Critics and photographers find punching bag in 'The Captive'

Mehdi Chebil / FRANCE 24

Our red carpet photographer dished the dirt on the stars, as the Cannes competition continued with an excessively bashed Canadian kidnapping thriller and a dense, 3-hour-plus Turkish epic of domestic discord.


Far from the dark cinemas, over-caffeinated press offices and tourist-clogged side streets of Cannes lies an exclusive world of glitz and glamour known as the red carpet.

While a DJ blasts pop tunes at sonic-boom-level volume, diehard fans take to the sidewalk to scream the names of their favourite stars as they strut toward the Grand Théâtre Lumière. Meanwhile, accredited photographers angle for the best shot, cajoling celebrities into looking at the lens.

One of those photographers, whose images we regularly publish, stops by our office every day to fill us in on what he’s got for us -- and, best of all, to share a bit of gossip.

Nicole Kidman is “cold but pro”, he told us earlier this week, and British filmmaker Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” made for one of the least glamorous red carpets he has ever worked (“Totally depressing,” he sighed, adding that he and his colleagues were eagerly awaiting Sunday’s gala screening of “The Expendables 3”, at which Sylvester Stallone and co stars are expected to show up riding in Soviet-era tanks.)

So far, former “Gossip Girl” leading lady Blake Lively has been a highlight. “She plays the game really well, always smiling and posing,” he said.

But apparently, Lively’s husband Ryan Reynolds could use some lessons. The star of Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s competition entry “The Captive”, Reynolds was so fidgety and distracted at the Friday photo call – “chatting with his fellow actors and refusing to look at the camera” – that photographers actually booed him.

Atom Egoyan, Canada’s new punching bag

There was booing, too, at the press screening of the film, an absorbing, if wildly erratic kidnapping thriller that seems to have replaced festival opener “Grace of Monaco” as the critical punching bag du moment.

Egoyan is a longstanding member of the “Cannes club”, meaning he tends to land in competition regardless of the quality of his films (hence the selection of the asinine “Adoration” in 2008). That fact may account for some of the hate hurled at his latest wintry puzzle, which revolves around a missing girl, her parents (a persuasive Reynolds and Mireille Enos), a pair of detectives (Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson) and a paedophile (Kevin Durand) whose fluttery mannerisms and love of opera suggest an unfortunate association of sexual perversion with gay stereotypes.

With its snowy setting, fluid camerawork, scrambled chronology and story of lurid crimes, voyeurism and technology, “The Captive” is very much an Egoyan film; in other words, it has a distinct texture and a dreamy, idiosyncratic coolness that help it fend off Hollywood blandness. Like many of the director’s movies, particularly his recent stuff (including Sapphic potboiler “Chloe” and West Memphis 3 drama “Devil’s Knot”), it’s also dogged by some groan-worthy dialogue (“I miss my husband. I miss my daughter. I miss living.”) and ludicrous plotting – which, when mixed with Egoyan’s sleek visual style, sometimes lend the proceedings a TV-ish quality.

“The Captive” is serviceable – admittedly, I’m a sucker for kidnapping stories – and undeserving of the scorn heaped on it by critics who seem to forget that not everything in competition can be high art. That said, it would be nice to see Egoyan really stretch again. He has yet to recapture the piercing, haunted beauty of his 1993 masterwork “The Sweet Hereafter”, another tale of lost children and grieving adults, but one possessed of a poetry that “The Captive” never even has within its grasp.

Domestic distress in Turkey and France

The day’s other competition screening was Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep”, a dense, visually accomplished and sometimes spellbinding domestic epic centred on a wealthy hotel owner in the Anatolia region. Ceylan’s previous film, the masterful “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, was also set in rural Turkey, but unfolded as a mournful police procedural steeped in existential anguish. “Winter Sleep” is a much talkier film, with scenes of conversation and confrontation that build, climax and then circle back on themselves; arguments the protagonist has with his sister and then his wife are tour de forces of gradually unleashed fury. I prefer Ceylan’s last movie – I’m not convinced “Winter Sleep” justifies its daunting 3-hour-17-minute running time – but am already looking forward to seeing this one again and having more time to sift through it.

More marital turmoil could be found in the Un Certain Regard side section, where France’s most ubiquitous actor, Mathieu Amalric, unveiled his latest directorial effort, “The Blue Room”. A self-consciously feverish adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, the film finds Amalric, who also stars as a married man with one very passionate mistress, laying on the formal frills a bit thick (symphonic music, oddly angled close-ups, fragmentary editing, shots of bare skin tickled by droplets of sweat). “The Blue Room” has its pleasures, not least of which is Christophe Beaucarne’s lush cinematography. But while Amalric’s loose, Cassavettes-inflected “On Tour” (2010) drew us into the off-kilter world of a travelling burlesque troupe, the director’s more studied approach in his new film has a distancing effect.

Our photographer, however, had no complaints.

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