Nicole Kidman pisses on Zac Ephron’s face! Eva Mendes cradles a Parisian sewer troll! A nude Kristen Stewart jerks off Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund—at the same time! Kanye West unveils the future of cinema inside an enormous white pyramid! Film festivals usually mete out their lunacy with more deliberation. This year, though, after a subdued week of world-class cinema, Cannes got weird fast.
Best to start with the worst. The Paperboy, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to maudlin-but-moving Oscar-winner Precious, is a hot mess of a picture, with whiplash plot twists and colorful characters acting brassy and trashy while racial tensions sputter and boil over in every direction. Based on the book by Pete Dexter and featuring an admirably game cast including Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Ephron, John Cusack, and Macy Gray, the film ostensibly revolves around a man accused of murdering a small-town sheriff. But it doesn’t take long for this story to sputter, spark, and go right off the rails. Let’s just say that Ms. Kidman and Mr. Cusack have psychic sex, Mr. Ephron suffers a near-fatal jellyfish attack, swamp people gut alligators before eating a tub of ice cream, and Mr. McConaughy ends up naked, bloody, hog-tied, and wearing an eye patch. It’s unfair to call this nut-bar melodrama unwatchable if only because it’s impossible to look away.
Far more successful but no less loopy was Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, a philosophical fantasia about the interplay of identity, cinema, art, and life, and revels in seemingly random episodes that feature a punk accordion band rocking out inside a cathedral, hyper-sexed computer-generated succubi, a Kylie Minogue torch song, and a suburban monkey family. International critics, thrilled to see such a high-wire act of cinéfolie, lapped it up. The film’s success is due in no small part to French actor Denis Levant, who rides around Paris in a limo and plays no less than 11 roles, including street gypsy, motion-capture stuntman, assassin, dying patriarch, and one-eyed underground dweller. It’s in this last role that Eva Mendes pops up for a brief appearance, as a lullaby-crooning fashion model whom Mr. Levant kidnaps from an outdoor cemetery shoot. “What was that scene about?” a journalist asked the director at the film’s press conference. “How would I know?” deadpanned Mr. Carax.
If only director Walter Salles had been more blithely instinctive with his over-reverent period piece On the Road, a handsomely packaged but painfully respectful adaptation of the 1957 Beat Generation classic by Jack Kerouac. Rarely does a film so full of sex (gay and straight, twosomes and threesomes) and drugs (Benzedrine, pot, booze and heroin) actually make vice seem banal. Hot young things Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Tom Sturridge and Sam Riley go full monty with their horndoggery, while older thespians like Viggo Mortensen (nailing a spot-on William S. Burroughs) and Steve Buscemi pop up to add a touch of classy decrepitude. But there’s nothing truly dangerous, raw or even poetic about the shenanigans of these twentysomething drifters, ping-ponging throughout the country with as much spontaneity as a layout in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue.
You want cinematic ambition? Just ask Kanye West. Last night, in a small private audience that included Jay-Z and Kim Kardashian, he unveiled plans to reinvent the way movies are experienced, with the seven-screen immersion of “Cruel Summer,” a 30-minute film shot in Qatar and made in association with the Doha Film Institute, the “cultural and creative advisors” to the film [Editor's note: We broke the story on Kanye's film in February.]. Really just a video installation set to a barrage of non-stop music, and housed inside a white pyramid tent that was a 30-minute walk from Cannes’ main venues, the screens—three in front, two on the sides, and one each overhead and on the floor—created the kind of visual overload more typical of a theme-park ride than an IMAX feature. And the film itself, though ostensibly about a wealthy blind women who uses a vast network of gold strings as a guide through her family’s palace, is really more a lush cascade of slow-motion Middle Eastern iconography, from Arabian horses and falconers to vast deserts and ultramodern cities. Rappers Kid Cudi and Big Sean appear, as does Mr. West himself and a blink-or-you’ll-miss-him Aziz Ansari.
“I’m not the best director in the world or anything like that,” Mr. West said afterwards. “But I had an idea that I thought would be amazing to inspire people so that one day this is the way people watch movies: Tarantino doing a movie like this, a horror movie like this, animation, 3D.” He also has plans to tour the film and keep working on it (especially since they were filming less than a month ago and rushed to make it to Cannes). “You guys are seeing the rough draft of this concept,” he said. “We’re going to show this in New York, we’re going to bring this out to Qatar, we’re going to take this installation around the world, and we’re going to re-edit and improve on it.” And Mr. West has no intention of stopping at film, now that he’s entered what he describes as his “post-Grammy” career. “I want to work on cities, I want to work on amusement parks,” he said. “I want to change what entertainment experiences are like.”