Thursday 16 May 2024

Cannes 2024 - Megalopolis by Francis Ford Coppola

Seeing Francis Ford Coppola's passion project, Megalopolis, in gestation for decades, finally being made and screening here in competition in Cannes seems so surreal and is also such a massive gamble, given the scrutiny and exposure the festival offers.

In Megalopolis, an ambitious architect, Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver), sees his utopian plans of transforming New Rome following a disaster challenged by the scheming of the city's corrupt mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) and his daughter Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza).

Megalopolis is challenging to describe and review. It is as if the Syfy channel had produced an ambitious philosophical science-fiction/alternative history fable, at times laughable and ridiculous but also glorious and creative in a way that, for better or worse, has never been seen before and utterly earnest in its vision of the world and its future. Channeling '90s glossy/camp soap opera antics, Roman history and old Hollywood glamour, it initially struggles with a first hour of political shenanigans in the face of a looming crisis, a part that verges on the tedious past the initial surprise.

Then it reaches a scene midway through in which the director uses a technique quite possibly never attempted in cinema before and that drew surprised gasps from the press audience here in Cannes. After that, the film truly soars and Coppola lets his imagination runs wild visually and artistically, making any other currently working director pass as timid in comparison, playing fast and lose with any kind of narrative and filmic conventions as well as physics and plausibility and eliciting such beautiful and awe inspiring moment, with echoes of his Dracula and One from the Heart. When it works that is, which it does not always but does it even matter?

Adam Driver is sadly lumbered with a part that is not particularly interesting despite carrying the story as an architect who can literally controls time, one he never quite gets a grip on and Giancarlo Esposito is given the task of bringing some gravitas to the proceedings and little else but Shia LaBeouf and Aubrey Plaza excel. The former delivers one of the most fantastically unhinged performances ever committed to screen that has to be seen to be believed and the latter basically serving us her Janet Snakehole character from Parks & Recs again with her impeccable screwball comedic timing.

An ambitious but bombastic folly that makes little sense and a genuinely unidentified filmic object, Megalopolis is one of the most baffling and incoherent films ever made, stranger in ways that we could not have imagined and yet one of the most exhilarating too. The work of an author nearing the end of his life who gave it all with not a care in the world, happy to burn his money with a project of limited commercial prospect at a time when experimental cinema has become calibrated for a modern audience worshiping at the altar of A24 and it is so refreshing.

Megalopolis is far from perfect and his first hour really needs a trim before its release but you cannot help applauding the ambition and madness. There has never been and probably never will be anything quite like it!

Review by Laurent de Alberti.

Star rating: 

Official Selection, in competition.

Megalopolis. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Adam Driver, Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf...

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