Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cannes 2014: Lost River by Ryan Gosling



Lost River (or How To Catch A Monster as it was first known) is another film we were expecting in the official selection, only to find it relegated to Un Certain Regard, although given how unusual it is and the immediate reaction from the press members I saw it with after its world premiere, it makes a lot of sense. The official selection has not been very open to cult/genre films lately, it is a daunting prospect for any new director and the notoriety of his director Ryan Gosling meant it was always going to go through some even more intense scrutiny. Indeed there was a mighty scuffle to get into the first screening, and I cannot imagine what the evening one with him in attendance will be like!

In Lost River, single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) is forced to enter a dark underworld to survive when facing financial difficulties, while her son Bones (Iain de Caestecker) discovers an abandoned town at the bottom of a reservoir.

Lost River is absolutely not what you would expect an actor turned director to make. While many thespians have been tempted to try their hand at directing (and few have managed to make it a lasting career), their films more often than not have heavily relied on a strong, "important" subjects, dialogues heavy scripts and especially acting, considering that this is what they know best. 

Yet Ryan Gosling has offered us the polar opposite: a sublime and dream-like modern fairy tale, with few dialogues and an abundance of unapologetic references to directors he has worked with or simply admires: Nicolas Winding Refn, David Lynch.. but also hints of Mario Bava. As such, it is one of the most visually arresting films any actor turned director has ever made, and one of the most baffling too!

It is the decline of the American City that is presented in front of our eyes in Lost River, and the film was shot in Detroit, which epitomises the current urban crisis: unemployment, crime, entire parts being deserted, with the effects of the subprime crisis still very much in evidence. But rather than opting for a realistic point of view, the directors goes the surreal way and offers us a wonderfully evocative and gothic metaphor.

While many will spot the Winding Refn influence, with the reliance on neon lighting putting the spotlight on urban decay and its pulsating soundtrack, it is David Lynch that I was mostly reminded of. Indeed at its best, the film is reminiscent of his 90's period, films such as Lost Highway, Twin Peaks... And Christina Hendricks is the best Lynchian heroine never to appear in a David Lynch film, glamorous in an old school kind of way and mysterious. As for Bava, aside from a great cameo from Barbara Steele, there is an inspired visual reference to one of his most iconic scene that here goes through a modern reinterpretation. There are even echoes of giallos also, in a particularly lurid and frankly bizarre club scene with Eva Mendes on stage in a strange show full of fake blood, like a Club Silencio of gore. 

Outside the arthouse/cult circuit, the film has very little commercial prospect, and that's what I love about it. While the first tweets and reviews I'm reading are scathing, they seem to be blaming Ryan Gosling for what I am applauding him for: a passion for cinema that goes beyond the obvious references you would expect. Yes it is indulgent but at least it is highly personal, even when it borrows from the directors he admires, and no matter how unusual, Lost River is his love letter to cinema.

Lost River. USA. Un Certain Regard

Directed by Ryan Gosling. Starring Christina Hendrick, Eva Mendes, Iain de Caestecker...

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