As a celebration of the unprecedented number of Canadian films that competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival, Moviefone Canada is highlighting each of these works.
When Nicholas Winding Refn's "Drive" hit theatres, it startled many moviegoers that had pegged Ryan Gosling as just another in a long line of pretty-boy actors -- sympathetic with clearly defined abs, but a performer who picked relatively safe projects to delve into.
For those paying a closer attention, it was his compelling turn in "Lars And The Real Girl," a tale of a man that falls in love with an anatomically accurate doll, that showed the slightly off-kilter direction that he was heading in.
His previous film with Refn, "Only God Forgives," bowed last Cannes and split the opinion of critics; some lauded it as a masterpiece, some saw it as an indulgent if pretty-to-look-at mess.
Critics were equally split with "Lost River," Gosling's directorial debut. While Refn's film dug into the dark underworld of Thailand, Gosling sets his sights closer to home, providing a bleak and almost fairy-tale like look at the decaying exurbs of Detroit.
It's easy to dismiss the film as a mere vanity project, some star-gazing premiere that's certain to generate press. Others will embrace it for the same reason, anxious to see the poster boy do well.
Divorced from such considerations, I'd suggest that Gosling has done a quite admirable job with his first foray. If we saw this sort of thing come from the likes of Harmony Korine, I believe that there would be many reticent to embrace it, but somehow find a way to get past its minor faults. It's as if during festival time that there's cachet for the esoteric, an "I know something you don't" vibe that dismisses the tastes of a "populist" audience in favour of a cloistered festival crowd.
Now, there's nobody who's going to look at "Lost River" and think this is going to be a hit at the multiplex. The story is about a mother (Christina Hendricks), her son (Ian De Caestecker), the overtly named bully (Matt Smith), the meek-yet-interesting neighbour (Saorise Ronan) and her infirm mother (Barbara Steele), the seedy boss (Ben Mendelsohn) and the seductive co-worker (Eva Mendes). It's clear that Gosling's star power gets him a lot of fine actor friends, and the ensemble is overall quite exceptional, driving much of the pleasure gained from watching the film.
Gosling's script for the film is a mixed bag, a kind of half-baked fable about decay and rebirth. Still, it's shot with a surreal beauty by indie darling Benoît Debie, lenser of the likes of Korine's "Spring Breakers," Gaspar Noé's "Enter The Void" and "Irreversible," and Fabrice Du Welz's "Calvaire." The film plays as a kind of post-apocalyptic dream, the decaying infrastructure providing a gothic-like framework on which the story hangs. Some of the shots are downright hypnotic, from the slow-motion tongues of flame licking the beams of a house, to a startling pink, smoke-filled hallway that feels particularly Freudian.
This isn't a film for everyone, and it certainly has its issues. Still, I think it's something to be applauded, miles better than many first-time films. It's indulgent to an extent, but it's also brash without ever coming across as ridiculous. There's a humility to Gosling's filmmaking that I think will serve him well, what seems a real desire to push the bounds of experimental cinema, while still maintaining a coherence that is at least somewhat audience-friendly.
If there's one churlish critique, it's that the film doesn't quite go far enough, the menace never quite as biting as it needs to be to make the jeopardy feel real.
Still, Gosling's "Lost River" is one of the more interesting films to bow at this year's Cannes, a strange mélange of art film and melodrama that speaks to the emergence of a gifted filmmaker. Who knows what's next for Gosling as he steps out from the shadow of his mentor Refn, but consider me one who is anxious to find out.
"Lost River" will probably get a North American release date later this year. As of this writing, there is no official trailer.