Cannes 2013 is well underway as the annual film festival showcases the latest in international cinema against the lush n' gorgeous backdrop of the French countryside. Perhaps the most notoriously elitist of film festivals (by a mile), it's all about the fashion and, well, bling 'round these parts ... which makes it only appropriate that one of the first movies out the gate this year was "The Bling Ring," Sofia Coppola's true-life crime comedy about a bunch of spoiled SoCal teenagers who fight off boredom by robbing rich celebrities.
Actually, it might seem a little odd that such a decidedly American story -- and L.A.-centric, at that -- would be one of the first films to screen this year, but Coppola is a Cannes regular, having premiered both "The Virgin Suicides" (1999) and "Marie Antoinette" (2006) at the festival. While those two offerings might have been more Euro-flavored (in either tone or content), "The Bling Ring" -- and all its airheaded American obsession with fame n' notoriety -- looks to be a more well-received film than either the so-slight-it's-barely-there "Somewhere" (2010) or the extremely divisive "Marie Antoinette."
Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian calls it "an intuitive and atmospheric tale" and "an unexpected pleasure" and praises Coppola's directing, saying there's "something in her unjudging approach that is unexpectedly appropriate -- and effective."
Cath Clarke of Time Out London is especially taken with star Emma Watson, saying that "the real story here isn't the good-girl-goes-bad stunt casting; it's that Watson can act. Against the odds, the 'Harry Potter' star gives a sharp, knowing smart performance as Nicki." Clarke also praises "The Bling Ring" as "easily Coppola’s funniest film."
The film's biggest champion so far is Robbie Cullin of The Telegraph, who says "Coppola’s uproarious and bitingly timely film feels every inch a necessary artwork" and that "Everything comes together for the good here: visuals, performances, raucous soundtrack, Coppola’s teasing flirtation with, yet ultimate lack of commitment to, some kind of concrete morality."
However, as is usually the case with a Sofia Coppola film, "The Bling Ring" certainly has its share of detractors -- some more enthusiastic in their disliking of the film than others.
Mark Adams of Screen Daily calls it "an impressively mannered and vividly evocative delve into the glossily vacuous side of fame-obsessed Los Angeles" and "a a cool and smart look at the antics of young teens who stole from the rich and famous," but notes that it "frustratingly lacks the drama and narrative drive to grip audiences, despite the impressive efforts of the young cast."
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter says the film is "beautifully shot" (by ace cinematographer Harris Savides, who died halfway through production, and his longtime operator, Christopher Blauvelt) but "light on social commentary," in that "Coppola's attitude toward her subject seems equivocal, uncertain; there is perhaps a smidgen of social commentary, but she seems far too at home in the world she depicts to offer a rewarding critique of it."
The real non-believers are revealing themselves on Twitter with a series of one-sentence blasts:
"BLING RING - what was evidently a non-event of a "news" story becomes a non-event of a movie. S.Coppola's still taken seriously by anyone?" - Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge
"The Bling Ring: such an esp. damning tale of Generation TMZ as-is that Sofia Coppola hardly has to do much with it, and hardly does #Cannes" - William Goss, MSN Movies
"THE BLING RING(D+) Good satire doesn't need character's explaining it in talking heads. Fun nonetheless but pretty thin & stylistically flat" -- Neil Skinner, HeyUGuys
"The Bling Ring - Coppola's simplistic materialistic excess PSA. Hollow characters, amateur acting, useless story. Wasted potential. #cannes" - Alex Billington, First Showing
"The Bling Ring (Coppola): 32. Two words: Who cares?" - Mike D'Angelo, A.V. Club
Another film that's dividing audiences at Cannes this year is "Young & Beautiful," director François Ozon's follow-up to last year's "In the House," described in the press kit simply as "a coming-of-age portrait of a 17-year-old French girl over four seasons and four songs." Since it's an Ozon film, that "coming-of-age" involves a pretty intense sexual awakening (you've seen "Swimming Pool," right?), and Matt Patches at Hollywood.com believes the film serves as an argument as to why an American shouldn't direct the upcoming screen adaptation of a certain extremely popular erotic thriller.
"After watching François Ozon's 2013 Cannes Film Festival entry 'Jeune et Jolie' ('Young & Beautiful'), it's possible that there isn't an American or studio-appropriate director even fit to turn 'Fifty Shades' ['of Grey'] into something remotely watchable," says Patches, praising the film as a "sizzling, stark drama that finally does justice to early days of sexual hunger."
Leslie Felperin of Variety admits that "In the House" might be the better film, noting that "Young & Beautiful" "lacks its predecessor's critic-wowing metafictional fireworks" but that "its elegant execution will win warm regard, while the baby 'Belle de jour' subject matter should lure audiences at arthouses worldwide." Felperin also says that the film's sexually-charged heroine is "entrancingly incarnated by newcomer Marine Vacth."
Robbie Cullin of The Telegraph says what could be seen as narrative weaknesses actually work to the film's benefit, saying that "Young & Beautiful" is "in the very best sense, a film that won't add up. Moment by moment you think you have the measure of it, but when you stand back, the overall picture is as baffling as that optical illusion in which the tuning fork suddenly seems to grow an extra prong." And that's a good thing, as "We leave the film without a solution, which is, of course, as it should be: this is sex we’re dealing with, not algebra."
However, Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist finds it a film of "confused messages," saying that "Ozon wants to have it both ways with 'Young & Beautiful,' using a young woman's risk-filled sexual awakening as an illustration of coming-of-age, while also demanding a realism from a situation that he keeps far from being rationalized and justified. Holding the cards back from the audience can be a rewarding experience, but here it leaves much of the filmmaker's own purpose not just open to interpretation, but to question." Ultimately, it's a film that "misses an opportunity to say something definitively different about being seventeen."
Finally, we have "The Past" ("Le passe"), director Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to his highly acclaimed "A Separation" (2011) about an Iranian man who deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland and must contend with his wife's new relationship after she requests a divorce. The film is so far getting rave reviews and appears to be the first true contender for the Palme d'Or.
"With his trademark moral complexity, Farhadi delivers an engrossing psychological drama in which children are the victims," writes Deborah Young in The Hollywood Reporter, saying it's a "superbly written, directed and acted drama that commands attention every step of the way." Young also praises the lead performance of Berenice Bejo ("The Artist"), whose "surprisingly dynamic, unsentimental central performance ... should help audiences relate to the tale."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian says that while "The Past" is a "slightly contrived movie" it is ultimately a "finely-crafted, sinewy drama that anatomises clotted and complex relationships" and an "intricate and often brilliant drama, with restrained and intelligent performances."
Sasha Stone of The Wrap is completely taken with "The Past," saying it's a "brilliant meditation on secrets & lies" and "the kind of film that leaves you changed by the time the credits start to roll." It's a "reminder of what kind of storytelling is possible without an over-reliance on focus groups, without studio execs muddying the waters" and, ultimately, this year's Cannes offering that "may be tough to beat for the Palme d'Or." Kate Muir of The Times agrees, saying the film is a "strong contender" for the festival's most prestigious award.
However, it's Kevin Jagernauth at The Playlist who once again isn't completely swept away, saying that "The Past" is a "mostly powerful look at the messiness of stasis" that "doesn't aspire to be anything more than a (mostly) really well-realized melodrama." Jagernauth is most impressed with Bejo, whose performance "solidifies her as the real deal."
The 2013 Cannes Film Festival opened this past Wednesday and will run through Sunday, May 26.