Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Cannes Film Festival’

Creepshow: Franck Khalfoun’s guilt-free MANIAC

In Film Reviews on November 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Franck Khalfoun’s (P2, Wrong Turn at Tahoe) third feature, Maniac, is a remake of William Lustig’s schlocky serial-killer flick from 1980. It makes a few adjustments to the original: employing Elijah Wood’s nerdy neurosis as Frank, the titular maniac, in place of Joe Spinelli’s fat, sweaty menace; relocating from seedy, pre-Giuliani New York to the urban wasteland of L.A.; and, most notably, shooting the entire film from a first-person POV perspective. As a formalist experiment, the film succeeds surprisingly well. While being inside Frank’s head is certainly vertiginous and nauseating, both for logistical and thematic reasons, the grand experiment of Maniac is sure to become, as Hollywood Reporter’s Megan Lehmann described the original, “a grubby touchstone among genre fans.”

Lustig’s 1980 original

So, Khalfoun succeeded in his gamble, with ample assistance from his fellow Frenchman Alexandre Aja (who co-wrote and produced the film), the director of such torture-porn gems as High Tension and the execrable remake of Craven’s Vietnam-era classic The Hills Have Eyes. Between the two of them, Aja and Khalfoun have made quite a name for themselves in horror-fan circles as directors who push the envelope and aren’t afraid to show as much gratuitous violence as they can pack into a single feature. Maniac features several very graphic scalpings; Frank takes the scalps home to adorn his female mannequin collection, trying to cover the emotional scars left by his neglectful prostitute mother. The blood and gore are so prominent both visually and thematically, and so well rendered, that these murderous set pieces would make even Cronenberg proud.

One of Frank’s trophies

Or would they? In Cronenberg’s films, extreme gore is always tied to a larger moral issue, or at least a larger theme relevant to the character’s development (or society’s dissolution, as the case may be). In Maniac, we are forced to identify with Frank’s every glance and action, because the POV strategy does not allow the viewer any critical distance from what he’s doing. We watch through Frank’s eyes as he scouts the sidewalk for his next victim and hide with him in closets and bathrooms as he ogles a panoply of skinny, naked women, each of whom represents something that sets Frank off by reminding him of Mommie Dearest. One girl is too forward, too confident in her sexuality; one is a dancer, too proud of her body and too happy displaying it; one is successful, middle-aged and drunkenly sardonicto him—the first two seem to be enough to put Frank over the edge. All are stalked, murdered, and scalped before Frank retreats to his house of horrors, and the audience has the ultimate front-row seat to the entire show.

One of the only non-POV shots in the film–Khalfoun described researching serial killers who described having out-of-body experiences while committing their murders.

Only one girl inspires both Frank’s bloodlust and his romantic interest simultaneously: Anna, a photographer and fellow mannequin enthusiast, whom we first see brandishing a large camera. Anyone familiar with Hitchcock’s work and theories of the male gaze—no longer a theory in this case, since the entire film is literally a male’s gaze—will recognize a woman with a camera as a symbol of female agency, a character who can’t just be reduced to a watchable (and scalpable) object because she is dealing with the male gaze on its own terms, often turning it back on itself by creating images of her own. Indeed, the only glimpses we ever see of Frank himself are either in mirrors or photographs, and most of these are taken by Anna herself. The metaphor is ploddingly obvious here: Frank creates fake women out of mannequins and Anna is in turn creating Frank, in a way, by capturing images of him and forcing him to look at them. To Frank, women are nothing but images, so being forced into such a role from Anna’s point of view makes him feel both vulnerable (the watched instead of the watcher) and at least slightly guilty about his murderous ways.

A photo Anna takes of Frank during their first encounter

Unfortunately, Anna ends up being just another of Frank’s trophies, though her scalp gets the distinction of adorning a bridal mannequin, complete with dress and diamond ring. Frank tries to convince himself that treating the mannequin-Anna differently than all the others will make her death mean something different, or at least make it less reprehensible in his own mind. Of course, it does neither, and he eventually dies surrounded by his grisly trophies, by a horde of his ideal women, none of whom could lift a finger to help him even if they wanted to.

Anna looks at the mannequins

Here’s my problem with this film, and with Khalfoun’s directorial perspective: he takes no ownership of the film’s misogynist content, and doesn’t seem to think there’s anything problematic about it. Let me be very clear about this: the entire point of Maniac is to put the audience inside the mind and behind the eyes of a disturbed man (whose disturbance is entirely the fault of his mother) who stalks, tortures, and murders women. All the shock value and horror of the film come from the inventive ways in which Frank does each of these things, and the film’s suspense comes from the nerve-jangling waiting game Frank and the audience experience between kills.

