Cannes Critics: Agora, Anti-Christ, Misfortunates

With this year’s Cannes Film Festival well underway, reviews have started flooding out from the Croisette about the various features screened during the competition. Here’s a quick analysis of the reactions so far to some of the biggest films premiering:

Agora
His second English-language film after “The Others”, acclaimed Spanish helmer Alejandro Amenabar (“The Sea Inside,” “Open Your Eyes”) delivers the historical epic about a female intellectual in Alexandria during the rise of Christianity. Reviews are notably mixed though:

Screen Daily says the film “ultimately fails to hang together narratively” and doesn’t “engage on the same grand emotional level” as classic sword-and-sandal epics like “Quo Vadis” and “Ben-Hur”. However “upscale adults might be more intrigued by the prospect of a film which is intelligent in design, if flawed in execution”

The LA Times says it’s a “fascinating film, crammed with both stirring visual images and intellectual ideas”

The Hollywood Reporter says the film has a “heavy-handed beginning” in order to get “most of the epic staples out of the way relatively early”. After that shaky start however the film is a “timely parable on religious intolerance, inexorable fundamentalist violence and the powerlessness of reason and personal freedom.”

Indiewire says the film has the “fleeting qualities of a high school science class” and “fails to develop any lasting emotional impact”. Though the look evokes Cecil B. Demille, the film has “ended up with a hollow reflection of one” and “a bland recreation” of the era it portrays.

Anti-Christ
Danish director Lars von Trier’s psychological thriller follows a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who’ve lost their child and go to an isolated cabin to recover. What follows has become the most talked about and controversial film of the festival so far:

“Jeers and laughter broke out during scenes ranging from a talking fox to graphically-portrayed sexual mutilation” says Reuters reporting from the screening, who added that “derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos” were elicited during the credits.

Roger Ebert says “whether this is a bad, good or great film is entirely beside the point. It is an audacious spit in the eye of society” and is ultimately “the most despairing film I’ve ever have seen…Von Trier has made a film that is not boring. Unendurable, perhaps, but not boring.”

Jeff Wells from Hollywood Elsewhere calls it “easily one of the biggest debacles in Cannes Film Festival history and the complete meltdown of a major film artist”. He adds that “It’s an out-and-out disaster — one of the most absurdly on-the-nose, heavy-handed and unintentionally comedic calamities I’ve ever seen in my life” and other critics were “howling, hooting, shrieking” during the screening.

Austin 360 says “the movie’s violence has an emotional impact that hasn’t been seen since Gaspar Noe’s ‘Irreversible’…because you care about the characters, long before the violence comes.” The violence itself “would qualify for the one of the hardest NC-17 ratings ever”.

“While there’s no doubt that the place he goes is off a precipitous edge, one can’t deny the film’s continuing primal power” says Indiewire, with the excessiveness mostly due to an “instance of body mutilation that will turn off the most tolerant viewer”.

Finally Variety says the helmer “cuts a big fat art-film fart” that seems to be “deliberately courting critical abuse”. However “the blood-smeared sensationalism smothers what serious thoughts the script serves up in passing” while the various sex scenes “detract from the film by playing peek-a-boo”.

The Misfortunates
Felix Van Groeningen’s Belgian comedy about a writer growing up in a dysfunctional family in the late 80’s scored positive notices all round.

Mixing “rambunctious, intentionally vulgar humour with a pinch of pathos and plenty of cynicism”, Screen Daily seems to think the film will have difficulty getting appeal beyond North Europe.

The Hollywood Reporter says the film is “bawdy and poignant” and while there’s a serious story undercurrent, the “serious theme never interferes with the madcap hilarity” while the production quality is a “riotous triumph”.

Visually robust and often hilarious, Variety says the acting is solid all round except for veteran Gilda De Bal who “seems out of her depth”.