Cannes Check: David Cronenberg's 'Cosmopolis'

Posted by · 5:21 pm · April 25th, 2012

The auteur: David Cronenberg (Canadian, 69 years old)

The talent: At this stage in his career, we don’t expect an undistinguished cast from a Cronenberg film, and true to form, this one is packed to the rafters with interesting names — though not ones you’d necessarily expect on one bill. Juliette Binoche (returning to Cannes for the first time since winning Best Actress two years ago), Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric and Jay Baruchel are all on board — as, more improbably, is Somalian rapper K’Naan. (On a side note, this is the director’s first feature in 10 years not to star Viggo Mortensen.)

The big attraction, however, is some guy called Robert Pattinson in the lead. It’s perhaps the poppiest casting coup of Cronenberg’s career, and the best chance yet for the talented British heartthrob to win some admirers beyond the fiercely devoted “Twilight” faithful.

A major point of interest is that this is Cronenberg’s first self-scripted feature since 1999’s “eXistenZ,” which rather increases the possibility of the director letting his freak flag fly. Below the line, meanwhile, it’s business as usual: cinematographer Peter Suschitzky has shot all Cronenberg’s films since “Dead Ringers” in 1998, composer Howard Shore has scored all but one since “The Brood” in 1979, while editor Ronald Sanders and costume designer (and sister) Denise Cronenberg go similarly far back. This sturdy team is just about as integral to the Cronenberg brand as Cronenberg himself. 

The pitch: With over 40 years having passed since the publication of his first novel, Don DeLillo is surely one of the most celebrated contemporary authors never to have been adapted for the screen before, with studios’ attempts at filming both “White Noise” and “End Zone” having ultimately bitten the dust. That’s not an accident: DeLillo’s dense, oblique, thematically braided prose isn’t exactly made for cinema. It makes perfect sense then, that it’s David Cronenberg who has finally broken that duck: having already brought William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard and Patrick McGrath to the screen, the Canadian veteran knows a thing or two about filming the unfilmable.

DeLillo’s short 2003 novel “Cosmopolis” wasn’t as fanatically embraced by critics as some of his other works, which probably makes it a smart choice for adaptation, though it’s a tall order all the same. Set in modern-day Manhattan, the surreal narrative covers a day in the life of a young billionaire financier, whose trek across town to get a haircut is beset with complications, obstructions and sexually charged encounters, as he sets about losing vast sums of money — his own and that of his clients. As a potential allegory for our own financial woes as a society, this is one cannily timed project. 

The pedigree: Well, it’s Cronenberg, one of the few filmmakers whose name has spawned its own widely used cinematic adjective, applied not merely to his own films — the pedigree need hardly be explained. This is his fourth go-round in Competition at Cannes, though he only won for his first, when “Crash” was awarded a Special Jury Prize after rocking the Croisette in 1996.”Spider” and “A History of Violence,” though both warmly received at the festival, came away empty-handed. (“Naked Lunch” and “eXistenZ” competed at Berlin, while he made his Venice debut last year with “A Dangerous Method.”) Finally, Cronenberg headed the Cannes jury in 1999 — big winner or not, he’s among the festival elite. 

The buzz: Through. The. Roof. Casting Pattinson in the lead has ensured that, in an unusual occurrence, the arthouse intelligentsia and the screaming teen hordes are going to converge on the same red carpet, making “Cosmopolis” surely the hottest ticket of the festival. What that means for the film itself is harder to gauge. With the festival’s flashbulbs fixed squarely on it, the film’s under pressure to deliver — but it’s likelier to satisfy, or at least stimulate, the Cronenberg acolytes than the mainstream media drawn more by the casting than the challenging match of director and source material. Mixed reviews wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing: it could be one of those strange festival brews for which critical consensus is slow to emerge.

The odds: The bookies like the film’s Palme chances — Paddy Power currently gives it strong odds of 11-2 — but in this case, I don’t think they’re necessarily being deceived by the bright lights. Cronenberg is well overdue for some major festival hardware, and the film’s themes would make it an attractively timely winner. I have my doubts about the Palme going to a big-name North American dreamer two years in a row, but of all the English-language films in Competition, this feels to me like the best bet. R.Pattz for Best Actor, on the other hand? I’m not sure the internet can handle that.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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