the loony bin (Mia Wasikowska).

In addition to ghosts, incest, strangulation and a tantric three-way, the movie zings with some of the raunchiest, most knowing dialogue since the almighty Heathers a quarter-century ago. (One of the milder exchanges: a Bieber-like teen star, played with regal ennui by Justin Kelly, says he can sell his excrement for $3,000 a poop, in part because “It’s got rice in it from Nobu.” And when he has diarrhea, it’s like “summer clearance.”) Oddly, Cronenberg’s staging of this delirious material is a little pokey, but worth sitting through for the sheer transgressive jolt — and for Julianne Moore’s fearless, pitch-perfect performance as an aging actress trying for one last great part. Moore might deserve the Best Actress award but, given the film’s corrosive raillery, won’t get it. —R.C.

(FIND: David Cronenberg’s The Fly on the all-TIME Top 25 Horror Movies list)

THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA. Call it All About Eve in the Swiss Alps. In that Joseph Mankiewicz Oscar-winner, Bette Davis was the aging actress, Anne Baxter the ingenue avid to steal her star luster. In Olivier Assayas’s update, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is the modern Davis: a middle-aged actress who won early fame as the scheming young Sigrid in the play Maloja Snake, and who is now asked to take the role of Helena, the older victim, in that play’s revival. Sigrid is to be played by Jo Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teen hottie with a scandalous rep. To prepare for a part that forces her to acknowledge her vanished youth, Maria rehearses with her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart). But which young woman is Eve? Both Val and Jo Ann carry themselves with a precocious poise that in Maria has curdled into the self-doubt. She knows that stars shine brightest when they are new.

The Julianne Moore character in Maps to the Stars faced a similar challenge: she is up for a movie role once played by her dead mother. The threat to Maria is the shroud of an aging actress — the crow lines and thickening waist that Binoche, 50, wears as badges of long, meritorious movie service. Last appearing for Assayas in the lovely Summer House, an international art-house hit, she adroitly handles the competition and collaboration of Twilight star Stewart, whose crafty lack of affect shows to fine advantage in what may be her most complex screen role. Moretz, at 17 segueing from child roles, has just a few scenes to prove Jo Ann is wiser than her tabloid escapades would indicate. Another Cannes entry that showcases for excellent actresses, Sils Maria needs a bit more tension in its telling — and a change of its confounding title. —M.C.

(READ: TIME’s 1950 review of All About Eve by subscribing to the magazine)

LEVIATHAN. This 2hr.21min. drama by Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose The Return took the top prize 11 years ago at the Venice Film Festival, has been short-listed by some critics for this year’s Palme d’Or. It’s certainly long, bleak and politically resonant enough to win official approval. Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov), a dour handyman, has been fighting to keep his seaside property that the venal mayor (Roman Madyanov) has legally seized. In this battle he has enlisted an old Army buddy (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov), now a lawyer, who tries to buck the long odds but is more interested in Kolya’s wife (Elena Lyadova).

Scenes of the frightful price that this Job-like character must pay are kept off-screen; this is, among other things, a murder mystery in which viewers must infer whodunit. But the Mr. Big perpetrator is the post-Soviet system, rewarding corruption and punishing the innocent — those poor slobs who, in a familiar Russian stereotype, smoke and drink way too much. In this middling-quality dirge, the one moment of acerbic humor comes at a shooting party, when the host brings out framed portraits of former Soviet leaders, from Stalin to Gorbachev, for target practice. “Got any more current ones?” somebody asks. The reply: “Too early. Not enough historical perspective.” —R.C.

TIME movies

REVIEW: Mommy at Cannes: The One We’ve Been Waiting For

Festival de Cannes

French-Canadian infant terrible Xavier Dolan grows up, with a powerful film about the ferocity of mother love

Artists are different from the rest of us: they make their pain public. Most people conceal their grievances under an official smile, fearful that the airing of any animosities will force confrontations and result in emotional defeat. Aspiring artists don’t care what their parents or peers think. They channel their resentments into a semiautobiographical first novel — or, in Xavier Dolan’s case, a first film.

