Cannes Report #5 (American Honey, Personal Shopper, Hell or High Water)

One thing about the Cannes film festival is that you watch so many noteworthy films that you are bound to lost track of some. Case in point David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water (8/10) which screened as part of the Un Certain Regard program. Mackenzie’s previous film, Starred Up, showed real promise for tightly knit action and suspense. It also featured a stellar performance from then up and coming Jack O’Connel. Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. It’s a heist movie that can also be interpreted as a meditative western.

Pine plays a divorced dad that, with the participation of his ex-con brother played by Foster, concocts a desperate scheme to save his family farm, which just so it happens has discovered richly abundant petroleum. They both hit Midlands banks across the state, one after another. Meanwhile, Bridges plays Marcus a Deputy Sheriff that is about to retire, but is sucked right back in along with his half-Comanche partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). On paper it sounds trivial and almost too clichéd to work, yet Marcus is a crowd pleaser, a man with so much wisdom and no-bulls thoughts that Bridges’ performance turns almost transcendentally comic.

The bank-robbing scenes are impressively shot and choreographed and rank among the very best the genre can offer. Mackenzie is about to hit the big time with this one as Hollywood will no doubt be knocking at his door with a lot more opportunities.

The film was written by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote last year’s similarly constructed Sicario. Oddly enough this film gets itself into similar structural issues as the former film. The talky final scene is, although well thought-out, unnecessarily prolonged and by the mid-way point a few oddball narrative choices get made that do the film a disservice. Those are minor complaints for a film that is very much the kind that Andrew Dominik tried to make four years ago with Killing Them Softly. This one works in spades, that one sadly did not.

Olivier Assayas’ latest, Personal Shopper (8/10) was the film that got booed the most. Although highly stylized, the film didn’t deserve that reaction. Revolving around a ghost story that, not by accident, happens to take place in a fashion industry filled with artifice, the film is meant to be absorbed for what it is: A taut, terrific venture into the unknown.

Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen, a top-model’s personal shopper that also, supposedly, happens to be telepathic. When her brother dies she begins to question the many curious events happening around her, which includes a mysterious texter. The texting scene is close to half an hour long and is the make it or break point for many of the film’s champions and detractors. I found it entirely absorbing. Same for the rest of the movie, except for a unfortunate weak coda that ends the movie on an ambiguous note, instead of in a clear and concise manner.

No matter, this is top-notch filmmaking with an impeccable performance by Stewart, who hasn’t really had to carry a full movie on her own until this one. She is alone in many scenes throughout the picture and does an admirable job leaving you in a state of hypnosis with her mannerisms and quirks. Assayas, a great director, quite clearly wanted to create a supernatural atmosphere, with much influence on the 1960 classic The Haunting. As far as those kind of movies go, there is nothing wrong in putting Personal Shopper next to them.

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (8/10) was an even more polarizing film. A 160 minute road trip to Americana hell, if you will. An On the Road for and about millennials. Cannes is not the last we’ll hear about this movie and I’m perfectly fine with that. No one should dismiss it, for it has so many great moments in its scattered running time that one might have to look through a bit of rambling incoherence to find them.

Non-professional actress Sasha Lane plays Star, a lost American soul that decides to hop onboard a bus full of Magazine-selling kids that go cross country to make money and sell magazine subscriptions. On the way they listen to pop radio and have sing alongs. Those sing-alongs end up taking up the full-length of a song. Some are quite exceptionally moving and exciting, whereas others meander. It’s just that kind of a movie, either you go with its flow or you just don’t. I did.

It’s not just singalongs. There’s an admirable sense of free-wheeling going on here. Arnold is depicting an American society of millennials that are disconnected and disconcerted with the American way. They’d rather sell their bodies than live in a capitalist-run society trying to live the “American dream”. As the film jogs along we get a fuller sense of the dynamics at play here. The structure, which is infuriating at times, runs constant repetitive circles, and yet we are fully engaged with much of what we see. There’s an overall sense of unimaginable freedom in Arnold’s filmmaking. It’s a vital, great movie that could probably use a trim.