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Cannes 2013: Only God Forgives and The Bastards

Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling do some tedious macho posturing while Claire Denis' bleak noir is a shock to the system.

Only God Forgives

My tolerance for Nicolas Winding Refn's brand of self-serious macho camp is very much on the low side. Couple that with a general aversion to all things Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas and it's safe to say that the cult director of the ponderous, portentously empty Drive (which I insist should be pronounced "Dree-VAY") didn't have me in mind when making his Thailand-set revenger Only God Forgives.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Cannes Film Festival

It's only fair that we give a chance to the art that has the potential to rub us the wrong way. For a little while, I was grooving on the film's aesthetic elements—Larry Smith's ninth-circle-of-hell cinematography, Cliff Martinez's droning synth score, Beth Mickle's superbly chintzy production design (love those Kubrick-esque brothels). Then the Refn-y stuff takes over: Pregnant-pause glances between characters stretch scenes way past the point of tedium, while the hyper-stylized violence is all foreboding build-up, no cathartic release. (As a wise movie drill sergeant once opined, the film doesn't have the goddamn common courtesy to give you a reach-around.)

Gosling does his patented "hey, girl" brooding act as Julian, an American drug runner whose psychotic older brother murders an underage prostitute and invites the retributive ire of the sword-wielding Chang (a stellarly stoic Vithaya Pansringarm). Thomas plays Julian's bleached-blonde bitch of a mother, a dragon lady through and through who ridicules her middle son's genitalia size, calls his sort-of girlfriend a "cum dumpster" and generally struts around as if she were a past-her-prime catwalk model trying desperately to catch the attention of Anna Wintour.

In the press kit, Refn notes that "the original concept…was to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God." He clearly thinks he's saying something profound with this laboriously overproduced dross, and I'm content to let him go on thinking.

I surely won't forget the experience of Claire Denis's The Bastards. At a packed late-night screening attended by the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Jane Campion, Leos Carax and Kylie Minogue, I found myself drifting dreamily in and out of this bleak tale of a French family undone by the machinations and perversions of a wealthy businessman named Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor). Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is the ostensible lead, a ship's captain who abandons his post to seek revenge on Laporte. But good luck figuring that out on a first view: Denis undermines traditional narrative at every turn, preferring elliptical, patience-testing opacity to moment-by-moment decipherabilty.

That may sound like a criticism, but far from it. Like Denis' sublimely impenetrable The Intruder (2004), the point is to get hopelessly lost in the film's eerie, unsettling flow. (Frequent Denis collaborators Tindersticks assist by contributing another of their hypnotic, mood-enhancing scores.) The themes of sexual exploitation, monetary manipulation and class indifference slowly emerge from Denis' masterfully woozy play of image and sound until a stunning, shocking final sequence—a 240i res homage to William Faulkner's lurid Sanctuary—snaps this punch-drunk nightmare into full-on, fearsome clarity.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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Comments

7 comments
OGF
OGF

Your a f*cking moron. Only God Forgives is genius. Go watch Transformers if you can't handle it.

Awwww lil' Smitty's all worked up~!
Awwww lil' Smitty's all worked up~!

That's most assuredly *not^ the definition of critic, you boring bozo. And what are you--based on your remarks here--if not that most irritating, dime-a-dozen breed of dweeb that cleary just has a big bone to pick with the occupation of criticism in general, almost certainly on account of being a (self-ascribed) "artist" yourself whom has had your own output torn to shreds in the past? Your kind is everywhere. You'll be the last alive along with the roaches. Yawn stretch etc

Jonathan Satterlee
Jonathan Satterlee

You sir are the kind of pretentious name calling child I can't stand in this generation. Rather than actually saying anything worthwhile. You instead find it is more important to put down that which you cannot make. Granted the very definition of a critic. The difference is your mixture of pomp and low class is dizzying in its sense of boredom. Maybe read your own work sometime.

Robb
Robb

What I'm saying is you seem like a real doofus

Robb
Robb

You know what? I don't believe you. I think you read the whole goddamned thing. Yup. Every last word. BUT, on the off chance you literally *did* stop reading--which I'm pretty confident has never actually transpired in the ubiquitous scenario of one taking the time to mention they ceased reading after a certain point--had you not done such you would have seen the reviewer was using those remarks to preface the exact point...one sentence past where you allegedly stopped reading (but didn't).

tr
tr

I stopped reading after "general aversion to all things Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas." No professional critic should ever allow personal bias to color their view of any film. Besides, they're both great actors.