At Cannes: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Antiviral, Beasts of the Southern Wild

05/21/2012 12:39 PM |

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Reported to be Alain Resnais’s final film, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet certainly feels like a sendoff. After a rousing credit sequence full of adventure film graphics and loud symphonic bangs, a montage of mysterious phone calls leads a veritable all-star team of Resnais regulars (Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson and more) to a chateau villa in the mountains of France. Their journey comes at the posthumous request of a recently deceased theater director who asks his former stars via video to critique another troupe’s minimalist performance of Eurydice. As the piece unfolds, the elder actors begin performing the scenes themselves, interpreting the interpretation of the roles they played decades before.

At first, this meta-production about the process of artmaking is both breakneck and funny. Resnais seems to be skewering the fact that each actor can’t simply experience a fresh perspective on their work without taking back control of their “characters” and overpowering their peers with a louder staging. As each actor inhabits their original roles, they become more immersed in the spotlight of performance, more gleefully obsessed with reimagining their past. Resnais’s fluid camera, faux digital backdrops, and jarring editing flourishes (split screens, vignetting, and quadrants abound) further illuminate the artificiality on display, and for a while the film plays brilliantly.

But You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is no satire. The darkly comic tone of the opening scenes turns self-congratulatory rather quickly, becoming a veritable hangout session between Resnais performers selfishly reinvigorated by old material. The final act is especially vapid, celebrating the talent of A-listers and ignoring the upstarts in desperate need of attention. What matters most to You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is the death’s-doorstep reaffirmation of importance, a final pat on the back before the house lights dim. This is Resnais’s Ocean’s 11.

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While the end of Resnais’s career feels seeped in ego, Brandon Cronenberg’s (son of David) begins in promising fashion. Antiviral envisions a future where celebrity culture has gone organic; people are so obsessed they will pay special bio-corporations to infect them with the viruses and diseases that their favorite stars suffer from on a daily basis. Syd (Caleb Landry Jones), a young technician at one of the largest firms trading in celebrity masochism, smuggles out samples in his bloodstream for black market profit. His after-work activities eventually turn sour, turning his body into a petri dish.

Obviously influenced by the elder Cronenberg’s much explored themes of body horror and deterioration, Antiviral is a nasty bird. The antiseptic white mise-en-scene is often splattered with blood that seems to darken in color as the film progresses. Fleshy horrors abound, like the growing herpes patch on a key character’s face, or the edible celebrity cell steaks harvested from star’s DNA. As a commentary on the escalating fetishism of celebrity culture, Antiviral smartly incorporates the most ghastly details in the narrative background, markers of a society slowly eating itself. Cronenberg shows his age in the film’s second half, twisting the narrative so much that it takes away from the brilliantly disturbing mood. But there’s plenty of talent on display in Antiviral, and not simply because the younger Cronenberg has nicely merged his own messed-up world with that of his father’s.

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Also playing in the Un Certain Regard sidebar is Sundance sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild, which has garnered enough critical hyperbole since its January premiere to sink a ship. After seeing this brazenly abrasive slice of magical realism, it’s hard for me to justify all that praise. Director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film rampages forward from the very beginning, entrenching the viewer in a ramshackle bayou community outside of New Orleans.

Zeitlin has a brilliant eye for set and costume design, establishing a dynamic sense of a place that feels like it could split apart at any second. But the heavy-handed symbolism and militant ideology are off-putting from start to finish, simplifying a 99-percenter’s perspective into an angry and reactionary stance. Some have labeled the film Malickian, which has unfortunately become a safe way for a critic to describe anything lyrical or poetic. But Beasts of the Southern Wild is no The New World, lacking Malick’s understanding of grace.

One Comment

  • Beasts being described as Abrasive and 99%?? I understand that everyone’s a critic but I’ve seen this film and your review just drenched it in political undertones that seriously do not exist. Militant? Reactionary? Seriously what about this movie is militant? I hope you have the chance to flesh out this review because right now it sounds like you skipped the screening entirely.