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Cannes 2022 analysis: The most important films are hard to watch

For films like “Crimes of the Future,” “Eo,” and “The Dam,” intimidation is their reward.

The mass-market film industry must constantly justify its existence by constantly finding new ways of entertainment. The Cannes Film Festival also makes an argument for the medium, however contradictory: the films that matter most are the hardest to watch.

This year, body horror solved a double bill in the festival’s second week. In competition were David Cronenberg’s dystopian “Future Crimes,” which depicts a strange future in which performers grow their own organs and coexist with them on stage. Down the street in the directors’ two-week sidebar, an even greater provocation can be found with the groundbreaking documentary “De Humani Corporis Fabrica”.

Directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel investigate the intricacies of the human body with such precision that the film initially seemed to dare. While magnified images of blood vessels and brain tissue continue to dominate the screen, they take on a painfully abstract dimension. A carcinoma appears under a microscope in bright colors like a Pollock’s painting. While Cronenberg relishes the potential for the human body to become art, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel show that it does exist.

Cronenberg expected strikes, but this is exaggerated in the context of his film and its clever tone. “De Humani Corporis Fabrica,” resulted in more audiences flocking to the exits, something Paravel also expected; She included the trigger warning while delivering the first scan. Uneasy viewers had other options elsewhere, but those wishing to take the journey discovered that gazing at its hideous aesthetics became a transcendent, even meditative, experience about the nature of human existence. By the time the credits arrived, the movie had found its audience.

Castaing-Taylor and Paravel broke out on the international festival circuit with “Leviathan,” a fascinating avant-garde look at life in and around a Massachusetts fishing boat. Filmmakers sometimes went so far as to yank their small cameras out of the side of a ship with a string, then pull them backwards. The images swung from fish in the sea to soaring gulls and, finally, the metal ship and its sailors, encapsulating every aspect of the ecosystem in one stunning shot. The duo brings a similar cosmic vision to their new movie by transforming a hospital ward into a portal through which one can see the essence of humanity. The bickering and office chatter of working life sits side by side with horrific surgeries. The film views our species as a poetic collection of bits and pieces in search of the greater whole.

This same endeavor lies at the heart of another film by the two directors, The Dam, which marks the directorial debut of Beirut-born Parisian plastic artist Ali Shari. A silent and almost cheerful look at the experiences of construction worker Maher (Maher al-Khair, a professional construction worker and non-professional actor), Sherry’s immersive saga set in a remote Sudanese river blends regional life with news reports about civilian protests against dictator Omar Al-Bashir. These updates are remote and part of the routine of the protagonist, who acquires mystical qualities. As Sherry develops a mesmerizing audiovisual tapestry out of mud and water, the land comes to life so that it looks as if Maher has created a fantastic beast for Frankenstein.

The conceptual implications are clear enough: New opportunities can be created within this vacant desert through sheer will and determination. Maher dreams of melting clay figures to encourage his journey, and while his actual destination remains mysterious at best, it is always an immersive and unforgettable experience. Sherry seems to suggest that the potential for rebellion goes beyond the mobilization of political and social forces, requiring more personal resolve. This mysterious journey doesn’t argue this point so much as it puts the viewers inside.

This is what we come to festivals for. Sure, “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” red carpets keep audiences happy, but the real Cannes cinema wants to challenge audiences rather than pamper them. The art market needs movies that people want to see, but the medium works best when it shows us the world as we never expected it to.

This is where Eo comes in. The spiritual successor to Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski to Robert Bresson Au Hasard Balthazar does little more than advertise. It’s literally about the plight of the titular donkey (“Eo” is the Polish phonetic version of “hee-haw”) as it travels multiple times, from a circus to a farm and even becomes the life of the party in a pub.

Eo joins Cow and Gundha in a recent trend of active projects that use the medium to examine an animal’s consciousness. Although sometimes harsh on the hand, Skolimowski’s film works like “The Dam” by prioritizing image and sound over dialogue, using the medium to question the limits of the natural world and encourage viewers to look deeper. It is worth all the effort.

In Skolimowski’s case, the “Eo” story is also about humans drifting in and out of the frame. Io hangs around and watches the world, interacting when he must, but people argue and bicker in an endless spiral of needless complications. This contrast makes “Eo” a better companion piece to “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” ​​than “Future Crimes”. The documentary shows people are just individual bloody bits, while “Eo” explains how poorly they fit together as a larger whole.

With all the weaknesses of the human body, there is strength in the potential of the human mind. That’s an important message in “Aftersun,” one of this year’s undeniable hacks, and a welcome deep dive into what it’s like to think for yourself.

US-based Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells offers a fascinating look at 11-year-old Sophie’s memories of vacationing with her father (the bleak Paul Mescal) in the late ’90s. The film occasionally transitions into the present day as the adult woman is still haunted by the past, but “Aftersun” remains in its self-contained and fragile connections to the little moments as they take on more significance. As Sophie reflects on and rethinks her relationship with her father, his melancholy state of mind becomes an interesting subject for study. Wells puts us on this quest, using the quiet aggregation of moments to assess the bigger picture – how memories acquire new meaning over time, even as they retain a subtle current of mystery. Beneath the gorgeous final shot, ‘Aftersun’ features a clever visual stylist capable of injecting deep meaning into minute details. While some movies dare us to keep watching, “Aftersun” makes us look deeper.

“After the sun”

Cannes Film Festival

In Cannes, this endeavor often goes against familiar artistic visions. Defenders of Baz Luhrmann’s bloated and choppy biography of “Elvis” said that extreme vision was Baz’s “purpose,” the kind of assessment that could sound like an excuse. It’s also the result of a filmmaker determined to realize his own explosion becomes self-justifying. This is the best possible outcome for cinematic artists with real potential; With the Aftersun voyage taking off after Cannes, one can only hope that in a few years time festival-goers will rejoice with a delicate new work, Very Charlotte Wales.

The future of cinema is everywhere in Cannes, from the two-day filmmakers’ seminar to the pervasive posters promoting its sponsorship of TikTok. “What is cinema?” The curious title of the French critic and André Bazin’s 1967 seminal book in Cannes was the usual, and since he had called the exhibition room Bazin, this question remains within its limits. There are no easy answers, but after all these years, the question is still worth asking.

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