Made when he was 19, with Dolan in the lead role, and detailing the betrayal he felt when his mother got exasperated by his antics and sent him off to a boarding school, the movie bore the ultimate Oedipal revenge title: I Killed My Mother. It fairly burst with teen trauma, and with the unassimilated visual influences of such auteurs of romantic angst as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wong Kar-wai. In its world premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight program at Cannes in 2009, the film won several awards, immediately establishing Dolan as the enfant terrible of French Canadian cinema. Tomorrow, the world.

Or rather, today. At a still-precocious 25, the former Montreal child star takes a more mature but endlessly provocative and exhilarating look at the same relationship in Mommy. In a somnolent Cannes season of too many disappointments from major directors and a tepid level of ambition, Mommy is precisely the electroshock jolt the festival needed. Like Blue Is the Warmest Color, which pleasurably startled audiences on its way to winning the Palme d’Or, Dolan’s film is intimate, emotionally choleric, sensational and a bit loo long (at 2 hours and 20 minutes). But its excesses are part of, at the heart of, its appeal. Beginning with a car crash and accelerating from there, Mommy administers primal therapy to its viewers and perhaps to Dolan himself.

As in I Killed My Mother, the embattled mom is played by Anne Dorval. Suzanne Clément, a sympathetic teacher in the earlier film, takes a similar role here. The Dolan surrogate, the charming, troubled teen, is brilliantly assumed by Antoine Olivier Piton. This time, though, the viewpoint is reversed. Never condemning the son for his explosions, Dolan portrays the mother as a boundless fountain of tough love. She is Mommy dearest, without the twisted Joan Crawford irony. “Back in the days of I Killed My Mother,” Dolan says in the press notes, “I felt like I wanted to punish my mom. [But] through Mommy, I’m now seeking her revenge. Don’t ask.”

Widowed for three years, Diane “Die” Després (Dorval) cleans houses and occasionally translates children’s books. Her 15-year-old son Steve (Piton), afflicted with ADHD and given to violent outbursts, has started a fire in the school he’s been assigned to, causing the burning of another young inmate. Now Diane is to be Steve’s caregiver and teacher, while he would much rather be skateboarding or deliriously wheeling a shopping cart in traffic. Their verbal battles — in a raw Quebec patois that necessitated showing this French-language film with French subtitles — would singe the ears of the bickering couple in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But at heart there is love: in Steve’s buying Diane a necklace with the word MOMMY, and in Diane’s indefatigable championing of her son.

They get unexpected help from their neighbor Kyla (Clément), a high-school teacher on leave for depression, who agrees to tutor the boy. She and Diane get along like loving sisters, especially when they open the box wine and dissolve helplessly into giggles. But Steve, who has inchoate dreams of going to the Juilliard School, hates the idea of sitting still for an education, testing Kyla with rude taunts. When he rips off her own necklace, she wrestles him to the floor and, her nose to his, fiercely lays down the law. His response is that of a frightened child or puppy: he wets himself.

Missing his late father, and trying to be the man of his house the blond, good-looking Steve naturally resents the lonely lawyer Paul (Patrick Huard) whom Diane befriends in hopes he can ease Steve’s legal problems. In fact, Steve bubbles with an adolescent sexual tension that keeps threatening to boil over into transgression. But in a film whose only two females are maternal figures, the prime, primal theme is the love everyone needs, not the sex everyone wants. “I’m afraid you’ll stop loving me,” Steve tells Diane. She replies with a mother’s melancholy truth: “What’s gonna happen is I’m gonna be loving you more and more, and you’ll be loving me less and less. That’s just the natural way of life.”

Set in “a fictional Canadian future,” Mommy is a film about right now and always, about any family’s bonds and how the members fight to strengthen or break them. Dolan encases the story of Steve and Diane in a nearly nonstop playlist of oldies — chosen, the director imagines, by Steve’s dead father — featuring Sarah MacLachlan, Céline Dion and, in a crucial scene set in a karaoke bar, Andrea Bocelli.

Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin chose an unusual screen ratio. Instead of wide screen they went for narrow screen, like a vertical iPhone shot, perfect for to capture the length of a body or the anguish on a face, and to dramatize operatic feelings in a narrow field. In only two sequences does the image expand to the full screen, when Steve or Diane imagines life without social or spatial confines — until the sides of the image start closing, like prison walls around a convict’s dreams.

