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You Were Never Really Here (#110 of 2)

Dubai International Film Festival 2017 A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

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Dubai International Film Festival 2017: A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

Wild Bunch

Dubai International Film Festival 2017: A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

Even if this paradox applies to a great many film festivals, the notion of flying halfway across the planet to sit in a dark room and watch movies is especially pronounced in Dubai, where little is more than a few decades old, island formations are exploded to resemble Qu’ranic verses, and office buildings look like spaceships retired into the ground at 90-degree angles.

On December 6, a short drive from the canyons of high-rises making up the city-state’s turbocapitalist business district, elites and journalists assembled at the Souk Madinat—a beachside network of malls, restaurants, and luxury hotels connected by artificial seawater canals—for the opening night of the 14th Dubai International Film Festival. Tributes were tendered first to both Patrick Stewart and Cate Blanchett before the kickoff of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, about a bigoted U.S. cavalry officer (Christian Bale) tasked with escorting a Cheyenne war chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) from New Mexico to his original territory in Montana.

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here

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Cannes Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

Amazon Studios

Cannes Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

In the six years since her last feature, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which also premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Lynne Ramsay seems to have come very close to figuring out a mode of experimental but psychologically lucid filmmaking that almost completely eluded her before. You Were Never Really Here, adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella of the same name, is every bit as oblique as its lengthy title makes it sound. It’s a character study conducted primarily through an aesthetic vision: Heavy-for-hire Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) stumbles through his daily existence in an expressionistic haze of prescription drugs and disturbed memories, his mind flashing on images of childhood abuse and former lives as a military soldier and an F.B.I. agent.