DAILY | Cannes 2012 | David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS
The critics are severely split.
Going by the first round of early reviews, it looks like Cosmopolis is going to severely split the critics. Let’s begin by contrasting two from Britain, starting with David Jenkins, writing for Little White Lies: “David Cronenberg’s superb latest is an existential road movie for our financially and morally bankrupt times, interested as much in addressing the semantic minutiae of the corporate apocalypse as it is deep felt anxieties relating to stress, success, control and our inability ward off death with money and status. Like The Social Network, it combines a credible depiction of a person whose age and intellect are dangerously off kilter, while sending its ‘hero’ on an anti-capitalist nightmare odyssey that discharges all the dry cynicism and insouciant doomsaying of Godard‘s Week End…. It’s a richly verbose film, even more so than his majestic, 2011 exploration of extreme emotional repression, A Dangerous Method…. The way in which Cronenberg photographs the talk, too, is subtle, elegant and intense without ever drawing undue attention to itself or feeling overly oppressive. Per Cronenberg himself, this is a film in which ‘fantastic faces say fantastic words.’”
And here’s the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, adapted by the director from the Don DeLillo novella, is stilted, self-important and dismayingly shallow, featuring an egg-laying cameo from Juliette Binoche, among others—although Paul Giamatti and Mathieu Amalric put some recognizable human life into theirs. As the star, Robert Pattinson’s face is set in an immobile semi-sneer of super-cool unshockability. He plays Packer, a twentysomething multi-billionaire Wall Street trader, who we see riding across Manhattan in his stretch limo, having conceived a whimsical desire to get a haircut way over the other side of town. This may be an allusion to the slang for a fierce market correction—a ‘haircut’—because Packer’s massive wager on Chinese currency looks like it’s going to go very wrong, his recent marriage to a wealthy and beautiful young woman is a disaster and according to his highly armed bodyguard, someone wants to kill him…. Giamatti gets the one honest laugh of the film with his use of the word ‘mutton.’ Well, you don’t go to a Cronenberg movie for comedy, but rather for something exciting, exotic, daring and precise: really, none of those things is present in this agonizingly self-conscious and meagre piece of work.”
But for Simon Abrams, writing at the Playlist, Cosmopolis is “both an exceptional adaptation and a remarkable work unto itself. Cronenberg makes slight but salient changes to DeLillo’s source narrative.” For example, “Packer is investing and studying the steady rise in the Chinese yuan in the film and not the Japanese yen…. In DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, Packer knows what’s happening with the yen, whose value keeps exponentially increasing, but is keeping that knowledge close to his chest. In Cronenberg’s variation, Packer is less sure. Pattinson’s Packer is thus more immediately defined by his frustration with the finite-ness of his capabilities. He looks to others for solutions to his problems and finds that his yes-team can only confirm his own impotence. The film version of Packer is not slyly organizing his own downfall, he’s frantically seeking it out…. Everything matters in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, but not everything is necessarily the same as DeLillo’s book. And that makes the film, as a series of discussions about inter-related money-minded contradictions, insanely rich and maddeningly complex. We can’t wait to rewatch it.”
“Cosmopolis is an odyssey defined by a series of one-on-one encounters,” writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out London. “There are prostate examinations, stripped bodies, sex, conversations about Rothko and souped-up chats on subjects such as the philosophies of financial security systems and how time is a corporate asset. Much of the talk makes no obvious sense: Cosmopolis has the air of an experimental theatre piece and trades in heightened, eroticized language. You could say it tries to turn the mind of Packer inside-out: to make the psychological real. That’s tougher on film, surely, than in print, and Cosmopolis is at its best when it’s otherworldly and aching with artifice. It’s at its worst when it becomes weighed down by an excessive, wearying wordiness, or when it steps out of the limo—the film’s self-imposed arena of surreality—and into a place more like the real world. Cosmopolis threatens to soar and to be important, but it only offers flashes of lucidity; the limo is a mesmerizing bubble that is quickly burst when the film steps outside it.”
“Cut and pasted almost verbatim into the script, the novelist’s mannered dialogue and shallow characters (many of whom are simply mouthpieces for ideas) make for an anemic, dramatically flat viewing experience,” finds Screen‘s Lee Marshall. “In one sense, Cosmopolis is a return to the past for Cronenberg: mostly shot within a cyber-pimped limo, it harnesses the dark, dysfunctional, oneiric moods, if not the same body horror themes, of Videodrome or Crash. But his dependence on DeLillo’s source material means that the director is not entirely his own man, and the atmosphere of impending catastrophe that builds in the course of the film (and is its strongest feature) is constantly undermined by its bookish lines and set-ups.”
