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French actress Beatrice Rosen poses as she arrives for the screening of the film ‘Maps to the Stars’ at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 19. (AFP)
Pattinson’s makeover gets edgier Carell surprise, British biopic lead race for Cannes gold

LOS ANGELES, May 20, (Agencies): After the last couple of days at Cannes, it’s easy to see why Robert Pattinson is on the cover of French Premiere with the headline “la metamorphose.” The two movies that have brought Pattinson to the Croisette are weird, dark, supremely edgy and nothing like what we might expect from an actor who became famous as the vampire dude in the “Twilight” movies. His reinvention (at least when he strays into the indie world) is indeed a metamorphosis. And Cannes has become an accessory to his intriguing makeover, which actually started a couple of years ago when he came to the festival with David Cronenberg’s austere and arty “Cosmopolis.”

This year, he’s back with Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” and David Michod’s “The Rover” which premiered on back-to-back days at Cannes. Both are bloody, brutal and strange, and both are terrific. And the remarkable thing is that “Maps to the Stars,” in which Pattinson plays a chauffeur driver and aspiring actor who ends up having sex with Julianne Moore in the back seat of his car before almost everybody in the whole movie self-destructs spectacularly, turns out to be only the runner-up in the competition to see which of Pattinson’s Cannes movies is darker and edgier.

The dark ‘n’ edgy crown really goes to “The Rover,” a brutally brilliant and brilliantly brutal post-apocalyptic road movie that crawls along creepily before periodically erupting into violence. Nobody in this movie walks away clean — but then, nobody walks in clean, either. That’s hardly a surprise, given that Michod burst on the festival scene in 2010 when he took the black and provocative crime drama “Animal Kingdom” to Sundance, starting a run that gave him some real heat and landed Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination.

“The Rover,” which is screening out of competition and will be released in the US by A24, is more ambitious than that tightly-wound family-that-kills-together story. Set in a grimy time described only as “10 years after the collapse,” his new film creates a vision of a ravaged future in which nothing is shiny and everyone you meet will happily rip you off, rob you blind or leave you in a pool of blood. A lone traveler played by Guy Pearce has his car stolen at the beginning of the film and leaves a trail of bodies as he tries to get it back; early in the journey, he picks up a passenger in Pattinson, a none-too-bright drifter with a drawl, a dopey grin and a few of his own reasons for making the trip.

Of course, you can’t make a road movie about a savage post-industrial, post-disaster Australia without summoning up the ghosts of “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” (if not “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” which occupies its own ignoble niche). But George Miller’s ‘70s and ‘80s movies had better cars, more stylish wardrobes and much more of an action-flick sensibility; Michod isn’t afraid to rachet up the tension with long stretches in which not much happens. (What is it with brutal minimalism at this year’s Cannes? Lisandro Alonso’s Un Certain Regard entry “Jouja,” with Viggo Mortensen as a Danish officer trekking through the South American looking for his daughter, hits some of the same notes but is so minimalist as to qualify as an art project as much as a movie.)

Pearce is an excellent anchor for this angry trip through a vicious and parched landscape, but we knew he would be. But Pattinson, who Cronenberg sometimes seemed to use specifically because of a certain blankness (particularly in “Cosmopolis”), gets a weird and meaty role and turns out to know what to do with it. While “The Rover” played at a Cannes screening on Monday afternoon, incidentally, high winds buffeted the canvas sails and panels that made up part of the salle de Soixantieme screening room. At times it sounded as if the building was about to come down in some massive conflagration — and they couldn’t have been showing a more appropriate movie if it did.

A Hollywood wrestling drama, a British biopic of an iconic artist and an intimate Turkish look at a troubled marriage led the pack Tuesday for the top prize at Cannes. Halfway through the competition, critics cheered for a few stand-out pictures among 18 contenders vying for the coveted Palme d’Or in what they called a surprise-filled year at the world’s premier film festival. An international critics’ poll in British film magazine Screen had Mike Leigh’s “Mr Turner” a whisker ahead of the slow-burn domestic drama “Winter Sleep” by Nuri Bilge Ceylan of Turkey, whose career Cannes has long championed. But a Monday screening of “Foxcatcher”, after the poll’s publication, starring US comic actor Steve Carell as chemicals fortune heir John du Pont generated excited buzz in the halls of the sprawling main venue, the Palais. Based on the real-life 1996 murder of an Olympic wrestling medallist by du Pont, the film features Carell — nearly unrecognisable behind facial prosthetics — in an understated performance that is a far cry from his antics in TV’s “The Office” and “40-Year-Old Virgin”.

