This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
For those who imagine that the films at Cannes are a nonstop, sloglike parade of seriousness—well, they sometimes are. But on Friday it was also possible to watch both a meat-and-potatoes survival picture about a man struggling to stay alive after a plane crash in the Arctic and a "Zoolander"-style goofball comedy from Portugal about an extremely lunkheaded soccer player. Both movies hit their respective sweet spots, which under the circumstances can be quite refreshing.
"Arctic," a first feature from the YouTube and commercial director Joe Penna, played here as a midnight screening, but it's austere enough to avoid the obvious showstopper, a scene of Mads Mikkelsen brawling with a polar bear. (Realism, shmealism—that's a missed opportunity.) But it's a pretty decent example of its genre. It opens with Mikkelsen carving something into the snow, revealed in an overhead shot to be giant "S.O.S." That might be useful if any planes could fly low enough in the snow to see it.
Much of the early going takes pleasure in watching Mikkelsen, who is never given a backstory, go about the nuts and bolts of staying alive, fishing, storing the fish he catches, and noting the ursine presence in the are. His snow-wear doesn't seem robust enough to get him through a January day in Chicago, let alone the frozen north, although what remains of the plane provides him with some degree of shelter. Penna's close observation of the character at work makes small triumphs later on seem like major achievements, as when Mikkelsen delights in catching a big Arctic trout.
Filmed in Iceland, this fittingly grueling movie unfolds as a sort of cross between "The Grey" and "All Is Lost"—albeit with one fairly significant twist that probably shouldn't be spoiled, along with most of what happens. It's possible to picture an even more gripping version of this story, one that offers a little less hand-holding (the dialogue is fairly sparse, but it's there) and allows the sound of the wind and other natural elements to take precedence, making viewers shiver in their seats. Also, it would be a version in which Mikkelsen fights a bear.
"Diamantino," directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt and screening in the parallel festival Critics' Week (which includes only first and second features), is far lighter, the story of a Portuguese soccer hero (Carloto Cotta) who, when he's on the pitch, imagines himself surrounded by giant fluffy puppies. This ability to turn off the world is the secret to his genius as an athlete, although it's not enough to prevent him from choking at a crucial moment in the World Cup. (To paraphrase the film: The loss means his stardom as a player has come to an end, but his fame as a meme sensation is just beginning.)
Unfortunately, Diamantino's empty head also makes him the unwitting subject of surveillance for a money laundering investigation and a genetic experiment somehow linked to a nationalist party's campaign to get Portugal to leave the European Union. Got all that? He also, out of goodheartedness, hatches a plan to adopt a refugee, a word he keeps saying as "fugee" (in the subtitles, anyway), in the thread of the movie that comes closest to tiptoeing over the line between the absurd and the offensive.
But despite some strands that don't quite get the laughs they're going for—and special effects that have a chintzy computer-generated look—"Diamantino" remains endearing thanks to Cotta, playing a man whose hard drive's primary contents are pictures of cute animals and whose brain might as well be made of one of his favorite foods, Nutella. (Like Ben Stiller's Derek Zoolander, Diamantino has a habit of doing what he's told.)
Bad casting would be fatal to the movie's humor. Cotta never lets on that he's doing such a smart job of playing stupid.
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