Women are objects

The way women are treated in this film is not a minor issue; it is the entire point of the narrative. This isn’t a character study of Frank’s disintegration into insanity, because the audience never has the opportunity to observe him outside of his own subjectivity. We are him and, by implication, he is us. Therefore, the thrill of this film, as well as its horror, must necessarily reside in the opportunity it affords audience members to vicariously participate in Frank’s stalking, torturing, and killing of women. The fact that the film can blame everything Frank does on his slut of a mother is a perfect analogy to the fact that Khalfoun can easily shift responsibility for his film’s virulent hatred of women onto Lustig’s original. Even when misogyny is so glaring, so blatant, and so obviously reveled in, its source can always be pinned on someone else.

Reappropriating the gaze?

I am not asserting that Maniac is going to turn anyone who sees it into a woman-hating freak, bent on murdering the first comely dancer who crosses his or her path. Clearly, the relationship between film and viewer is far more complicated and nuanced than censorship advocates would have us believe. (Indeed, it would be interesting to investigate the experience of female viewers of this film; for me, the scariest scene was a long sequence of Frank cruising for victims, when the POV style forced me to see every young woman on the street—and myself, by implication—through his eyes.) I do not want people to boycott this film, or any film; in fact, seeing Maniac was a uniquely instructive experience for me, because I had the opportunity immediately afterwards to ask Khalfoun, in person, what he had to say to critical allegations that his film is misogynist.

Unsurprisingly, Khalfoun took the usual evasive line, stating that “the film isn’t misogynist; it’s about a misogynist,” and defending himself by declaring, “I love women! Look how many naked women are in the film!” While my hopes for any sort of socially responsible introspection on Khalfoun’s part were obviously very low, his responses to my questions were even more puerile than I had expected them to be. What I found far more disturbing, however, was my next confrontation of the evening, which came after the end of the Q and A as everyone was filing out of the theatre. As I made my way towards the door, the moderator, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the country’s premiere film criticism magazine, walked up to me and asked, “I’m curious: if you knew what the film was about, why did you even come?”

This is my problem with Maniac, and with our culture’s acceptance of misogyny in general, whether it be in politics (see Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Paul Ryan) or in the world of my beloved horror film: no one wants to admit that this is a real issue with real consequences in the real world. No one wants to believe that their 90 minutes of fun might come at the ideological expense of an entire demographic. No one wants to be told they are complicit, even when they watch a film that puts them directly inside the mind of a killer. No one wants to believe that the women Frank watches on the sidewalk are no more vulnerable than the women on any given sidewalk in today’s America.

Judging by my experience, anyone who calls attention to misogyny as such is regarded as a femi-Nazi killjoy, someone who can’t possibly understand the aesthetic pleasure of a good serial-killer film, or simply a raging shrew who doesn’t know the first thing about film in general or horror in particular (during my back-and-forth with Khalfoun, a male member of the crowd defended the director by helpfully reminding me that Norman Bates, too, was screwed up by his mother). I feel no need to provide any credentials to the contrary, because calling out films for their hatred of women, something absolutely endemic in our culture and every culture around the world, is always a subject worthy of discussion, even if the most influential film critic in the country doesn’t seem to think so.

Needless to say, I won’t be renewing my subscription.

© Lita Robinson 2012

Nanni Moretti to head Cannes Jury

In Film News on January 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Nanni Moretti, known most recently for writing “Habemus Papam,” has been selected as president of the jury of the 65th Cannes Film Festival, which will convene this May.  Head on over to ScreenComment to get Ali’s take on the choice!


Malick triumphs at Cannes *updated*

In Film News on May 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Terrence Malick’s enigmatic new film “The Tree of Life” has won the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the ascetic director’s 5th film in about 30 years has drawn a variety of reactions from festival goers–the only thing everyone seems able to agree on is that it draws distinct parallels with Kubrick’s “2001.”

Malick is known for being incredibly shy, and did not show up for the presentation of the award.  Instead, his producers accepted it for him.  The film will open in limited release in the US this Friday, the 27th.

Jury president Robert De Niro said of Malick’s long-awaited film, “Most of us felt very clearly that it was the movie — the size, the importance, the tension, whatever you want to call it — that seemed to fit the Palme d’Or,” though he also emphasized that the jury was equally impressed with many other films screened at the festival this year.

After Lars Von Trier effectively took his own film, “Melancholia,” out of the running after a Nazi-invoking press conference, Malick’s existential epic was something of a shoo-in for the grand prize.

