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Manuel de Layet [Film Festival 05.29.12] France drama

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he only thing that dawned in my mind watching this one is that there's something wonderful about the so-called economical crisis: you can make movies and books and whatnot about it and get yourself silly rich. I know it's a wide statement, many films here in Cannes were in some way or an other about the crisis and sometimes it's just a background pretext, but here it's more or less a central element of the plot.

Adapted from a book by Don Delillo, this is a day in the life of a failing billionaire trying to cross the city in his limousine to get to his hairdresser. Basically his financial difficulties are mirrored into real life tediousness as his stretch lounges the streets. Road blocks, riots and protests, entire ways closed by official convoys, funerals, the whole city becomes a maze in which the only Ariane's thread is the haircut the hero wants.

There's a question now, how can a movie about some bloke sitting at the back of car going to the hairdresser can be of any interest? I do not have a politically correct answer to that question. In fact I'm here struggling not to use enough expletives and slurs to fuel a rocket to Mars...

What city is he in, honestly I don't remember, it is only ever seen from behind the limousine windows, and the few places we actually get to see otherwise are generic. Of the streets, most of the time, the only thing we see of it is some vague background of bustle framed by the door of the car while the head of security talks to his employer, our would-be hero. The hardships of the trek are also distant and exhausted, we know the president is in town but it's more of a MacGuffin for the roads to be closed and the journey to linger. There's a riot at one point, some global protest on poverty giving us the joy of feeling like a wall as the car windows are tagged.

But what of the drama, the global point of interest, the purpose of this? And, as far as the financial drama goes, is the monetary collapse global or only his? Who knows. It's hinted that's the yuan is causing all this, but there no real development behind. So basically what we get is one guy brooding about losing money, spending money, not having enough sex. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. And because one man alone can't fuel a movie, he will pick-up passengers here and there to help get some dialogue going.

Maybe, and I say maybe, if you're part of the famed downtrodden masses, you will find an interest in hearing someone drone about how he didn't get something seemingly unrelevant quite right and lost billions for his troubles, and that he bought some old nuclear bomber in Azerbaijan which the US won't let him fly and so on. The weight of money in all its glory served stale on a piece of burnt toast for the paupers to munch on. Happy Snacking.

Apart from the sulking, the other major leitmotiv in this piece is the Rat. Surely as a metaphor for greedy capitalism, or the banking and trading systems. There are rats everywhere be them real or symbolic rats, rats they are: papier-mache rats going down the streets like Chinese new-year dragons, good old fashioned dead fur-balls being thrown around by irate protesters to the global indifference of the rest of the world. And an interesting verbal musing about replacing all the world currencies by rats, with the global threat to healthcare that the disposal of used assets should pose, and how to speculate properly on the birth rate of the spotted Russian rat. In all honesty I'd love to see a world where pregnant Russian rats are a commodity, that would make my day-job more interesting. And of course the biggest rat of them all is the protagonist.

It's hinted here and there along the course of the film, and more specifically near the end if you were so asleep you didn't get it before. So there was a reason for Mr Cronenberg to cast this unknown fellow, Robert Pattipan or whatever his name his, he's physically a human rat. That's a daring casting choice if there's one. I wonder how the audition did go...

Sadly, it means that beside the wonderful laughing potential of seeing this scrawny-looking fellow muse about, trying to appear important, it also means the hero as no screen presence at all. The supporting cast being more vibrant, especially the small cameo from Juliette Binoche, makes it even more flagrant.

The cinematography is of course what Cronenberg got us used to, you can't say it's not brilliantly shot, making the most of the minimalist décor. The interior of a car, no matter how nerdy, futuristic and full of blue dials and screens, is something extremely constricting in terms of camera angles and set definition. Limiting yes, but cleverly used throughout so that the angles and close viewpoints needed in the car are used on the outside, giving the whole film a nice unity of construction. And of course maximising the shock when violence arise. Oh yeah did I forgot to mention that? It's a Cronenberg, there will be blood at the most unexpected moments.

To wrap the rat up, I don't know any of the whereabouts concerning the production of this film, but to me it's on the same line of what "la terza madre" was for Dario Argento, a blip on the radar to be seen tongue firmly in cheek in order to appreciate it on any levels. Otherwise this is nothing but some stale and unappealing story, were the brilliant cinematographic mastery of Cronenberg is marred by an under-grade lead actor. Amusingly this didn't make me want to read the book. Ever.

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LikeBreathing (9 years ago) Reply

I recently watched Cosmopolis. To date I’ve avoided any film featuring Robert Pattinson (biting people), but this one had me intrigued (especially as he doesn’t bite anyone). The film has been described as: pretentious, self indulgent, cold, cynical, philosophical, incoherent, complicated, demanding, bizarre, unconventional, nonsensical and dialog-heavy. If (like me) you look at these as positive points, this could be a film for you. If you’d rather see: giant robots, lovesick vampires or effeminate pirates, *maybe* this isn’t your thing - who knows...

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