There’s a chance the Cannes jury, headed by filmmaker Jane Campion, will share the enthusiasm of the early critics and award Mommy the Palme d’Or. That would make Dolan the youngest director to take the Festival’s top prize — one year younger than Steve Soderbergh when he won for sex, lies and videotape in 1989. Dorval, Piton and Clément would be equally worthy of individual or ensemble acting awards, so intensely committed are they to the film’s combustible story and characters.

But prizes are irrelevant to a film of suffocating power and surprising warmth. Stripping himself of his stylistic borrowings from other directors, Dolan has found his own urgent voice and visual style. Mommy doesn’t aim for classical grandeur. Instead, it bursts through the screen with the rough vitality of real people, who love not wisely but too well.

TIME movies

Sports at Cannes: Wrestling with Foxcatcher, Scoring With Red Army

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum star in Foxcatcher, a strange, distant story of an Olympic wrestler and his patron, while in Red Army, Slava Fetisov radiates star quality on and off the ice

Wrestling is the most solitary and elemental of sports: one man grappling another in intimate combat. Ice hockey, meanwhile, is pure teamwork, especially as played by the Red Army team in its dominant decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It follows that Foxcatcher, about a wrestler, his brother and their coach, is an investigation of men less comfortable in speaking than in expressing themselves through physical activity that can turn violent — and that the documentary Red Army, focusing on defenseman Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, brims with camaraderie: high spirits and a few verbal high sticks.

Thanks to its star cast of Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo and its director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), Foxcatcher was among the most eagerly anticipated selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Red Army, from first-timer Gabe Polsky, is simply one of the best.

FOXCATCHER

On Jan. 26, 1996, John Éleuthère du Pont, scion of the gunpowder and chemicals fortune, shot and killed the wrestler Dave Schultz. Du Pont, 57, ran a wrestling school called Team Foxcatcher at his Newtown Square, Pa., estate, where Dave, 36, served as a coach. Dave’s brother Mark, 35, also lived and practiced at the estate. They are the only two brothers in U.S. wrestling history to win both Olympic and World championships.

Why did John kill Dave, whom he had treated as a friend and close colleague? Du Pont’s friends were baffled by a gentle man’s heinous eruption. At John’s trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense provided a reason. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but was convicted of third-degree murder, and died in 2010 in the Laurel Highlands State Correctional Facility in Somerset, Pa. He was 72.

(READ: Bennett Miller and Philip Seymour Hoffman on Capote)

Foxcatcher, from a screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, also declines to spell out a rationale. As Miller said at today’s press conference, his directorial style “is not so much telling a story as observing a story.” The movie, which saves the true story’s famous, fatal act of violence for the climax, is a murder mystery in which the killer’s motive remains a mystery. That makes Foxcatcher, for all its closeups of the main trio, a chilly, distant view of an enigma festering into an atrocity.

Truman Capote, as captured in Miller’s first feature by Philip Seymour Hoffman, was profligately articulate. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s General Manager played in Moneyball by Brad Pitt, communicated clearly in words, stats and caroming body English. The Foxcatcher men have no such eloquence; Bennett describes their mode of discourse as “repressed male noncommunication.” John du Pont (Carell) may have been bred to reticence; raising one’s voice on the Foxcatcher estate was simply not done. As for the Schultzes, they articulate their fury, grudges and superb skills in their sport.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman)

A marvelous early scene shows Dave (Ruffalo) leading Mark (Tatum) in a warmup exercise — a series of embraces, pats, grips and flips that eventually draws blood — and all to make Dave a more formidable wrestler. Beautifully choreographed and performed, and revealing emotional vectors that the rest of the film withholds, the scene in the wrestling circle is equally a fraternal fight and a love match.

John (Carell) wants into that circle. An accomplished ornithologist who authored several academic studies on the birds of the South Pacific, he chafes in the imperious shadow of his mother (a wonderfully haughty Vanessa Redgrave) and the 32,000 trophies and ribbons she has amassed as an equestrienne and stable owner. John considers horses “dumb. They eat and shit. That’s all they do.” His mother’s take on wrestling: “A low sport.” Perhaps eager to compete in the sports arena, he founds Team Foxcatcher — his own stable, with manflesh replacing horseflesh — and collects wrestlers dependent on his largesse. (Wrestling and boxing are the only two Olympic sports requiring amateur standing of its participants. The athletes must take side jobs or find a patron.)