However, “Melancholia’s” star, Kirsten Dunst, was honored with the Best Actress accolade, and in her acceptance speech she specifically thanked Von Trier himself for helping her to be “…so brave and…so free” in her performance.  Audiences can judge for themselves when the film is released in the US on November 4th.

Best Director went to another Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, for his latest film “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.  The film is an action thriller set in Los Angeles, and quite a departure from Refn’s last film, “Valhalla Rising” (reviewed here!) which was an almost non-verbal Viking epic set almost a thousand years ago.  Refn reportedly described Gosling as “my favorite alter ego.”  “Drive” will be released in the US on September 16th.

Other winners included the Dardenne brothers, who have won an award with every film they’ve ever taken to Cannes, and American Jeff Nichols, whose new film “Take Shelter” won in two different categories (it will be released in the US on October 7th).

For a full list of winners and more inside dirt, see Sunday’s Variety roundup of all the festival awards.  Apparently, Robert De Niro spoke French and accidentally referred to other members of the jury as “champignons” (French for “mushrooms”) instead of “champions.”  Who else wishes they could have attended?!

Von Trier’s Company Issues Apology

In Film News on May 20, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Varietyis reporting that Lars Von Trier’s production company, Zentropa (of which he shares 25% ownership with current CEO Peter Aalbaek Jensen) has issued an apology regarding Von Trier’s incendiary comments at a Cannes press conference Wednesday.  Jensen reportedly tried to explain the incident as a “joke that had gone too far,” but the consequences of Von Trier’s Nazi-sympathizing logorrhea have already stretched halfway around the globe.

Argentina has reportedly cancelled its distribution plans for Von Trier’s new film, Melancholia, which is still up for the Palme D’Or at Cannes.  The CEO of TrustNordisk, the company distributing Melancholia internationally, tried to steer the conversation away from Von Trier, saying to Variety that “the film itself has nothing to do with Lars’ comments.”  We’ll see  how that plays out in the days and weeks to come.  Danish Film Institute CEO Henrik Bo Nielsen, after learning of the incident, reportedly quipped “…there’s nothing new in the fact that great artists make stupid remarks.”

Palme D'Or hopeful Melancholia

One hopes that Von Trier’s remarks won’t affect the reputation of his fellow Danish filmmakers.  Susanne Bier (director of the 2010 Oscar winner “In A Better World,” which was produced by Zentropa), who  was also personally disparaged by Von Trier in his bizarre diatribe this week, hasn’t released a statement herself, though a rep for her Italian distributor Teodora Films condemned the remarks and promised “never [to] release a Von Trier movie in Italy.”

Exclusive Interview with Thierry Fremaux, director of Cannes

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

Head over to the all-new, totally redesigned Screen Comment for an exclusive interview between Ali Naderzad, Editor-in-Chief, and Thierry Fremaux, director of the Lumiere Institute in Lyon, France, and overseer of the Cannes Film Festival.  It’s great to get a true insider’s view on what putting on the world’s premier film festival really entails!  And congrats to Screen Comment on the fabulous new site.

Von Trier Expelled from Cannes

In Film Reviews on May 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm

The NYT is reporting that Danish director/enfant terrible Lars Von Trier has been officially declared “persona non grata” by the directors of the Cannes Film Festival because of remarks made at a press conference declaring himself a Nazi and expressing admiration for Hitler.

He has been ordered off the premises and parties to celebrate his latest film, “Melancholia,” have been unceremoniously cancelled.  However, his film is still in the running for the festival’s biggest prize–though, should it win, Von Trier won’t be allowed to collect his accolades in person.

Magnolia says the incident won’t affect their distribution plans, so those still willing to put up with Von Trier can delight in his latest oeuvre sometime this fall.

Romantics Anonymous picked up by Tribeca

In Film Reviews on May 19, 2011 at 10:18 am

Catch more awesome film industry news on the ALL-NEW – launching Friday!!

Tribeca has acquired the rights from StudioCanal to the hit French rom-com “Romantics Anonymous,” which had its US premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival.  The story follows two terminally shy chocolate makers as they gradually admit their love for each other.

The deal was finalized just now in Cannes.  Dates haven’t yet been announced, but Tribeca has the capacity to release the film on VOD, in theaters, on DVD, and digitally.  To date, the film has grossed over $9 million in its home country.

Tribeca Chief Creative Officer Geoffrey Gilmore describes “Romantics Anonymous” as “universal in its appeal,” and director Jean-Pierre Améris told Tribeca he is “…particularly happy to know the film will be distributed in the United States and this conversation with American audiences will carry on.”

Keep an eye out for this tasty French confection!