Cannes Xpress 2023: In Scorsese we trust

Straight from Cannes to electronic devices near you, our writer brings you the lowdown on one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world
Cannes Xpress 2023: In Scorsese we trust

It takes a woman to make a vital difference. Even as Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon has been deservedly getting the raves after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, it’s incredible how, amid all the good, bad, and indifferent men on screen, Lily Gladstone gets to own the film as Mollie Burkhart. 

Not only is her character the moral core and conscience keeper in the epic human drama about crime and misdemeanours, but Gladstone, who is herself of Blackfeet and Nimipuu descent, is said to have been pivotal, along with Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, in the correct depiction of the people, language, culture, and the heart and soul of the Osage Nation.

It's not the authenticity of these details alone, but her bravura performance and stunning presence—serene, reposing, strong, and unflappable—that epitomizes the spirituality and stoic nature of her people. Her marriage to Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), with encouragement from his uncle William Hale aka King (Robert De Niro), is an iteration of the White dominion and expansionism that the film scathingly rips into. An alliance of convenience to gradually take control of the Osage assets. 

But there’s more to their love story of contradictory impulses. Their love and care for each other, their children and family as opposed to the betrayal that Ernest makes the relationship susceptible to. This tale of the shattering of marriage unfolds alongside that of a series of real-life murders in the Osage Nation in the 1920s committed after the prized discovery of oil and the untold tragedies, bloodshed and violence, loss and grief that it exposed the likes of Mollie and the indigenous community too. 

Killers... is about the greed, rapaciousness, machinations, and manipulations of the White supremacists on the one hand and the innocence and broken trust and faith of the Osage Nation on the other.  

At its most elemental, Killers... is a procedural, based on David Grann’s book of the same name. An engaging “howdunnit” made with precision and perfection even as it is sprawling in span and scope, there’s not a moment out of place in the taut, economic narration.

The sturdy cast makes it compelling, especially De Niro sporting a sinister benign front for an oppressor that he really is and DiCaprio as his well-meaning, nice, but ineffectual nephew.

Thankfully Scorsese doesn't make it about the saviour American government, nor the birth of the FBI. What makes Killers... a classic for the ages is the fact that its core, it is an epic confessional. A filmmaker confronting a nation and its people’s history and laying bare the injustices, crimes, and sins. An admission of shared guilt in anticipation of collective remorse and repentance before any restoration of faith or healing can even be imagined.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with the Indian situation, the years of struggles of tribals against the State and the big corporates, the takeover of their natural resources, the displacement, destruction of the environment in the name of development, steady erasure of ethnic identities and the long trail of often undocumented violence and bloodshed.

Killers... is both a staggering piece of cinema and an urgent social probe and trial that is universal despite its historic and cultural specificity. It will be distributed by Apple TV+ and Paramount Pictures in October. A long wait but every bit well worth it.

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