(READ: The inside-baseball dish on Bennett Miller’s Moneyball)

“I have a deep love for the sport of wrestling,” John tells Mark when he flies the young man East for an interview. Dave, with a wife (Sienna Miller) and young child, wants to stay put; and Mark feels stranded without his guide and sparring partner. But John dangles this promise: “Without your brother you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” The movie portrays a rivalry between John and Dave, to be Mark’s mentors. Dave had played that role since he and his brothers were the children of a fractured family. Dave eventually brings his family to Foxcatcher, where he trains other wrestlers and, in the process, wrests from John the role of father figure.

Tatum’s Mark is a gentle galoot, so lacking in introspection that he seems not to understand his resentment as being John’s pawn; if he had taken revenge on his host, the killing would be as understandable as John’s shooting of Dave. And Ruffalo is fine as the more gregarious Schultz. Carell gives the big performance — in startle quotient, not in sweeping gestures or fuming arias, which he avoids.

(READ: Steven James Snyder on Channing Tatum in Magic Mike)

The nice-guy correspondent for The Daily Show, who graduated to star comedy roles in Evan Almighty and The 40 Year Old Virgin, and as the voice of Gru in the Despicable Me animated franchise, Carell has a melancholy suitable for lovable losers and, here, a lonely aristocrat. His delicate, creepy work occasionally obscured by a large prosthetic nose, he plays John as gray and graceless, an inert entity. John has repressed so many of his family anxieties, as well as his urges to watch muscular men wrestle for his pleasure, that he is nearly dead, emotionally, by the middle of the movie. Killing Mark may be the one way John has to prove he’s still alive.

Really, though, we have to guess at most of this, because Foxcatcher is almost as withholding as its characters. True to his directorial creed, Miller has acutely observed the collision of its three men’s temperaments. It remains for the viewer to tell, or guess at, the full story. —R.C.

RED ARMY

More than any form of filmmaking, the documentary demands star quality — a charismatic force at its center to drive home the political or human message. Polsky, director of Red Army, found his star in Slava Fetisov, part of the legendary Green Line of the U.S.S.R. ice hockey team. During his 13 seasons, the Red Army squad won seven World Championships (out of a possible 10) and two Olympic gold medals, losing only in 1980 to the U.S. team in the “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game. Defying the Soviet hierarchy, he left Russia for North American to play for the National Hockey League, spurring an exodus of other Soviet and European stars to the NHL. Many of his fellow Russians joined him on the Detroit Red Wings, which in 1997 and 1998 won the Stanley Cup.

Those are just Fetisov’s statistics. The man is even more impressive: a dominant presence off the ice and in front of Polsky’s camera, whether declaring his political independence, misting up at the memory of his first coach or, when the mood strikes him, giving his director a middle-finger salute. At the evening screening of Red Army, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux praised Fetisov as “this incredible actor, this character, this champion!” He is all of that in this exuberant, affecting film portrait, which could escape the niche of documentaries and become a popular attraction on the order of Searching for Sugar Man. The film has similar heart, humor and unbelievable-but-true narrative twists.

In the NHL, star players often skate freely toward the goal, a one-man show. In Soviet hockey, “The man with the puck is the servant of the other skaters.” Their coaches stressed teamwork, as developed in a decade of junior-league training, until the intricate weaving of the Green Line skaters approached the choreography of the Bolshoi Ballet or the chess mastery of Garry Kasparov. (One NHL announcer calls them “the Soviet Symphony.”) The long years of excruciating practice forged a comradeship, in the best sense, of Fetisov and his mates. Surviving the 1980 Lake Placid humiliation, and weathering disagreements that seemed like betrayals, the Green Liners were a band of brothers. Some of them reunited with Fetisov in the NHL years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Fetisov, who speaks excellent English from his decade in North America, is still a Russian at heart. He returned there, at the urging of Vladimir Putin served as Minister of Sport from 2002 to 2008. Fetisov deflects some of Polsky’s questions by saying, “I’m a politician now.” As a Soviet skater, he was also a political and social force: he and his team lifted the U.S.S.R. at a time when the West was the best at everything but hockey. As one Russian commentator notes, “The story of hockey is the story of our country.”

