Rodrigo Moreno, The Delinquents, color, sound, 180 minutes. Morán and Norma (Daniel Elías and Margarita Molfino).
AS PORTENDED by the announcement of the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, it was the year of the long movie at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. Indeed, as the full list of titles and running times were confirmed in the lead-up to the festivities, sifting through the selection began to feel like staring down the barrel of a (very long) shotgun: In addition to Scorsese’s 206-minute opus, there would be new features from the typically long-winded likes of Nuri Bilge Ceylan (About Dry Grasses, 197 min) and Wang Bing (Youth [Spring], 212 min), an epic-length essay film by Steve McQueen (Occupied City, 262 min), and restorations of durational classics by Jacques Rivette (1969’s L’amour fou, 254 min) and Manoel de Oliveira (1993’s Abraham’s Valley, 203 min). All told, eight films eclipsed the 180-minute mark at this year’s festival, while a half dozen others of varying profile hovered just under that threshold, a trend that may say more about the leeway offered by producers in the streaming era and the online platforms where a majority of viewers will eventually watch these films than Cannes would care to admit.
Luckily, all but a few of these titles justified the investment, including the Apple TV+ production Killers of the Flower Moon, an adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 novel refracted through the cinematic lens of Joseph H. Lewis’s 1958 western Terror in a Texas Town (81 min, naturally), about a corrupt oilman forcibly seizing the land of the local Mexican American populace. In Flower Moon, Scorsese’s first film to premiere in the festival’s Official Selection since After Hours (1986), the oil-rich Osage Nation of 1920s Oklahoma is under siege by affluent cattleman William Hale (Robert De Niro) and his nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose seemingly loving relationship with his wife, a wealthy Osage woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone), betrays murderous ulterior motives. A mob movie in all but milieu, it finds Scorsese riffing on familiar themes by way of a different but equally violent epoch in American history, one that, through Gladstone’s powerful portrayal, has produced a character of a rare virtue in the director’s work.
Martin Scorcese, Killers of the Flower Moon, 2023, color, sound, 206 minutes. Mollie and Ernest Burkhart (Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio).
Flower Moon was one of many curious omissions from the competition lineup. In an open letter to El País published during the festival, Spanish director Víctor Erice explained that he didn’t attend the premiere of his first feature in thirty-one years, Close Your Eyes (169 min), because festival delegate Thierry Frémaux failed to mention that this beautiful, fragile, and elegiac tale of an aging director and his thought-to-be-dead lead actor would be slotted in the Cannes Premiere sidebar. Just days prior, on stage to introduce Eureka (146 min), his own long-awaited new feature in the same section, Argentina’s Lisandro Alonso similarly chided Frémaux for not inviting his bold, three-part portrait of various far-flung Indigenous communities to compete alongside such apparently undeniable entries as the aggressively middlebrow French food porn romance The Pot-au-Feu (134 min)—winner of the Best Director prize for Vietnamese journeyman Trần Anh Hùng—or what we can now begin referring to, in loving tribute to Ken Loach’s latest saccharine social drama, the Old Oak of the Cannes Competition: Nanni Moretti (A Brighter Tomorrow), Wim Wenders (Perfect Days), Hirokazu Koreeda (Monster), and Marco Bellocchio (Kidnapped), all of whom were at least kind enough to bring their films in under 126 minutes.
Only in this context could Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall (151 min) be considered an emblematic Palme d’Or pick. Overlong and at times unduly dramatic, it’s a film by a Cannes-anointed director (all four of Triet’s narrative features have premiered at the festival) that trades a bit of her prior playfulness for something more sweeping and sobering. Starring Sandra Hüller as Sandra, a successful German novelist on trial for the murder of her husband, a struggling French writer named Samuel (Samuel Theis), Anatomy moves methodically between the snowy confines of the couple’s Grenoble home, which they share with their visually impaired eleven-year-old son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), and nondescript courtroom interiors, where details of Samuel’s mysterious death and Sandra’s personal and professional indiscretions are rehashed in convincingly conspiratorial strokes. Like Alice Diop’s recent Saint Omer, Anatomy gets a lot of mileage out of an essentially procedural premise; unlike Diop (to say nothing of Otto Preminger, director of the film’s namesake forebear), Triet wears her formal acumen loosely and allows scenes to sprawl out, with only the occasional errant zoom used to reorient the viewer’s attention and punctuate moments of humor or irony. As the narrative circles its central theme—namely the fugitive nature of truth and the core unknowability of even our most intimate partners—the film builds to a suitably cathartic, if no less clear-cut, climax.
Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall, 2023, color, sound, 151 minutes. Sandra (Sandra Hüller).
That the rest of the best films in competition were smaller, weirder, and shorter should come as no surprise. Both Todd Haynes’s campy melodrama May December (113 min), about an actress (Natalie Portman) infiltrating the life of a onetime tabloid star (Julianne Moore) she’s preparing to play in a movie, and Aki Kaurismäki’s typically bittersweet romance Fallen Leaves (81 min), which picked up the Jury Prize, dispensed this edition’s purest pleasures. Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer (104 min), the French provocateur’s first feature in a decade, centers, like Haynes’s film, on an illicit relationship between an adult woman and a teenage boy, only here the liaison, between Anne (Léa Drucker) and her stepson Théo (Samuel Kircher), has a lurid Oedipal edge that Breillat wields with a welcome charge of reflexivity. And then there’s The Zone of Interest (106 min), Jonathan Glazer’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Under the Skin, and which arrived in a shroud of mystery and emerged with the Grand Prix. Adapted from the eponymous 2014 novel by Martin Amis (who died on the day of the film’s premiere), Glazer’s fourth feature is a singularly troubling Holocaust drama that quietly depicts the lives of Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller again), and their young children, who lived in a home just outside of the walls of Auschwitz. In static, surveillance-like images, Glazer observes the family’s everyday activities—Rudolf working in his office and making phone calls; Hedwig taking care of the kids and tending to her garden—as trains arrive in the distance, faint screams ring out from afar, and plumes of smoke rise over the adjacent enclosure. Occasionally, the tension mounts to such a degree that film itself seems to stutter and break down, only to regenerate: In these moments, suffused with Mica Levi’s atonal music cues, the image track cuts off, floods red, shifts into a photonegative netherworld, and emerges anew—a formal illustration of history’s fundamentally endless, cyclical nature.
Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest, 2023, color, sound, 106 minutes.
If the competition’s big names threatened to overshadow the sidebar programming, that only made the latter’s high points more impressive. Among a number of exciting debuts—including Thien An Pham’s Caméra d’Or–winning Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (182 min)—the revamped Directors’ Fortnight, led by new delegate general Julien Rejl, yielded South Korean maverick Hong Sangsoo’s funniest film in years, In Our Day (84 min), which follows the parallel plights of a wayward actress who takes a liking to her friend’s cat and an alcoholic poet who tricks a young fan into buying him booze. But it was the Un Certain Regard program that produced the festival’s biggest surprise: Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents (180 min), the best and most inventive of this year’s multi-hour opuses. Moreno’s first narrative feature in nine years, it marks a major step up for the fifty-year-old filmmaker, who first came to prominence as part of the New Argentine Cinema movement of the late ’90s. Jumping off from the central premise of Hugo Fregonese’s Hardly a Criminal (1949)—a touchstone of Argentine film noir that many cinephiles of Moreno’s generation grew up watching on television—in which a lowly insurance clerk hatches an embezzlement scheme that he knows can land him only a maximum of seven years in prison, The Delinquents centers on Morán (Daniel Elias), a bank employee in Buenos Aires who robs the company vault and enlists his coworker Román (Esteban Bigliardi) to hide the money until he has served the resulting jail sentence. From this seed of an idea, The Delinquents slowly flowers into something several times more ambitious as it sets aside Morán’s storyline to follow Román into the countryside, where he stashes the cash and falls in love with Norma (Margarita Molfino), a woman we soon learn, via an elaborate series of flashbacks, also shares a romantic history with Morán. With its nested narrative, epistolary exchanges, and stylized set pieces, the movie bears resemblance to the films produced by El Pampero Cine, the Argentine collective behind such mammoth works as La Flor (2018) and Trenque Lauquen (2022). But where much of El Pampero’s output, particularly Trenque Lauquen (whose lead actress and cowriter, Laura Paredes, has a small role in The Delinquents), tends toward the literary, Moreno’s film is resolutely cinematic, with direct references to Hitchcock and Bresson and the odd stylistic and thematic allusion to contemporaries such as Corneliu Porumboiu and Alexandre Koberidze. Thrilling and unpredictable, it was the fastest three hours I experienced at Cannes.
The 76th Cannes Film Festival took place from May 16 to May 27.