I saw quite a few of the most eagerly awaited Cannes films from some of the festival’s favoured directors. First up was American Honey, the first US-set feature from Andrea Arnold. This seemed to divide viewers in the sense that some absolutely loved it, whilst others felt detached. I personally found it admirable rather than transformative. Arnold shoots in Academy ratio which is arresting on first sight, but otherwise she has chosen a very broad canvas and in lots of ways this is the quintessential American road movie. She tracks the fortunes of an itinerant group of youngsters, traveling on a bus across the mid-West attempting to sell magazine subscriptions door to door. Our way in is through new recruit Star, escaping poverty and exploitation at home and in search of a new life.She is tempted to join them by an encounter with lead salesman Jake, played by Shia Labeouf. This has some familiar tropes for Arnold: life on the margins, a resilient female heroine seeking a way out from a grim destiny, a naturalistic approach to sex and sexuality on screen and a contemporary music soundtrack which acts as a counterpoint in narrative terms to the script on screen. I think it may divide audiences and is unlikely to find its way to the mainstream, but will doubtless find its way into ‘best of the year’ lists for those who loved it. It’s meandering, and its focus on a closed world means that you need to empathise with this cast of characters to find complete immersion but the cinematography is fabulous and reminiscent (to me at least) of Days of Heaven.
I was very moved by Loving, a new film from Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) who I’ve always loved since Shotgun Stories. This is a period drama that addresses the laws against miscegenation, prevalent in some states of the US until the early 60’s and finally overturned by the lawsuit of an ordinary couple Richard and Mildred Loving. They want to live together after their marriage, in their home county in Virginia. For this they are sentenced to jail and are forced to move out of the state in order to stay together and out of custody. This is all the more powerful for being atrue story, of a couple who from a working-class background with no connections,but who love each other and were determined to change their circumstances. It’s a very quiet film with some powerful performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as the Loving’s, but all the more effective for this. The film charts their journey, through children, struggle, setbacks and finally wider public recognition when Life magazine records their domestic harmony in all its transcendent simplicity. Bound to be acquired for the UK and an important film which delivers many rewards for its audience about a shocking period of history which is still relatively recent.