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Cannes Film Festival 2010: Outside the Law, Boxing Gym, Hahaha, & Tender Son—The Frankenstein Project

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Cannes Film Festival 2010: Outside the Law, Boxing Gym, Hahaha, & Tender Son—The Frankenstein Project

Cannes Film Festival

Despite not being a sequel to Days of Glory, Outside the Law does feature the same three actors who starred in that film, playing characters with the same names: Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), brothers living in France who form a terrorist organization to combat French violence against Algerians. Their story plays out via plot points and dramatic beats stolen straight from The Godfather and Army of Shadows, minus any of the traits that make those films such enduring masterpieces. Where they’re fluid and graceful, it’s clunky and bombastic. Where they’re suggestive and haunting, it’s ham-fisted and didactic. And where they’re long for a purpose, it’s just plain long, stretching its thin dramatic material out over scene after redundant scene. Right-wing protestors hit the streets of Cannes today to bemoan what they claim are significant factual inaccuracies in the film. Even if that’s the case, they should cool it; Outside the Law is not even close to worth getting that worked up about.

I’m leaving Cannes early Sunday morning, which means I need to finish writing about the films I saw yesterday, about the films I will see today, and about what I think will win awards—all before I hit the hay tonight. For that reason, I’m going to avoid touching too deeply on Frederick Wiseman’s Boxing Gym, playing in Director’s Fortnight, which is probably minor Wiseman but is beautifully crafted and does a nice job of capturing the sense of a small-scale society within the gym; Hong Sang-soo’s Un Certain Regard entry Hahaha, which is a lot of fun but doesn’t seem to actually be doing too terribly much—its name is awfully appropriate; or the second-to-last competition title in the fest, Kornél Mundruczó’s Tender Son—The Frankenstein Project.

The title of Mundruczó’s film should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect: It’s pretentious, Gothic-tinged, and more than a little clunky. The same could be said of Mundruczó’s 2008 Cannes entry Delta, which was so lugubrious as to almost be an unintentional parody of humorless European art films. I slightly preferred Tender Son, mostly because it confirms what Delta merely suggested—that Mundruczó is a genuinely talented visualist, capable of putting together some really stunning, unusual imagery. Unfortunately, he’s also kind of a halfwit, as shown by what passes for Tender Son’s ideas.
Mundruczó himself stars as a film director whose son, given up to an orphanage after his birth and who doesn’t know his father, returns home. While auditioning his son for a movie part, the son murders a young actress and then, in his attempt to escape justice, several other victims. The father must stop his son, thereby coming to terms with his own sins. Because, don’t you see, the father is the creator and the son is his monster, and so isn’t the father really the true monster here, and besides that, monsters aren’t born but are actually made by societal and familial harms, and give me a break already. Mundruczó’s visuals don’t even really help, ultimately, since their sophistication only serves to draw even more attention to the paucity of his thought. I think Mundruczó could potentially direct a terrific film, but I’m certain that he’ll never write one.