Here comes the sun. All week, the Cannes Film Festival has been drenched with relentless rain, billowing wind and a sweater-worthy chill—plus a dearth of high-wattage stars, ever since Bill Murray and his Moonrise Kingdom crew left after opening night. But all that changed this morning as the clouds parted in the Mediterranean skies and Brad Pitt popped up onscreen at the 8:30am screening of Killing Them Softly.
Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (and his second collaboration with Pitt as both star and producer) is a capitalist screed disguised as a stylish crime thriller, set during the presidential election of 2008 in post-Katrina New Orleans and rife with scruffy crooks feverish for their cut of the pie—as long as they can get it wholesale. “Can we fly him coach?” asks one character when Pitt’s smooth criminal Jackie Coogan insists that another hit man be brought in. Funny in surprising spurts when it’s not waxing a cool sheen of menace, and larded with unexpectedly florid conversation, Killing Them Softly is a slow-burn rumination on excess, desperation, entitlement and old-fashioned free market self-interest.
“In some ways, the crime film is the most honest American film,” said the Australian director at a press conference after the film’s world premiere. “Crime films are always about capitalism. It’s the one genre where it’s perfectly acceptable for all the characters to be motivated only by a desire for money.”
One Italian journalist was concerned with the violence in the film (it’s sudden, highly graphic and, in one scene, shockingly gorgeous), and asked Pitt whether it was appropriate, especially since he and Angelina Jolie have six children. “I would have a harder time playing, like, a racist,” said Pitt. “It would be much more unsettling for me than being a guy who shoots another guy in the face.” For him as a producer, too, violence per se was far less important than the movie’s larger themes. “We’re looking for stories that say something about our time and who we are,” he said. The economy-obsessed gangster flick aptly opens stateside September 21, right in the eye of the Obama-Romney hurricane.
Also coming to the U.S. this fall is the toast of Cannes, Michael Haneke’s Amour (Love), a devastating, enthralling and deeply tender look at two married octogenarians and how their mutual devotion affects the end of their lives together. Gallic screen legends Jean-Paul Triningnant (The Conformist, Z) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) are riveting in this two-hander which takes place almost entirely in a stately Paris apartment (based on Haneke’s own parents’ apartment in Vienna and meticulously re-created on a French sound stage). When Riva becomes ill, it falls to Trintignant to take care of her, even as the severe strain of tending to such emotional, physical and mental decay becomes almost too much to bear. Haneke, the rigorously intellectual director behind such art house classics as The Piano Teacher and Caché, is, as usual, unflinching and austere. But instead of forcing the audience to keep their distance, his approach actually allows them to get closer by stripping away the insincere gloss of melodrama that lesser directors would cling to like a crutch.
Despite the fact that he routinely addresses dark subject matter—his previous film, the Palme d’Or winner The White Ribbon, examined the childhood anxieties of the Nazi generation—Haneke doesn’t think he’s a pessimist. “Every artist is an optimist, because otherwise, they wouldn’t be motivated to try and raise questions and communicate with their audience,” he said to the international press today. “If I were a pessimist, then I’d simply make entertaining films because I’d think that people aren’t intelligent enough to deal with questions like these.”
Oscar handicappers are already calling Amour the shoo-in for Best Foreign-Language Film. But for Riva, the film serves as an apt bookend to her career. In 1959, she came to Cannes with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour; and now, 53 years later, they are both back in Cannes (Resnais is premiering his reputed swan song, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.). “Hiroshima, Mon Amour dealt with an impossible love,” she said during an interview at the Hotel Majestic. “Whereas Amour is about a very possible love—so possible, in fact, that it lasts until the very end.”