CANNES, France — “Anybody ever touch your rat?” Cannes likes to get gonzo at least once a year, and the past two days have brought a double-header of reliably outré oddities. Ryan Gosling’s directing debut Lost River (which includes the aforementioned, and sadly doomed, rodent) hit the Palais des Festivals in spectacular fashion, splitting audience opinion between the belly-flop haters and the nurturing apologists. Less than 24 hours later came a 3-D film by Jean-Luc Godard, which triggered its own cinerati-fueled tsunami of ticket-holders vying with sharp elbows to enter the 2,300-seat Lumière Theater. They were an apt match: the first film from a new director and quite possibly the last one from an 83-year-old legend—and both, God bless ’em, are swinging for the fences. Go big or go home, even in the south of France.
Never less than beguiling throughout its 105-minute running time, Gosling’s impressively phantasmagoric drama about a downtrodden single mom (Christina Hendricks) trying to avoid defaulting on her underwater mortgage has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Stylistic and narrative flourishes seem to be poached from filmdom’s best outliers, including Harmony Korine (flaming bicycles, urban decrepitude, megaphone pronouncements of physical strength), David Lynch (beautiful women in shadow-draped erotic peril, an eerie nightclub run by a menacing psychopath), Gaspar Noë (sexual kinks commingled with sudden violence), and even his filmmaking BFF Nicolas Winding Refn (bold primary compositions, vengeful bloodlust). It’s a rookie film with rookie mistakes, to be sure, but it’s also a thrillingly unexpected work from an adored Hollywood heartthrob.
Godard’s work, on the other hand, was predictably defiant, continuing a half-decade career of thumbing his nose at all manner of convention with Goodbye to Language. A 69-minute 3-D pastiche of analogue video images and HD footage, sprinkled throughout with on-screen text that popped in vivid red and white, this avant-garde relationship flick (between a man and a woman and a dog, naturally) is filled with dialogue that would thrill art-house poseurs everywhere. “Everybody can stop God from existing, but nobody does,” says one person. “The thumb—what does it do? What did it do before?” says another as we see images of a person swiping an iPhone. A topless wife watches her naked husband take a thunderous crap. Snow falls in a parking lot. Blood splatters on the walls of a bathtub. But—honestly—it was riveting. Playful, perverse and profane—even parodic—Goodbye to Language is also remarkably poignant, with moments and images that easily outrank most other films on show this week. There’s no denying this kind of talent, especially among the risk-takers. As one of Gosling’s characters says, “You can’t cheat death and you can’t cheat me. You can’t cheat anything, really.”