“On the page and on film, Eric is a controlled and controlling figure, a man impervious to society’s norms who one must feel has a mind operating well beyond the capacities of mere mortals,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “He’s utterly humorless and without detectable compassion or accessible humanity, which makes him less than companionable as a character. Pattinson doesn’t help matters by revealing nothing behind the eyes and delivering nearly all his lines with the same rhythm and intonations, plus repetitive head nods in the bargain. It’s a tough character that perhaps a young Jeremy Irons could have made riveting, but Pattinson is too bland and monotonous to hold the interest.”
Viewing (11’22″). The Festival interviews Cronenberg and his cast. In the Toronto Sun, Cronenberg tells Bruce Kirkland that “Cosmopolis is the first feature film that I’ve shot digitally. Which—believe me—is fine with me. I have no particular affection for film whatsoever, other than the smell when you open those film cans. Then I thought you could have a Kodak air freshener.”
EOne (aka Entertainment One) has picked up North American rights to Cosmopolis for $2 million, reports Kevin Jagernauth. Also at the Playlist, Simon Dang reports that Pattinson has mentioned in two interviews that he’s already lined up for Cronenberg’s next project. “While Pattinson doesn’t specify what the project is, the actor has recently been rumored to be a part of Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars, a dark thriller that the director has been brewing since 2006. ‘You could say it’s a Hollywood film because the characters are agents, actors and managers, but it is not a satire like The Player,’ Cronenberg previously explained about the Bruce Wagner-penned movie. ‘Hollywood is a world that is seductive and repellent at the same time, and it is the combination of the two that makes it so potent. I won’t fall back on some clichés or simplistic sloganeering, because the culture and what it reveals about Western culture and the rest of the world is very complex.’”
And for those who just can’t get enough Cronenberg, earlier today, Jonathan Rosenbaum posted his 1997 review of Crash.
Updates: Guy Lodge at In Contention: “A structurally episodic but rhythmically homogeneous essay on our self-inflicted socio-economic decay, set in a Manhattan at once present-day and indeterminately futuristic—DeLillo’s novel was actually set three years before its publication date; no year is specified here—Cosmopolis represents Cronenberg’s first visit to heightened reality since 1999′s eXistenZ, which is also, arguably, the new film’s closest tonal cousin in the director’s filmography. We’re not strictly in a fantasy zone…, but the removal from reality is near-total, down to the frozen alien meter with which the cast have been instructed to deliver their scarcely reactive dialogue…. Even when we can’t quite decipher its message, there’s a hint of the didactic about Cosmopolis that speaks to its late place in the director’s canon; its emptily chaotic environment, however, is classic Cronenbergian creation, as invigoratingly and reassuringly strange as can be.”
“While Cosmopolis is a bit too one-note to allow any proclamations about Pattinson’s range, his opaque, handsome, sometimes robot-like face compliments Cronenberg’s themes and styles perfectly,” writes Brian Clark at Twitch. “In terms of what the director seems to be aiming for here, his cold performance is nearly flawless.” But “rather than a thriller, Cosmopolis plays more like a wispy film of ideas, with conversations in the limo about society, wealth and humanity dominating most of the screen time…. It’s often reminiscent of work by playwright/screenwriter Harold Pinter, but never quite as fun, nor nearly as humorous as it should be.”
At Cineuropa, Domenico La Porta finds the film “to be just like the original: talkative, sometimes irritating, but also puzzling.”
“Since 2005′s A History of Violence, Cronenberg has ventured beyond the grotesque allegorical interests of his earlier movies, a shift that has led some longtime fans to assume he has softened up,” writes indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn. “As an enjoyably peculiar anti-capitalist indictment, Cosmopolis proves otherwise.”
