RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Cannes '11 Day 10: Total psychos

Posted by Wesley Morris  May 20, 2011 06:41 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

After every 8:30 a.m. screening, the audience is herded through two sets of double doors into the bright marble lobby of the Palais, where, with unconditional desperation, assorted camera crews wait to suck from passersby an opinion on the movie they just saw. I never know where these conversations go. I know a crew works for the festival, but I've never seen what they shoot on any of the monitors around the Palais. And, generally, I'm not ready to talk to myself about the movie I've just seen, let alone to a cameraman and a reporter. Usually, I pretend to read something. Once or twice, I've faked a phone call. Occasionally, I'll have a seatmate with whom a clean exit can be made.

The Skin I Live in.jpgAnyway, yesterday there was no need. The cameras were all being occupied. That's how desperately people wanted to tell -- well, tell who exactly? France? Italy? South Korea? -- how much they liked or didn't like Pedro Almodóvar's "The Skin I Live in," which ended to big applause. It's Almodóvar reaching back to his sickest, kinkiest self, and it's nice to see him trying to luxuriate in sleaze again, especially sleaze as twisted as a story about a freaky plastic surgeon, in Toledo, Spain, who, mourning his dead wife, creates for himself a human sex toy. You'll have to see for yourself how and precisely why (the movie is certain to leave Cannes with US distribution).

Antonio Banderas is the doctor, and he seems winkingly at home with the director who made him a star. They haven't worked together in 21 years, and Almodóvar conducts his old friend in a state of full arousal. Most of the shotmaking is inspired, and the cast, as usual, is willing to do anything he asks, especially Elena Anaya, pictured with Banderas above and below, who plays Banderas's most committed patient. Marisa Paredes is Banderas's housekeeper. Though this being Almodóvar, she's also far more than that. At some point, she's bound and gagged by an estranged son (Roberto Álamo) who barges into the doctor's manse dressed head to toe in an outré tiger costume (yes, a print of the tiger's head growls from the crotch). Watching Almodóvar take his signature detours into the past is fun, since the man who invented cinematic TMI also has no idea what it means. The titles signifying a leap back to the present gets a big laugh, too -- it took about an hour to return.

Skin in live in 2.jpg

The film, which is taken from a Thierry Jonquet novel, cooks up sexual assault, gender reassignment, an impressive body count, and one shot of prosthetic penises arranged before a horrified young man so that they resemble the bars of a prison cell. This is a luscious, playful movie. The twists in the plot jostle and, even in its grotesquerie, the movie has a staggering beauty that I think we just take for granted with Almodóvar. It occurred to me (and to a few other people) that Almodóvar is doing David Cronenberg here. And yet I don't know that Cronenberg could have pulled this off with the blitheness or sentiment that Almodóvar has. The movie satisfyingly concludes with a great, crowning irony -- the sort of tender, twisted, perfectly done endings that Cronenberg might admire but would never attempt.

I suppose that's the problem with this movie. It's not nearly nasty enough. Perversion and psychopathology have never seem less psycho -- I mean, in this world insanity so passes for normal that you don't feel the craziness. It's like seeing someone gesticulating to you on the other side of a window and having no idea what they're saying. You worry that Almodóvar's senses of horror and melodrama have hardened into mannerism, that he's directing a bit in his sleep. Still, if that 's the case, Almodóvar-by-numbers is still a good deal better than no Almodóvar at all.

So what I said before about not knowing where that post-screening footage winds up? Well, I know where some of it goes. I'm sitting in the press room and just caught myself and some colleagues walk by on one of the festival monitors. We all look pretty happy, so I'm assuming we all were leaving "Drive," which premiered last night and, apparently, was what we all needed: cars chases, car crashes, and Albert Brooks slicing people with razors and dinnerware. This is the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's seventh movie --perhaps you've seen his "Pusher" films or 2009's "Bronson" -- but his first for America. It's in the main competition for the US, and it's a vicious calling card.

Drive.jpgAll the grimness that's missing in the Almodóvar is here in force. Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman, mechanic, and getaway car driver, who gets mixed up with gangsters, played by Brooks and Ron Perlman (who's a kind of starry curiosity in France; the Salle Debussy erupted in cheers at his grinning first scene). He seems like a cool blank but is revealed to be a highly functioning, moral-minded psychopath (that's him pictured to the left with the hammer). Oh, what he and Dr. Banderas could do with just two hours! 

"Drive" had me from its near wordless opening, which, just through crisp staging and superb editing, told us everything we need to know -- about what's going on and what the stakes are. There is, then, video-game-arcade electro-pop and a title sequence done up neon-pink that says "Dear Michael Mann, this is for you. Love, 1985." Refn has a big, thick style. It's impasto filmmaking. He can make a  lot happen with narrative little (though there is a script by Hossein Aminii). Here Refn finds about a half-dozen ways to disturb utter stillness with grisly violence and nudge the tiniest bit at the limits of time and space. In one elevator ride, he does both: nothing, then a kiss, then stomp-stomp-stomp. The absurdity is exhilarating. The exhilaration is absurd. 

Gosling, meanwhile, amasses enough small gestures (a tensing jawline, a flexing fist crinkling in a leather glove) to create a character out of a gaming avatar. The driver is a loner who decides to change his lifestyle for a woman and her son down the hall. Carey Mulligan plays the woman, and that relationship is the only trouble with this movie. I think Mulligan, who gapes or pouts or smiles in a totally-teen-stuck-being-an-adult way, says four words the entire movie. Who would give it all up for that? Under those circumstances, this is Michael Mann doing John Hughes. Yet, this is such a sexy, muscular movie that you have to laugh at the bravado. Brooks embraces his killer menace so much you believe him -- it's a part Bill Murray would have had as much fun with but would have been less of a shock to see. 

There will be those who'll like this movie better when it was Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï ," Walter Hill's "The Driver," or any very good Hong-Kong action-thriller. But Refn's unapologetically shallow version really hit the spot. Afterward, a friend who hated "Drive," complained that this is just the French saying that this is what they think American movies are. Aren't they: Kiss kiss bang bang? I see her point, though: We do do more than kiss and bang. But this is just a genre the French used to excel at and no longer do. They applauded the conclusion of every car chase or shootout or head-stomping (as they did today for all of Nan Hong-jin's 140-minute kill-a-thon "The Yellow Sea"). That enthusiam suggests what they're missing from their movies. Meanwhile, "Drive" suggests that the smooth, blunt Refn is exactly what's missing from ours.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article


About Movie Nation

Movie news, reviews, and more.


Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for

Video: Movie reviews

Take 2 Movie Reviews
Take 2 reviews and podcast
Look for new reviews by Ty Burr and Wesley Morris at the end of each week in multiple formats.

Browse this blog

by category