Thursday 18 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Wonderstruck by Todd Haynes

Cannes has not always been kind to Todd Haynes. Velvet Goldmine, in competition in 1998, was stupidly missold as the next Trainspotting by its producer Film 4, hence a muted reception from an audience expecting a totally different proposition from him. Carol in 2015 was well received but had to do with half of a female acting prize, for Rooney Mara.

In Wonderstruck, the story of a young deaf boy, Ben (Oakes Fegley), who, struggling to comes into terms with the death of his mother, goes on a hunt for his father, in New York, collides with the tale of Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a deaf and mute girl in the 20's, who also escapes to the city to find her absent mother, a stage actress (Julianne Moore).

You would not expect Todd Haynes to tackle the adaption of a children's book. Yet he did (the eponymous Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick), and despite working with somebody else's material, he has somehow managed to make one of the most Todd Haynes-esque films of his career. There has always been a wonderful attention to details to his films, be it the framing, costumes etc... and Wonderstruck is no exception, with painstaking recreation of the New York of both the 1920's and 1970's, brought to life in a ravishingly atmospheric yet subtle way, especially thanks to an incredible and immersive soundscape. Wonderstruck feels like a picture book at times, and the scenes in the 20's in particular are a thing of wonder, evoking silent cinema

This might be a children film yet it never overwhelms with emotion, and it feels very grown up too, with its themes of curiosity for the world, finding one's place in it, and letting go. The story, is elaborately put together yet has a wonderful simplicity to it. Yet Todd Haynes is not afraid to let it all go, with a few masterful scenes in the final act that evoke a hurricane of emotions, in a film that has held them so far, and it's wonderful.

Interestingly, the film Wonderstruck echoes the most with is Haynes's own Velvet Goldmine, with whom it shares the same combination of melancholy and spark. Ironically, the director finally get to use David Bowie's Space Oddity here, a perfect accompaniment to the film, while he wasn't allowed to use any of the singer's material for the barely hidden biography he made.

Julianne Moore, in a short but pivotal dual role is everything and more, but the real breakthrough is Millicent Simmonds, a real life deaf actress, whose first role it is and whose expressive yet effortlessly natural performance is a thing of wonder.

With Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes is at the top of his game, and conjures up an ambitious, unique and timeless masterpiece

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Official Selection, In Competition

Star rating: 

Wonderstruck. USA 2017. Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Millicent Simmonds, Ben Fogley, Julianne Moore...

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