“Cosmopolis is a mesmerizing, utterly cerebral inquiry into the current economic crisis as channeled by its main character’s slowly imploding mind,” argues Michael Oleszczyk at Hammer to Nail. “At once a follow-up to eXistenZ in its portrayal of reality’s crumbling façade and A Dangerous Method‘s kissing cousin by virtue of a non-stop blast of brainy talk, Cosmopolis is this year’s Margin Call for the philosophical-minded set…. To borrow one of its own characters’ phrases, Cosmopolis is about ‘acquiring information and turning it into something stupendous and awful.’ In other words, it’s about the world we construct for ourselves in our heads—as well as the perils inherent in the process. For all its talk of world economy, the movie pursues the same theme one of Cronenberg’s masterpieces did, which is to say that—just like in Spider—we’re once again sentenced for life to a solitary confinement within our minds and bodies.”
“Forget, for a moment, that novelist Don DeLillo’s works are only slightly less ‘filmable’ than Finnegans Wake and the Bible,” writes David Fear in Time Out New York. “Given their mutual love of dense philosophical musings, free-floating paranoia and the warping of language, it now seems inevitable that Cronenberg and the author would get around to collaborating. The smart money would have been on DeLillo’s White Noise, but his 2003 mondo-yuppie take on Dante’s Inferno may have been a more inspired choice; it’s an ideal match of filmmaker and material. Cronenberg has always understood the way that perfect surfaces hide uncontrollable maelstroms, and how the ruptures of said facades—caused by sexuality, biology, technology, violence or, usually, an incestuous combination of all four—offer mind-fucks of enlightenment. Duplicating DeLillo’s chronicle of an insular vessel gliding through deep space, a.k.a. the void of midtown Manhattan, the Canadian director finds those ruptures everywhere: in the encounters Parker has with tech geeks and his fembot fiancée, in the hilariously sexualized prostate exam he receives en route, in the riots filled with shouting protestors and men in rat suits, in the sight of a bored billionaire shooting a hole in his hand for the nihilistic hell of it.”
“Cronenberg seems to be trying for a sci-fi poetic vision of the new financial power brokers and the slow-motion monetary nervous breakdown that they helped to create and are still feeding off of,” writes Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman. “Yet he’s so possessed by the stark significance of these themes that he hasn’t made Cosmopolis into a movie. It is, rather, a parade of hollow didactic encounters.”
Time‘s Richard Corliss sounds downright angry, arguing that “a movie version of DeLillo’s prophetic autopsy of capitalist excess, as adapted and directed by David Cronenberg, Canada’s master of all things gruesome, ought to have the sting of a headline about a Goldman Sachs smart guy who lost $2 billion on a bad bet—or, at least, the angry ache of a Paul Krugman op-ed piece, like today’s ‘Egos and Immorality,’ on the Wall Street one-percenters. Instead, this vapid, claustrophobic drama proves nothing but the emptiness of the Cannes Film Festival’s current tactic for reaping worldwide publicity: giving some of its choicest spots in the 12-day program to B-plus directors’ middling-to-awful films starring young actors with an avid teen following. On Wednesday, The Twilight Saga‘s Kristen Stewart in On the Road. Yesterday, High School Musical graduate Zac Efron in The Paperboy. And today, Robert Pattinson, Stewart’s Twilight costar (and boyfriend), trading in vampire fangs for a plutocrat’s snarl. Not one of the films is worthy of a major film festival or a reviewer’s time. They are here simply for the entertainment news value of celebrities in their 20s ascending the red-carpeted steps to the Grand Palais theater.”
But for Variety‘s Justin Chang, Cosmopolis is an “eerily precise match of filmmaker and material.” Cronenberg “crucially nails the novel’s tone of archly stylized pessimism.”
Updates, 5/26: “[I]n Cosmopolis, the master of body horror has engineered a kind of cinematic stem cell from which all of the other films at Cannes this year might have been cultured,” suggests the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “Cosmopolis picks up on and runs with all three of the central themes that have emerged over the last 11 days of the Festival: our response to chaos; the collapse of the era of excess; and the terror, and comedy, of death. It could almost be a bizarro prequel to Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, another film in which a limo ride becomes an odyssey.”
“The physical body and all its beautiful horrors have long been essential to Cronenberg, but in Cosmopolis they become a way station for penetrating absurdities and diseased ideas,” writes Glenn Heath Jr. at Press Play. “If ‘time is a corporate asset,’ as Eric’s advisor Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton) suggests, then Cosmopolis strips away the 24/7 urgency of capitalist intent and allows one of its titans to ponder the possibilities of his own failure.”
“Cronenberg’s latest is uncharacteristically inert (especially when compared with his earlier inspired adaptations, 1991′s Naked Lunch and 1996′s Crash),” finds Melissa Anderson, writing for Artforum.
