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Body Horror King David Cronenberg Returns to Cannes With Deliciously Gross ‘Crimes of the Future’

This is the last installment of the 2022 edition of French dispatches, our field coverage of the Cannes Film Festival. Watch this space over the next fortnight for more from the 75and editing.

David Cronenberg rolled down the Cannes red carpet last night in white Oakleys to present Future Crimes, finally a gnarly, dense film worth chewing on at what has been a pretty disappointing Cannes so far. Everyone becomes respectable if they last long enough: at Cronenberg’s Cannes debut in 1996, he was boo after accepting a jury prize created just for him and his divisive film, despite vehement objections from a number of jurors, including Cronenberg mentioned, President Francis Ford Coppola. But he has returned several times since, served as president of the jury and was the spiritual father of last year’s Palme d’Or winner. Titaniumthen Future Crimes had a sense of homecoming, with the master of body horror returning to both a festival and a genre to which he made legendary contributions, with a film playing the hits, stitching together old unearthed bits of film as The Brood and Videodrome and Fly and Dead ringtones and exist and shaking them back to life.

In the future, the human body is in rebellion, developing in ways that are less evolutionary than “insurrectionary”: no longer feeling pain and spontaneously forming “neo-organs” with an uncertain destination. In this spirit of the times, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen, without eyebrows) and the ravishing Caprice (Léa Seydoux), his creative and personal companion, are performers. Saul’s art, one might say, comes from a place deep within him: he grows neo-organs, a metaphor for the subconscious genesis of new ideas, and from their performance, Caprice extracts them, a agonized, ecstatic naked man dominatrix faces inside an ancient “Sark Unit” – a modified biomorphic autopsy machine that looks as if Operation was made by HR Giger instead of Hasbro.

Saul and Caprice are body artists, a label often slapped on Cronenberg himself; they attract fervent fans. “Surgery is the new sex,” says Kristin Stewart, panting like a groupie. She plays a character named “Timlin”, partner of “Whippet” (Cronenberg gives her characters the best names) at the seemingly all-day Organ Registry Office, part of a shadowy bureaucracy monitoring lawless new changes. of the human form, accompanied by subversive intrigues and assassinations. A radical cell is said to be trying to bioengineer the human body to eat plastic and other industrial waste. (David Cronenberg, who has been warning us about the hybridization of human bodies with alien forms since the 1980s, is the definitive author of the microplastic era.)

There are many pleasures there. “BODY IS REALITY” proclaims a video installation during a body art performance; the gore effects here sometimes betray the limited means of the filmmakers, but there are plenty of viscera and viscous devices in the shape of Cow Tools. Cronenberg’s screenplay is heavy with exposition and double meaning, teasing allegorical readings related to penetration of all kinds, gender identity, fetishism, body modification and plastic surgery, bitchy rivalries on the art scene and climate change. Viggo, dressed as a ninja for some reason, walks around the movie blocking and hissing like a three-pack-a-day smoker as he suffers from organ growing pains and sits in a small chair. semi-sentient LifeFormWare lunch in the shape of a giant mandible that manipulates his body to help him digest his food more easily. To me, the film is funnier than smart, smarter than sexy, and sexier than gore, although the humor, intelligence, sex, and gore all come from the same playful place. It’s called the Late Style: Cronenberg, who turned 79 in March, has a rich recieved catalog – or what Saul Tenser would call an “organography” – to be recombined.

The film was shot in Greece, for funding reasons, and the locations, chipped cement walls, rusting shipyards and underground entertainment galleries, give less the impression of a former warehouse district at the dawn of gentrification than of a general analog decay, a social fabric decaying supporting expensive new tools that are the only things that work properly. (The future also seems to be set in a single off-season beach town. When the movie ends, after an hour and 45 minutes, a colleague joked, it’s either because the money ran out or tourist season has begun and all locations have returned to Airbnb.) The cast is international, giving the film an ersatz airport lounge feel with no location; performances in Cronenberg’s films are often deliberately cool and stiff, almost animatronic, and the posthuman finesse of his affect pairs interestingly with Saul and Caprice’s extensive commentary on economics and the pressures of artistic creation. It seems Cronenberg is as personally curious about the evolution of cinema in a world dominated by disturbing technology and social decay as he is about the evolution of the body.

I said earlier that it was a disappointing Cannes, without really many films landing, especially the headlines. Part of that is that any festival lineup would suffer compared to last year’s buffet, which had two years worth of titles to review after 2020’s cancellation; in part, it’s that we’re finally bearing the brunt of the pandemic supply chain shock; and part of it is that a few big names have failed to live up to expectations.

I planned to couple Future Crimes with the other headline from Monday’s Competition Decision to leaveby Korean director Park Chan-wook — a regular at Cannes since 2004, when Quentin Tarantino’s jury gave Old boy the Grand Prix, and the last here in 2016 with The servant – but I don’t think I have much to say about it. Detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) investigates a man’s fatal fall from the top of a mountain. Maybe it was suicide, maybe murder; he suspects the widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), even as he falls in love with her. Park’s favorite movie, Hitchcock’s fear of heights, is the basis of this one, and its narrative structured from inversions, role-playing, and romantic tragedy, but all of its clever directorial flourishes (I liked the way it manipulates the focus when Hae-joon interviews Seo-rae in front of a one-way mirror) and a script full of musical rehearsals doesn’t deepen the material. However, it is the first film in competition to win three stars on the Filter international reviews grid, however, what do I know? And Tang Wei is excellent as the femme fatale, earthy and vulnerable in the quicksilver way the archetype demands, and would be a deserving Best Actress winner here.

But there is a film that I can’t wait to associate with Cronenberg, in the Directors’ Fortnight selection. It’s even more visceral and stimulating than Future Crimes – it is, literally, much more than superficial. De Humani Corporis Fabricaa documentary by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, is composed largely of footage of invasive surgeries, both endoscopic views deep inside the intestines and a prostatectomy, and Truth cinema-style images of procedures including, I believe, pneumatic lithotripsy of a ureteral stone (not not look at this), an intraocular lens implant and a heartbreaking emergency C-section. (I don’t think you’ll mind a spoiler this time: baby and mom are fine.)

If you can bear it – and a lot of people can’t – From Humani is a deeply moving meditation on the bodily fact of the human body, its vulnerability and complexity, and the miracle of modern medicine. At the same time, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor capture glimpses of hospital administration and the leisure lives of physicians; listening to the humor of surgeons’ gallows, chatter about their real estate investments, complaints about hospital budgets and administration, and the panic when surgeries go wrong is an invigorating insight into the human and structural factors available to our bodies. Seeing glimpses of elderly or mentally handicapped hospital patients wandering the wards is a reminder of the inexorable decline.

In Future CrimesCaprice notes that the word “autopsy” comes from the Greek for, roughly, the act of seeing with one’s own eyes. The act of seeing with one’s own eyes is also the title of a landmark 1971 short film by experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, consisting of footage of autopsies performed in a Pittsburgh morgue, which is as candid a confrontation with the separation of soul and body as I never hope to see, and certainly never will again. In full life, we are in death — even here in Cannes!