Ice hockey is not America’s story, and at the moment Russia is not the most popular foreign power. But this playful, poignant film presents a human story that transcends decades, borders and ideologies. —M.C.

TIME Cannes Film Festival

The Wild West in the South of France

The Western, a treasured genre on life support in the new Hollywood, shows up in full regalia or in metaphorical disguise in four Cannes entries

The Cannes Film Festival has become a rescue home for lost movie genres. In our last post we discussed the return of the erotic drama, notably Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room. Today, it’s the Western. The backbone of American movies from the 1930s through the ’70s, the Western nearly disappeared as Hollywood traded in the historical past for the fantasy future, and six-shooters for light sabers.

Yes, Star Wars is a Western in space suits (actually, it’s a version of Akira Kurosawa’s “Eastern Western” The Hidden Fortress, inspired by many a Hollywood oater). And the superheroes of Marvel movies are often outsized outsiders with grudges: John Wayne types who save the world instead of a stagecoach. But real Westerns, set in 19th-century pioneer days as wagon wheels dig ruts into the unforgiving plains, are hard to find — unless you come to this year’s Cannes and find two playing on the same day, and a couple of other films that look like Westerns in modern or postmodern garb. The directors come from Denmark, Argentina, Australia and America, with Hollywood curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones leading the pack.

(READ: Corliss on the Western — Its Long Life, Death and Rebirth)

Jones has played many a varmint; he directed himself as one in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which premiered here in 2005 and won Jones a Best Actor award, while Guillermo Arriaga’s script took the Screenplay prize. He’s back as the star, director and co-adaptor of Glendon Swarthout’s novel The Homesman. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a sturdy spinster in the Nebraska territories of the 1850s, agrees to transport three young women, deranged by the harsh pioneer life, to Iowa and the loving care of a minister’s wife (Meryl Streep). Putting a reverse spin on Horace Greeley’s dictum of manifest destiny, the motto here is “Go East, not-so-young woman.”

(READ: Corliss’s review of Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada)

She can’t do the job alone, and finds an unlikely partner in George Briggs (Jones), a seedy claim-jumper she finds dangling on horseback from the end of a lyncher’s rope. For cutting that rope, and $300 at the end of the journey, Briggs agrees to drive Cuddy’s cart and the three madwomen to a place where they may find rest and he his freedom. This unlikely pair — who have kin in the roles taken by Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen and Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara — form a workplace bond as they fight off an Indian incursion and tend to their pathetic charges, two catatonic and one believing herself to be possessed by demons.

Swarthout’s novels inspired movie Westerns with prime flinty stars: Randolph Scott in 7th Cavalry, Gary Cooper in They Came to Cordura and John Wayne in his final film, The Shootist. (Another Swarthout novel became the prototype Spring Break comedy Where the Boys Are.) The Homesman has been on the radar of American moviemakers ever since its publication in 1988; Paul Newman hoped to direct and star in a movie version, and playwright-actor Sam Shepard wanted to write one. What’s amazing and depressing is that few movies in the intervening quarter century centrally addressed the issues of women and their hardships in pioneer days; Kelly Reichardt’s indie Western Meek’s Cutoff is the only one that springs to mind. So it’s past time we had this film.

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of Meek’s Cutoff)

The Jones adaptation closely follows the book’s plot surprises (multiple hangings) and its theme of intertwined redemption and despair. His Homesman never takes flight into poetry, and doesn’t delve into the psychology of the three women (played by Mirando Otto, Sonja Richter and Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer); they are just worrisome cargo, wild animals in Mary Bee’s one-cart circus.

Even the prickly interdependence of the spinster and her mulish employee has less drama than the relationship of the two to the grim grandeur of their environment. Ace cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Babel, Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street) wrings sprung-rhythm poetry from the New Mexico and Georgia settings that doubled for Nebraska and Iowa. The land and the life were so harsh, one wonders that more men and women, when their golden dreams turned to nightmares, didn’t forsake the way West and head back East, either raving mad or seeking the sane comfort of civilization.

