Cannes Xpress 2024: Age is just a number

Straight from the heart of Cannes, our writer brings you updates from one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Today, she brings her perspectives on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga and Megalopolis
Cannes Xpress 2024: Age is just a number

My favourite moment in George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga—the origin story of Furiosa—is a rather anomalous, tender one, on a tangent from the unrelenting, adrenaline pumping action that otherwise defines the post-apocalyptic Mad Max universe spread over five films and 45 years now. It’s in the chapter called The Stowaway, when Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) asks Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy): “Where do you think you are going?” He wants to journey along to eventually help her reach her destination, i.e., her home in Green Place of Many Mothers. There’s something incredibly romantic about their unplanned alliance that grows, evolves, and matures through the film, against the backdrop of the on-going war for dominance over the Citadel and for the ownership of resources, be it food, water, or oil. It is apparent in nothing more than the soft gaze they cast upon each other. You want them to stay as a team to get past the Wasteland even while you want to see Furiosa eventually get home from where she had been abducted as a child by the Biker Horde headed by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth).

I thought I witnessed a similar tender exchange of gaze, many times over, between Burke and Taylor-Joy at the Cannes press conference, most so when they explained how they had worked on creating this unique on-screen magic. Taylor-Joy described it as an unconventional romance that came with a subtext. For her, the feeling of love between the two characters transcends them as individuals to become more about “a true belief in someone else’s ideals, dreams and promises”. Burke spoke of it as an “interesting, gentle journey” and how he and Taylor-Joy worked together as a team to “map it carefully”.

Taylor-Joy is terrific as the lithe, kinetic, and seething and simmering Furiosa, in a league of her own, poles apart from Charlize Theron in Mad Max, Fury Road (2015) but just as effective. Burke is someone I would have wanted to see much more of than the time and space he gets on screen.

The other, obvious standout aspect of the film is an unrecognizable Hemsworth as Dementus, a villain who someone described as Darth Vader put in the world of Looney Tunes. For Hemsworth the biggest challenge was to work on the polarities and contradictions in Dementus and find humanity and vulnerability in him despite his horrific actions. “He is also a survivor himself of the brutality of Wasteland,” said Hemsworth.

The prequel to the brilliant Mad Max, Fury Road (2015), starts out spectacularly. However, while it has you in its grip initially, it gradually loses its way amid marauding tribes, lynch mobs and innumerable chases through the sand dunes on bikes and other souped-up vehicles. There are moments that take your breath away but don’t add up to pack in a wallop.

However, the newest addition to “Western on wheels”, as someone chose to describe the Mad Max franchisee to Miller, does still show the about-to-be-80 filmmaker on top of his game—imagining and executing the wildest and most frenzied of action set-pieces while maintaining the coherence and inner logic of the world and constantly expanding the horizon of “visual music” as he chooses to describe cinema.

Veterans are out in full strength this year at Cannes with 85-year-old Francis Ford Coppola returning to Cannes 45 years after Apocalypse Now. When he told Cannes about his latest film, the festival didn’t bat an eyelid to put it in the competition. Only that it doesn’t quite seem like a film.

There’s a setting and a story—an imaginary America gone to seed, or as the film itself puts it, “the master of the known world gone kaput”. It is for architect and designer Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver) usher in a change and bring it back to its glory his own way which clashes with the old worldly principles of the conservative mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) even as his daughter Julia (Nathalie Immanuel) can’t get enough of Cesar and remains caught between the two men in her life. Then there’s a cast of who’s who—Jon Voight, Aubrey Plaza, Shua LaBeouf, Dustine Hoffman—personifying the many facets of greed, corruption, entitlement, debauchery, and decadence.

Coppola presents his own version of a Shakespearean play, La Dolce Vita, The Great Beauty and what have you rolled into one. However, the excesses of craft don’t cut deep enough. The overlong, overwrought, overindulgent, and directionless film is at once exasperating and exhausting.

Dedicated to his wife Eleanor, who passed away recently, Megalopolis is like a stream of ideas, wisdom of old age that Coppola wants to dole out to the world, irrespective of whether it wants to listen to him or not. His intentions are quite well taken and comprehended—the critique of the “insatiable appetite for power of a few men”, for instance. But most of the philosophizing gets downright corny and cringe—“If you pretend to be good world doesn’t take you seriously”, “When you jump into the unknown, you prove yourself free”, “Only two things are difficult to stare at for long, the sun and your own soul”. On top of it all these ideas remain scattered and fragmented, and the film doesn’t manage to knit them into a cohesive whole.

Coppola is obviously disillusioned with the present, is nostalgic for what has gone by and there is an urgent fear in looking ahead at the future. You hear him out for the sheer respect and love that you’d have for your parents or grandparents’ vintage. But most of all because MegaloCoppolis, as I prefer to call it, is a cautionary tale with a well-intentioned message: “When people no longer believe in it, then an empire begins to die”. This line was my only take away from the film.

Speaking of senior citizen legends in Cannes this year, there’s also 77-year-old Paul Schrader’s Oh Canada in which he reunites with his American Gigolo star Richard Gere. Adapted from a novel by Russell Banks, it is as incohesive if not more as Megalopolis. About a filmmaker Leonard (Gere) on his deathbed, sharing his life, memories, secrets and confidences on film with one of his students, and in the presence of his wife Emma (Uma Thurman), it aims to ground the eternal disjunct between the man and the artiste, his life as opposed to the art. There is the added layer of being an immigrant in Canada. But all of it gets treated in too broad and basic a manner, while the high voltage stars seem curiously inert and disinterested. An emotionally parched film that leaves one utterly unmoved. 

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