Scott Roxborough of the trade weekly Hollywood Reporter said “Foxcatcher” was “already getting Oscar buzz” for Carell. And Justin Chang of movie business magazine Variety said the picture by Bennett Miller (“Capote”, “Moneyball”) was an “acrid, anguished commentary on the temptations of wealth, the abuse of power and the downside of the human drive for success”. “Mr Turner” was widely seen as a return to form by the 71-year-old Leigh, who won the Palme d’Or in 1996 for “Secrets and Lies”. JMW Turner, the 19th century landscape painter credited with blazing a trail for modern art, is played by character actor Timothy Spall, best known for a recurring role in the “Harry Potter” movies. Spall depicts Turner as an artist struggling with his inner demons in what critics said was a bravura performance.

German critic Jan Schulz-Ojala awarded it the maximum four stars while Peter Bradshaw of London’s Guardian newspaper called the picture “glorious”. Cannes watchers said “Winter Sleep” by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who already has a mantel full of lesser prizes, could finally bring him the Palme d’Or. His feature was the bookies’ favourite to win ahead of the 12-day festival. Variety called the story of a wealthy retired actor whose self-deception and hypocrisy hobble his marriage “a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus” that, despite its over three-hour running time, mesmerised cinema-goers.

Jean-Philippe Guerand, a critic with Film Francais for more than two decades, called the competition films a “good selection full of surprises”. He said that while a few Cannes regulars such as Canadian film-maker Atom Egoyan had failed to live up to their reputations, “Wild Tales”, an Argentine grab bag of uproarious revenge fantasies by little-known director Damian Szifron had proved a delight. He also hailed “Timbuktu” by Abderrahmane Sissako, the first feature about the jihadist takeover in Mali and the defiance of the locals that helped defeat it. “It’s a courageous film that makes a key contribution: showing us things we’ve heard about but never seen,” Guerand told AFP.

“The film also manages to make you laugh even at tragic things and on top of that, is visually exceptional.”
Meanwhile audiences embraced “The Wonders” by Italian director Alice Rohrwacher, one of two entries by women in the race, a tender, slow-moving tale of a family of beekeepers. But despite big expectations, “The Homesman”, a “women’s Western” directed by Tommy Lee Jones and starring Hilary Swank, divided critics, along with Canadian provocateur David Cronenberg’s vicious Hollywood send-up, “Maps to the Stars”. Roxborough told AFP the rest of the festival could have a few more gems in store ahead of awards night on Saturday. He cited “Two Days, One Night” by the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgian brothers who have already won twice at Cannes, as well as Michel Hazanavicius’ follow-up to “The Artist”. “Leviathan”, a drama from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, was also “hotly tipped” for prizes.

It’s not often that a film-maker, especially an African one, uses a movie to pay tribute to politicians. But that’s exactly what French-Ivorian director Philippe Lacote did in “Run”, his contemporary drama about a man who flees after killing his country’s prime minister. Lacote, however, is keen to stress that he is not referring to the African continent’s current crop of leaders. “Run” pays tribute through one of its characters, a politician named Assa, to post-independence African politicians who Lacote believes were driven by idealism not greed and were pushed out by a raft of corrupt strongmen.

“They (the ousted politicians) were intellectuals... and they had real ideals for Africa. They entered politics and maybe after 10 years they were destroyed by people who wanted money,” he told AFP in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival. “I wanted to make a homage to this generation,” said the film-maker who grew up in a working class area of Abidjan and whose mother is Ivorian and father is French.

Lacote, 43, whose film is being shown in the festival’s closely-watched new talent section, predicted that young Africans would in future be unwilling to put up with leaders who “forget their people”. “It will come. It’s beginning today. I see a lot of young Africans who want to be international, to develop something in Africa without violence. There is a new generation,” he said. Ivory Coast’s former strongman Laurent Gbagbo is currently on trial in The Hague charged with crimes against humanity following post-election violence in 2010/11 that claimed more than 3,000 lives. His election rival Alassane Ouattara, now president, eventually ousted him and the opposition has since decried what it calls “victor’s justice”.

“Their (the younger generation’s) motivation is to live like other people in the world,” Lacote said, adding that they were proud to be African and wanted to interact with the rest of the world as equals. The film-maker said he was relatively optimistic about the future, although he said the country’s politics was still dysfunctional and divisive and would take years to transform itself. But he said he drew some hope from the events that followed the tragic death of a beautiful young model, Awa Fadiga, who went to hospital after an assault.

Staff left her in a corridor, resulting in her death from neglect and sparking a social-media driven protest against her treatment. “There was a movement on Facebook, by the media, and the director of the hospital was obliged to leave. It’s the first time (something like this has happened) in Ivory Coast.” The reaction, he said, was unprecedented and was a clear sign that people were starting to voice demands for reforms to improve their daily lives. “It’s new. It’s not about politics, it’s not about left or right (or) ethnicity, it’s about the problems of society,” he said. Politics aside, Lacote has another problem — being a film director in a country with hardly any cinemas. “It is a little strange,” he said, adding that over the past 20 years all but one or two cinemas in the capital Abidjan had been turned into churches due to a growth in Evangelism.

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