The grim tropes of the classic Western infused two other movies that received their world premieres this Cannes weekend. David Michôd’s The Rover relocates the genre’s elemental animosities to the desolate Australian outback, and the past to the near-future, “10 years after the Collapse,” when (according to Michôd’s scenario) Australia is “a resource-rich Third World power.” Mining has drawn men there — tough men, their ethics defined by their appetites. These Westerns ride in trucks, not on horses, and the force that propels the bitter loner Eric (Guy Pearce) is a simple one: “I want my car back.”

Borrowing the tone, if not the ferocious kick, of George Miller’s first Mad Max movie, Michôd sets up some ornery brotherhood in Eric’s meeting with the American Rey (Robert Pattinson), whose elder brother was one of the thugs who stole Eric’s car. We wish that their relationship played out with the complex criminal vectors that the writer-director brought to his first feature, Animal Kingdom. Little more than parched-earth pastiche, the movie doesn’t live up to Michôd’s grand synopsis: “It’s about the rapacious capacity for under-regulated Western economies to destroy themselves, and it’s about the seemingly inevitable shift of global power.” Actually, it’s about an hour 42 minutes.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom)

Pablo Fendrik’s The Ardor exchanges the American desert for the Argentinian rainforest — though, in all that humidity, times and men are just as hard. Mercenaries in the employ of some multinational nasties have seized a family’s property, killed the father and kidnapped the daughter (Alice Braga). She needs a savior and gets one in Kai (Gael García Bernal), who grew up in the area and has returned to take revenge on those who would despoil it. Braga’s intelligent luster and Bernal’s sandpaper machismo make a combustible match, in a Westernish melodrama with good guys, bad guys and a climactic fight to save one of the world’s last great natural resources.

(READ: Gael Garcìa Bernal in the Argentinian Oscar nominee No)

Kristian Levring’s The Salvation contains aspects of all the other Cannes weekend “Westerns”: fist fights and gunplay, vast expanses of remorseless terrain, strong women ravaged by savage men and, behind these villains, the distant entrepreneurs who will benefit from exploiting a new frontier. The movie is also, on its own, a terrifying, tremendous fun.

1871: Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) has come to America to build a homestead for his wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius, better known as the singer Oh Land) and their 10-year-old son. They have finally joined him, and on a stagecoach to the homestead, two scurvy dudes make a play for Marie, and when Jon pulls a gun on one of the men, the other puts a knife to the boy’s throat and kicks Jon off the coach. When he catches up with it, the driver is dead, as are Jon’s wife and child. Jon blows the varlets to bits, and totes his beloveds’ corpses to his home.

(READ: How Kristian Levring helped created the film form called Dogme)

That’s about the first 10 minutes of a Western omelet that pays tribute to the films of John Ford (especially his greatest Western, The Searchers) and Sergio Leone, while creating its own savory personality. Black Creek, the one town near Jon’s home, is in the effective ownership of a gang of villains led by the imposing Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), brother of one of the men Jon killed. In recompense, he insists that the villagers choose two of their members to die; the Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) and Sheriff (Douglas Henshall) cravenly oblige. Delarue’s brother had been married to Princess (Eva Green), whose dark beauty is scarred by an American Indian who sliced her lips and cut out her tongue. As Jon is captured and tortured by the gang, and escapes with the help of his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrant), he finds that Princess may be his only hope in a den of devils in the hottest circle of Hell.

Even if the movie weren’t super-cool, it would be worth watching for the interplay of all these miscreants, particularly Mikkelsen (who plays Hannibal Lecter on the NBC series and won Cannes’ Best Actor prize two years ago for The Hunt) and Green, the modern screen’s great siren. But this is more than an actors showcase. Neither poking fun at the genre nor elevating it to wild, Tarantinian apotheosis, The Salvation restores the Western as a living form with artistic and political applications to our world. One hint: the town is called Black Creek because there’s oil underneath. And back East, some men more malevolent than Delarue are driving the townspeople off their farms for the crudest reason of all.

TIME movies

Sex and Death at Cannes

The French film fest still loves sex

Hollywood has largely forgotten the power of sexual drama, the ecstasies and pain of intimate contact. But the Cannes Film Festival still loves movies that put erotic eruptions on the big screen. Last year, the French entry Blue Is The Warmest Color, depicting a lesbian affair between a restless teenager and her older lover, received the Palme d’Or from a jury headed by Steven Spielberg.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Blue Is the Warmest Color)

This year’s slate features two studies of the uses and sad abuses of sexuality. One film, the French The Blue Room, which treats the consequences of an adulterous affair, is among the finest on view so far. The other, the Canadian The Captive, fails to grapple successfully with the sick side of sex: the criminal misuse of children.

