Politics came to the Cannes Film Festival (as it often does) in the form of two major movie debuts in the course of 24 hours.
This morning one of the most-awaited films in the Official Competition unspooled for critics at 8:30 AM, and 2 1/2 hours after its start the verdict appeared to be critically mixed for Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicious’ The Search, first feature film since he won Best Director for his 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist. From my vantage point, his new film works on many levels — most importantly, a human one. There was applause at the end but some noticeable boos and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they came from the Russians. They don’t come off well in this story set in the second Chechen War in 1999 as Russians invade, and a young boy and his new baby brother are separated from their family after his parents are killed. Thus begins an incredible journey — and this film hooked me right in – in this contemporary remake of the post-World War II Fred Zinnemann film The Search (1948), in which a young boy is separated from his parents in a concentration camp and taken in by a caring soldier played by Montgomery Clift (Berenice Bejo has the Clift role this time, a gender change in which she plays a European Union delegation head).
The original Search won a Motion Picture Story Oscar and a special juvenile statuette for its young star, Ivan Jandl. It was also nominated for lead actor, director and screenplay. And deservedly so. Perhaps it is never a good idea to tackle a remake of such an honored film, but in this case using the basic premise to shine a larger light on a forgotten cause seems smart. And the boy’s plight is just one strand here, as there’s also the corresponding story focusing on a tough Russian street kid who is slowly turned into a killing machine when drafted into the army. It’s harrowing stuff to watch, but all of a sudden relevant again, coinciding with another Russian invasion of sorts currently happening in Ukraine.