Elvis review: Baz Luhrmann shakes up the Cannes Film Festival

Elvis Presley never had the overseas touring career he deserved. He only played at three venues outside the United States, all of them in Canada in 1957, long before he reached the pinnacle of stardom. Instead of going international, he remained a fixture at the International Hotel in Las Vegas from 1969 to 1976, performing show after sold-out show until just a year before his death. Keeping Presley tied to Vegas was just one of the many machinations of his ruthlessly exploitative manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who is now widely believed to have been afraid to leave the United States after immigrating there illegally from the Netherlands. years earlier.

This sad story is unpacked in great detail in “Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann’s unsurprisingly extravagant new film about the life, art and career of Presley, which had its world premiere Wednesday night at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. (Warner Bros. will release the film June 24 in U.S. theaters.) Presley may never have had the opportunity to perform for his fans in France, but Cannes gladly rolled out the red carpet for Luhrmann and his stars. , Austin Butler, who makes a believable charismatic. Elvis and Tom Hanks, which makes Colonel Parker a selfish bastard. Defensive and self-pity, Parker tells this long, wacky tale of a king and his kingmaker, arguing – halfheartedly – ​​that he’s not the villain that history has made him out to be.

The problem is that if Parker is really the villain of “Elvis”, Luhrmann has also gone out of his way to make him a co-protagonist. I usually like it when Hanks cuts against the grain of the good guy, but his work here is hammered, raspy, and unmodulated to the fault, accomplished with a combination of big suit, prosthetic jowls, and over-the-top accent that makes Colin Farrell’s Penguin and Stellan Skarsgard’s Baron Von Harkonnen seem positively retained. It also adds unnecessary narrative padding to a film that runs north of 2.5 hours and would gain more time if it didn’t repeatedly force its ostensible subject to share its spotlight.

Tom Hanks in the movie “Elvis”.

(Photos by Warner Bros.)

It’s a shame, because in many other ways, “Elvis” feels like an intuitive and sometimes even ideal match between filmmaker and subject. Luhrmann doesn’t do much by halves, and here his flamboyant stylistic excesses go very well with those of Elvis. Performance footage crackles with wired energy, even when Luhrmann pulls them or even slows them down. (A blissful opening scene of a glamorous young Elvis shaking a crowd of women—and unleashing wave after wave of pink pelvic gyrations—seems to go on forever.) At times, Luhrmann will play the concert footage in sizzling black-and-white; sometimes it will divide the screen not into quadrants but into octants. It’s a bit too much, which means it’s fair.

Butler is a decent physical match for Elvis and a better vocal one. While it’s often the real Presley you hear singing in the film, the soundtrack is also replete with Butler’s recorded covers of “I’ll Fly Away”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love”, among others. Efforts were made early on to locate Elvis’ musical and spiritual origins in the churches and revival tents of Mississippi, and also to confront his often disputed legacy as a performer and appropriator of black music.Key black artists seen briefly here include BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.), Sister Rosetta Tharpe ( Yola), Little Richard (Alton Mason) and Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh).

Before long, Colonel Parker realized the bottomless commercial potential of an artist who could “sell a black sound with a white face”, as Presley described in Eugene Jarecki’s excellent 2018 documentary, “The King “. This film clearly drew a parallel between the waste and decadence of Presley’s ignominious final years and the moral complacency and confusion of Trump’s America. By contrast, Luhrmann’s “Elvis” largely keeps politics and larger metaphors at bay; it merely tells a conventional, crowd-pleasing tale of the rise and fall of an iconic performer.

Joely Mbundu puts an arm around Pablo Schils in a scene from the film

Joely Mbundu and Pablo Schils in the movie “Tori and Lokita”.

(Cannes Film Festival)

And so we see the triumphs of Elvis’ career, his meteoric rise to the top of the charts and his proud defiance of the conservative-minded squares who tried to keep his evil dancing in check. We see his tumultuous marriage to Priscilla (a likeable Olivia DeJonge); his neglect of his daughter, Lisa Marie; and his years of struggling with addiction and depression, most of which take place in a sprawling Vegas penthouse suite that feels more like a prison with every shot. Complaining that “Elvis” is essentially a compilation of biographical musical conventions is a bit like complaining about a greatest hits album; it also lacks one of Luhrmann’s strengths as a filmmaker, which is his ability to imbue shots with sincerity, energy and sentiment.

These gifts were on display inexorably in Luhrmann’s ‘Moulin Rouge’, which kicked off the 2001 festival in style. It was the first edition of Cannes programmed by its longtime artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, and the opening night selection of the “Moulin Rouge” was a major blow that improved relations between the festival and Hollywood. , who had become somewhat reluctant in the 90s. bring studio films to the Croisette. Luhrmann would return to open the 2013 festival with “The Great Gatsby,” which, like most opening night films, was forgotten within days but nonetheless felt like an ideal starter for an event where the art, commerce, glamor and silliness exist in an almost perfect balance. To that end, “Elvis” wouldn’t have been a bad Cannes opening pick this year, though I suspect Warner Bros., which has high hopes for the film when it comes out next month, wanted avoid the harsher critical scrutiny that often comes with an opening reception.

And so “Elvis” landed late in the festival and performed outside of the main competition, which produced a number of strong entries as he enters his home stretch. One of the most admired works to date is “Tori et Lokita”, the best work in nearly a decade by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time Palme d’Or winners. At 88 minutes long (meaning you could watch it almost twice in the time it would take you to cross “Elvis” once), the film follows two African immigrants, Tori (Pablo Schils), 11 and 16-year-old Lokita (Joely Mbundu) who pose as brother and sister in an unnamed Belgian town. There, they struggle to survive and forge a life, finding themselves at the nonexistent mercy of drug dealers, sex offenders, and corrupt religious leaders.

Elliott Crosset Hove carries a heavy load on his back in a scene from the film

Elliott Crosset Hove in the movie “Godland”.

(Cannes Film Festival)

The Dardennes do not announce all this in advance. As usual, their method is to plunge you straight into a fast-paced, unrelenting naturalistic story in which character and circumstances are frequently revealed in a flurry of white-knuckle action. What unfolds is a maddening tale of exploitation, in which the very hope of a better life is repeatedly weaponized against Tori and Lokita, luring them into ever more desperate conditions of slavery. And yet, even in a drama whose every development is driven by material need — and even with a devastating ending — the Dardennes somehow push their way to an impossible state of grace.

Another exceptional drama about the challenges of survival in a foreign land could be found in the masterful “Godland,” though unlike the furious pace of “Tori and Lokita,” this one is a long, slow burn – or maybe – to be a long, slow thaw, given its cold northern setting. Mysteriously absent from the main competition (it premiered in an adjacent strand of the festival called Un Certain Regard), this latest drama from Icelandic writer-director Hlynur Pálmason (“A White and White Day”) follows a Danish priest, Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), who is called to build a church in the freezing north. The difficulty of the journey is, in some ways, exacerbated by the pastor’s own pretensions and delusions; life no longer turns out to be hospitable when he finally reaches his destination.

Beautifully shot in an almost square frame with rounded corners, an aesthetic reminiscent of the old photographs Lucas likes to take in his spare time, “Godland” tells a story of natural wonder, elemental beauty and human folly. Hove casts Lucas as a boldly repulsive protagonist, a one-man rebuke to the idea that faith necessarily endows anyone with foresight, humility, or kindness. His story has some of the dark, fatalistic spirit of “A White, White Day”; it also has that film’s excellent star, Ingvar Sigurðsson, who serves as both Lucas’ guide and nemesis. In the end, you’re grateful that you went through this long and perilous journey with them, even if none of them can say the same.

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