THE BLUE ROOM. The Belgian novelist Georges Simenon had ample opportunity to consider the dramatic vectors of adulterous liaisons: according to his own confession or boast, he had sex with more than 10,000 women. As productive as he was profligate, with nearly 200 novels and as many short stories, Simenon often wrote of men and women drawn into affairs that end in pain or violence. Among his finest essays on the wages of sex is his 1964 novel The Blue Room, which director-star Mathieu Amalric has made into a film that is splendidly taut, forcefully understated and, at just 76 minutes, blessedly concise. It earns admiration both for the mood it creates and for the melodramatic excesses it avoids.

Julien Gahyde (Amalric), seemingly content in his marriage to Delphine (Léa Drucker), has for the past few months indulged in an affair with Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), the sultry wife of one of Julien’s old classmates. A tigress in bed, the passionate and possessive Esther sometimes bites Julien’s mouth, as if signaling to attentive eyes — Delphine’s, for example — that he belongs to her. If she were free, Esther asks him, would he leave Delphine? His answer is enigmatic.

Two sudden deaths later, Julien and Esther are arrested, though the prosecuting judge (Laurent Poitrenaux) shines the searchlight of his skepticism on the philandering husband. The “blue room” refers not only to the site of his illicit assignations but also to the color of the trial chamber at the end of the film. Both are places where sex leads to severe judgment.

(READ: Mathieu Amalric as a Bond villain in Quantum of Solace)

Shooting in the old “Academy ratio” (before wide screen) and making exemplary use of composer Grégoire Hetzel’s similarly classic score, Amalric expertly draws the noose of circumstance around Julien. He creates recurring visual motifs, like the housefly that indicates the first sign of trouble; the fly shape also appears as a drop of blood, from Esther’s love bite, on Julien’s white shirt.

Amalric plays the hapless adulterer as someone condemned for the merest infraction; in France, a husband’s sexual transgression is often considered no more serious than a parking ticket. The revelation is Cléau in her first major film role. (She also cowrote the script with Amalric.) Her unconventional beauty can express the allure of a dream lover or the quiet scheming of a demon. In a performance that disdains operatic excess, Cléau never raises her voice. She can seduce or threaten with the merest smile. Like this excellent little film, she achieves maximum impact with minimal means.

THE CAPTIVE. When did Atom Egoyan last make a good movie? Born in Cairo to Armenian parents and raised in Canada, Egoyan made some impressive early films, The Adjuster and Exotica, and won Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize (second place) for his Russell Banks adaptation The Sweet Hereafter. That was 17 years ago, and it’s been downhill ever since; he never validated his early promise as the chronicler of ordinary folks with secret sins and kinks. Yet the Festival keeps inviting him back, perhaps because he keeps casting red-carpet-worthy actors in his projects: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon for Where the Truth Lies, and Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson and Mireille Enos for his latest disappointment.

(READ: Richard Schickel on Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter)

The Captive recapitulates the arc of Egoyan’s career: early promise, followed by arrant misfires. Cass (Peyton Kennedy), the nine-year-old daughter of a loving couple (Reynolds and Enos), is kidnapped by a child-sex ring. Nine years later, Cass (now played by Alexia Fast) has been compelled to originate Skype chats with young girls whom her captors will abduct and exploit. A psychological study of a young woman brainwashed from victim into predator could be fascinating, if only Egoyan — or another, stronger director — had pursued it.

Instead, he tries to build tension with the skeptical or hostile interrogation of the parents by two cops: Dawson and the egregiously overacting Scott Speedman. (Egoyan should look at The Blue Room to see how an official interrogation should be filmed.) Virtually very scene plays as too flat or monstrously jagged. As Cass’s captor, Kevin Durand serves up a cacophony of twitches and sick grins that the cops somehow don’t notice.

Winter in the southern Ontario locations allows for many chilly vistas, but only reminds viewers of the emotive power the director drew out of snowscapes in The Sweet Hereafter, back when an Atom Egoyan movie was a promise of dour pleasures and not of another missed opportunity.

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