A political sizzle at Cannes

Alejandro Inarittu makes a statement against the proposed U.S.-Mexico wall

If it is Cannes, can criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump be far behind? The strongest moment in an otherwise lukewarm Palme d’Or jury press conference on Tuesday was an impassioned statement made by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu, the first ever Mexican born president of the jury. On being asked about Mr. Trump’s talk of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mr. Inarittu said that his very presence as the jury president at Cannes was a statement against it. “They [politicians] are ruling with rage and anger… They are writing fiction and making people believe those things are real,” he said. A thought that could also ring a bell when it comes to Indian politicians in a post-truth world.

The filmmaker said that all the borders in the world were “wrong, cruel and dangerous” and referred to the most fragile, poor and underprivileged people — dispossessed migrants. He felt that it was access to cinema from across the world that could set things right to a certain extent. It’s because cinema can make viewers get exposed to various cultures and “embrace the otherness”, he said.

Rise of the zombies

Trump-era America forms the world of Cannes 2019’s opening film: Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy called The Dead Don’t Die. However, as in the last couple of years, the jury has been pretty divided on whether it was a worthy enough film to have been given the honour. Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts in 2017 and Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows last year had found themselves in the thick of a similar debate.

The Dead Don’t Die is set in a “real nice place” called Centreville, with the population of about 700, where things have been turning weird. The sun refuses to set, radio and TV signals go on a blip, mobiles turn dead, and pets get skittish and aggressive or go missing. All because polar fracking is making Earth go off its axis. While scientists continue to be on the defensive, a total planetary destruction seems to be round the corner.

The changes are also reanimating the undead, and zombies are on the rise.

Jury members Robin Campillo, from back left, Alice Rohrwacher, Kelly Reichardt, Enki Bilal, jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, from front left, jury members Elle Fanning, Pawel Pawlikowski and Maimouna N'Diaye during the opening ceremony at the 72nd international film festival on May 14, 2019.

Jury members Robin Campillo, from back left, Alice Rohrwacher, Kelly Reichardt, Enki Bilal, jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, from front left, jury members Elle Fanning, Pawel Pawlikowski and Maimouna N’Diaye during the opening ceremony at the 72nd international film festival on May 14, 2019.  
| Photo Credit:
AP

 

Mr. Jarmusch’s is a very self-aware film, a bit too much for comfort. Be it the invocation of popular culture and cinema — from Psycho to Star Wars via The Great Gatsby and samurai films, the self-referential humour at his filmmaking or the deliberately eccentric tone, Mr. Jarmusch emphasises things to the point of rendering even the possibly interesting utterly banal. Things are not going to end well — what starts off as an ominous premonition evokes some laughs but eventually becomes an irritating ruse due to constant repetition. Ditto with the Sturgill Simpson song.

The film also tries to balance itself on two creative stools and, in the process, ends up falling somewhere in the middle. Neither does it entirely embrace the conventions of zombie cinema, nor does it subvert or re-imagine them inventively.

Similarly the attempt at giving a political touch to the zombie apocalypse gets too in your face and facile. There are the obvious takes on the inherent racism: “Keep America White again”, “It’s [The coffee] is too damn black for me”. Or the expression of love for Mexico that appears to be a cool thing to do. The talk of the Moby Dick inspired “nameless miseries of the numberless mortals”, about materialism, the “hunger for more stuff” and the “selling of souls” gets too didactic as an end note. The metaphors get literal than layered.

There are some interesting characters here filled in by bright stars — the poker-faced cop played by the wonderful Adam Driver or the strange undertaker of The Ever After Funeral Home rendered by the inimitable Tilda Swinton. Her decapitation of two corpses whom she had made up to look “boney” for their funeral is one of the rare scenes that draw a chuckle.

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