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Wild applause for Wild Tales at Cannes

Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifrón
By Alexandria Sage
Reuters (*)

Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifrón sweeps the audience, Saint Laurent’s biopic doesn’t

An Argentine revenge fantasy impressed critics at the Cannes film festival yesterday, winning more hearts than a biopic about the private life of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

On the fourth day of the 12-day festival, Argentine director Damian Szifron's Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) drew excited hoots and applause at an advance press screening before its premiere.

The movie is a string of six thematically linked stories each with a central character being cheated or humiliated, who then extracts revenge, often of an extreme form.

“For pure viewing pleasure, the one wild card in the Cannes competition this year is unlikely to be beaten,” wrote Variety, saying the film’s vengeance “explodes in spectacular bursts after a put-upon soul is screwed over too many times.”

With Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar — a director known for offbeat humour — as a producer, the darkly comic film has a serious undercurrent that speaks of corruption, the class system and the little guy being squeezed.

Infidelity, road rage, even cars being towed provoke the ire of Szifron’s characters, who explode like pressure cookers and act out the dark, violent and delicious revenge fantasies most people repress.

Like the conclusion of Hamlet, bodies are everywhere at the end of the last segment, the culmination of a Jewish wedding gone bad. After discovering her husband’s infidelity, Romina’s (Erica Rivas) revenge ends in blood, a ripped dress, smashed wedding cake on the floor, and hurrahs from the audience.

Fashion and film

Saint Laurent is the second film about the designer this year and one of at least six biopics presented atCannes.

Others include Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner about British painter JMW Turner, Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall about an Irish communist leader and Grace of Monaco, an out-of-competition film about Grace Kelly.

“The 50-pluses ... love these types of movies, movies that are looking back to the characters that they know, the history that they remember from their childhood,” Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough told Reuters.

Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent comes a few months after Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent played in cinemas, underscoring interest in the man who invented the women’s tuxedo and brought ready-to-wear to the masses.

Although there is plenty of sketching and stitching in Bonello’s film, its focus is not fashion, but the emotional fragility of Saint Laurent, who died in 2008.

His destructive behaviour — drugs, drinking and cruising for men in Paris parks — takes a toll on his body and mind even as his artistic genius remained intact.

The key characters of Saint Laurent’s life are all here: his romantic and business partner Pierre Berge, his muses Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise and his lover who later died of AIDS, the protégé of Karl Lagerfeld, Jacques de Bascher.

Bonello never received for his film the support of Berge, who has said he holds the “mora” right to Saint Laurent’s work.

“In terms of authorisation, what I and my producers wanted was just one thing — the freedom to do what we wanted,” Bonello told reporters.

Early reviews were tepid, with the Hollywood Reporter saying the film lacked “a throughline or focus, coasting from party scenes full of drugs and alcohol to work-related drama but rarely managing to get inside the head of the self-destructive character the designer had become by the 1970s.”

The winner of the Palme d’Or prize for best picture will be named on May 24.

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