Monday, October 15, 2012

LFF: Antiviral



written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg; starring Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Joe Pingue, Douglas Smith, Malcom McDowell


Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) and the allure of the viral
Syd Marsh (Caleb Landry Jones) is bundled into an imposing black car, and quickly joined in the backseat by one of the men who have just escorted him from a diner. “Don’t look so worried. You’re a commodity,” the man assures him, nonplussed as to the horror of that statement. In the world of Antiviral, though, being a commodity is the highest honour. Celebrities – who, as far as we can tell, are all of the variety whose career is exactly and only that celebrity – are so beloved by the public that such places exist where people pay to be injected with infections and diseases taken from celebrities’ bodies. Syd works for one of these, the Lucas Clinic, selling the needles with an enrapturing, hollow rhetoric. He’s not impervious to the lure of viral glamour and performs rushed operations on himself.

Comparisons to the oeuvre of director Brandon Cronenberg’s father are inevitable; certainly, the cool obsession with the corporeal is reminiscent of almost David’s entire filmography, but Antiviral  feels more clinical, dominated by a conflict between the blinding brightness of this near future and the blood that is vomited onto it. Brandon’s use of space is more reminiscent of Julia Leigh’s recent Sleeping Beauty, or Todd Haynes’ Safe – the almost theatrical framing of spaces, trapping the protagonist within a cold, disconnected milieu. With his endless spread of freckles, Jones is not unlike Safe’s lead Julianne Moore, and, as an infection grips him and he’s encased within a spacious white box of a room, the visual parallels to Haynes’ masterpiece are surely not unintentional.

But Syd is not a passive patient fading away like Safe’s Carol White; not long into his stay in that box of a room, he fights back in a particularly vicious way, of the sort Antiviral is short but punchy with. If there’s a problem here – beyond the essential vapidity of the commentary on celebrity culture, ultimately a platform for demonstrating Cronenberg’s visualisation of a particular world and his display of clinical horrors – it’s that the film is overstretched and doesn’t fill that extended reach with enough visceral action. I’m not asking for gratuity, but from an opening stretch where the corporeal surface is captured with eerie brightness – Syd’s eye opening, full screen, like a vast crevice – the film loses itself somewhat in a quagmire of exposition. When it reignites towards the end, the internal becomes external, as if it’s been percolating all that time inside Syd’s body.

Jones has shades of Michael Pitt about him – a thinner, more angular face, but the same hushed, restrained tone of voice. Coming from Pitt, it gave the impression he was scared of his own brain, but Syd is a more dynamic, jaggedly imposing figure, and Jones uses his voice as an instrument to hold Syd hidden on the sidelines. As the disease weighs him down, Jones deepens the intense focus on the body by hunching so severely he comes to resemble Gollum. Jones’ full-bodied commitment to the narrative is what really makes Antiviral click, surpassing the unbelievable celebrity conceit to become an enactment of deteriorating horror, with similar aplomb to Cronenberg Sr. and his contemporaries.


I also had a conversation on Antiviral with Craig Bloomfield over at The Film Experience, which can be read here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

LFF: Rust & Bone

I'm back at the 56th London Film Festival for Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience; hopefully this is the first of many full reviews I'll be bringing you.

Rust & Bone / De rouille et d'os


directed by Jacques Audiard; written by Audiard & Thomas Bidegain from a story by Craig Davidson; starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard


Rust (Matthias Schoenaerts) & Bone (Marion Cotillard)?

Rust & Bone is, as you might expect, a film of rough textures, though they proliferate more through the emotional volatility in the central relationship than though any visual particulars. Director Jacques Audiard is still in the business of tempering abrasive, down-on-their-luck characters in the French banlieues with a style that smears the poetic and the aggressive into one confrontational melting pot. As with previous pictures Read My Lips and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Audiard embraces his characters as people dominated by darkness and a headstrong physicality. The more positive moments of Rust & Bone are still imagined in corporeal terms – the lusty meeting of damaged bodies, or the rush of memory as Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) re-enacts a routine to Kat Perry’s ‘Firework’ (if nothing else, Audiard has refreshed a song I’d never wanted to hear again).

As rust does, these sensations wear down, although it seems to be part of Audiard’s intention to throw severe miserablism at his audience just to see if they can survive. As the film reaches its second peak of tragedy, the eerie suddenness of Stephanie’s early accident has been replaced by a heavy, inevitable dread, with the crack of disaster impending in the background of one lengthy take. Such momentous foreboding doesn’t lessen the emotional pain, but it does make it feel ever so slightly gratuitous.

Still, such a vibrantly confrontational film with such a charged sense of the physical is a rare thing, and Audiard works to balance the lead performances by Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts between a dark emotional percolation and a keen awareness of their physicality and the relationship of their bodies. Typically, the male is the one with the more willing engagement of the physical – Ali (Schoenaerts) proudly participates in organised fights in a wasteland and engages in casual sex with nameless women – making the camera’s sense of Stephanie’s less frequently engaged physicality all the more heightened. Cotillard is expert at scorching her character’s lust and enhanced sense of her own body onto the screen, and the building frisson between Stephanie and Ali collects less through dialogue (the brisk, careless attitude of Ali puts paid to that) and more through the relation of their bodies and faces.

Rust & Bone is a brutal but sensual portrait of two people learning to exist independently and happily, and demonstrates the value of other damaged people in achieving that goal. It may tilt wildly into grandiose dramatics or viracious sentimentality, but while some of those notes may strike an off chord, they are all part of Audiard’s passionate approach to his narrative, and reflect the beautiful, distorted, uncomfortable mess of a world that these two people inhabit. The rust rubs up against the bone and they spark, hurting but creating fire and feeling.