New films by Todd Haynes, Rodrigo Moreno, Joanna Arnow, and Justine Triet uncover new rhythms in timeless genres.
The more familiar one becomes with Cannes, the less one comes to expect anything like aesthetic coherence from it. Even if one accepts its nominal (or self-proclaimed) status as the standard-setter for international arthouse cinema, there’s still a fair amount of variation within its vast program. Which is to say that while one can lament the general calcification of festival-circuit aesthetics, the arbitrary programming decisions of Thierry Frémaux, or the often perplexing set of awards handed out each year, there are always films worth seeking out. In 1982, the French critic Serge Daney remarked that Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman and Godard’s Passion were part of cinema’s “secret factory”: that is, films which wouldn’t receive awards, but from which future directors would draw inspiration in years to come. The challenge with each edition, of course, is to discover which films those are.
For a while, Mexican director Amat Escalante’s Lost in the Night, playing out of competition in the Cannes Premiere section, seemed like it could fit the bill. From the jump, the film impresses with the physicality of its visual style and its lucid, wide-angle compositions, courtesy of cinematographer Adrian Durazo (Robe of Gems , Our Time ). By the end, though, it becomes clearer why the film might have been excluded from the main competition. Despite a strong narrative thrust reminiscent of a hardboiled detective novel, in which a young man Emiliano (Juan Daniel García) gets involved with a wealthy family while searching for his activist mother, who disappeared after protesting the local mine, the film loses power in a rather ungainly final act.
All the same, Escalante’s direction remains impressive throughout. Of particular note is an early scene observing the setup for a concert promoting the local mine, which showcases the director’s control of tension and mood, and his ability to use extreme physical turns to redirect narrative expectation. Escalante’s evident taste for brutal subject matter, on display throughout the film, may sometimes be difficult to distinguish from slick productions that take cruelty as de facto virtue. What distinguishes Escalante’s films, though, is that the relationship between their violent extremes and story progression is not always straightforward. In Lost in the Night, the narrative’s momentum is often tied less to character psychology than behavioral instinct, less to deliberate action than impulse. (In this sense, Escalante does not present us with realist but naturalist violence.) Lost in the Night courts risibility during its climax, and its closing note feels somewhat abrupt and out of place, but the film has a clarity and force that lingers beyond its narrative particulars.
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