“Cronenberg made what will surely be remembered as one of the worst decisions of his creative career when he cast Robert Pattinson as the protagonist,” finds Charles H. Meyer at Cinespect.
Demetrios Matheou at the Arts Desk: “Cronenberg has said that the film is contemporary, while the book was prophetic, and he’s right; in its portrait of Wall Street greed and solipsism, the movie doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. In that sense it’s a slight work, almost a ditty. That said, the combination of the Canadian’s deliberately artificial style and huge tracts of DeLillo dialogue seemingly lifted wholesale from the book offers an icily entertaining mockery of this heinous breed ‘speculating into the void.’”
Updates, 5/27: “Cronenberg shoots in tight close-ups with a wide-lens, so everything, like Eric’s asymmetrical prostate, always appears a little off-kilter,” notes Ryan Lattanzio at the Evening Class. “A director known for his explorations of the body’s (per)mutations, and its inevitable emergence with non-corporeal forms of capital, commerce and technology, Cronenberg is at the top of his game here.”
Pattinson is “among the half of David Cronenberg’s eclectic cast that completely nails the very tricky, precise tone demanded by Don DeLillo’s unapologetically inhuman dialogue,” finds Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club. “[A]t times I was reminded of Shane Carruth’s brilliant low-budget sci-fi mindbender Primer, in which it’s not important that you understand what’s being said so much as recognize how a particular mode of communication can both reflect and influence the way people think.”
This is an “uncanny, perversely funny and frighteningly insular adaptation,” writes Daniel Kasman in MUBI’s Notebook. “Coming after the supposed craziness reported in Croisette buzz about Leo Carax’s limo movie, it is really Cronenberg’s film that is the supreme oddity of the competition lineup… [S]oundproofed to near silence from street noise, cruising so slowly as to produce no bumps in the ride, the back projections behind the windows both artificial and probably not of New York (joining the Resnais and Ruiz to make Cannes 2012 an excellent example of ingenious digital artificiality), these remove almost all semblance to even a partially realistic mise-en-scène. Within this vacuum, the episodic dialogs, each introduced with hard jump-cuts, are all the more honed, isolated, eery and confrontational.”
Dennis Lim talks with Cronenberg for the New York Times, where Manohla Dargis writes: “Mr. Cronenberg does wonders with both the camera, especially inside the tight confines of limo, where many of the scenes are set, and with his star, coaxing a performance from Mr. Pattinson that perfectly works for the movie’s sepulchral air. Initially, when Packer slides into his limo, he seems like another master of the universe with shades, a bespoke suit and the otherworldly air of the super-rich. Yet as the limo inches across the city, where the traffic has been slowed to a creep by a presidential motorcade, a celebrity funeral and anarchist outrage, you begin to realize this is a man being chauffeured to his own funeral. As a diagnosis of what ails us, Cosmopolis would make an excellent if slightly nauseating double-bill with Mary Harron’s Wall Street horror shocker, American Psycho.”
“Cosmopolis has been assessed as a ‘cold’ film, which it is,” grants Film4.com‘s Catherine Bray. “Warmth would derail it.”
Update, 5/29: “Some critics have complained that this dialogue-heavy film is static, theatrical, and uncinematic,” notes Richard Porton at the Daily Beast. “But Cronenberg, who can certainly lay on the visual pyrotechnics when he feels the urge to do so, rightly believes that a restrained style is not equivalent to an absence of style and that, in any case, trenchant words can often have a more lasting impact. Celebrated early in his career for inventive low-budget horror films incorporating garish special effects, he has now pared his cinematic modus operandi down to the bone.”
Ronald Bergan for Bright Lights: “Cronenberg sticks doggedly to the page, so that the film lacks narrative momentum and is visually flat, despite surreal episodes with rats and a pie-throwing anarchist (Mathieu Amalric briefly). But more unforgivable is the transposition of paragraphs of DeLillo’s brilliantly descriptive prose into the mouths of the actors. What was dialogue in the novel, which one can mull over, becomes lines and lines and lines in the film. I therefore spent some of my time, between looking at my watch and the screen, reading the French subtitles because the dialogue was written to be read, not spoken.”
“Diamond-hard and dazzlingly brilliant, Cosmopolis alternates between mannered repression and cold frenzy,” writes Budd Wilkins at the House Next Door.
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