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Cannes 2024: Grand Tour, Motel Destino, Beating Hearts

Most simply described, Miguel Gomes's "Grand Tour" tells the story of Edward (Gonçalo Waddington), a British official in Myanmar, who in January 1918 goes on the run from his fiancée, Molly (Crista Alfaiate). The journey takes him to Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, Osaka, and Shanghai, among other places. She follows him the whole way, sending him telegrams—which are written out onscreen—and letting him know that she hasn't given up her pursuit. (The engagement itself has already lasted seven years, and we're given to understand he hasn't seen her in all that time.) Halfway through, the film shifts its perspective to Molly, who has a charming, mischievous laugh, and follows her unflappable quest to track down and marry Edward. 

But like most films from Gomes ("Tabu," "Arabian Nights"), "Grand Tour" unfolds in a strange, challenging, and original mix of modes. It combines old-Hollywood glamour (recalling, especially, certain 1930s and '40s films set on rubber plantations, like "Red Dust" and "The Letter"), theatrical effects (puppet-show interludes recall Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Puppetmaster"), and even elements of documentary, specifically the travelogue form. While the scenes involving the characters were shot on studio sets, Gomes interweaves these with contemporary shots of the locations in question, without making any effort to hide, say, the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. In the Saigon section, motorbikes are scored to the "Blue Danube" waltz.

There are also multiple narrators, each speaking in a language from the country where a given scene is taking place. Yet Molly and Edward, who are British, speak Portuguese. That disjunction is consistent with the film's overall approach: "Grand Tour" combines two palettes (black-and-white and color), two time periods (past and present), and two stories whose protagonists are temperamental opposites. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film feels at once classical and timeless. Even as the plot has superficial complications—Edward's flight is so strange he is suspected of doing top-secret work for the British, while Molly has to fend off a wealthy suitor (Cláudio da Silva) entranced by her determination—Gomes's film proceeds with an almost Rivettian sense of gamesmanship. It's the sort of movie in which breaking the fourth wall qualifies as a happy ending.

If you're going to make yet another variation on "The Postman Always Rings Twice," you might as well make it ultra-grubby, and that's basically the approach of Karim Aïnouz's "Motel Destino.It is not a good movie, but unlike "Firebrand," Aïnouz's plodding, English-language historical drama from last year's competition, it is a bad movie you can vibe to, thanks almost entirely to the blazing-hot neons of Hélène Louvart's cinematography, which gives the otherwise tedious proceedings a distinctive look. (The movie was shot on 16-millimeter and Super-8-millimeter film.)

There's a warning up front for viewers sensitive to flashing imagery, but Aïnouz might also have provided a cautionary note about the palpable dampness and odors of the movie's titular sex motel, even if you can't technically feel or smell them. Iago Xavier plays Heraldo, the handy slab of beefcake who holes up at the seedy lodge, located in Ceará, Brazil. It's run by Elias (Fábio Assunção), a soon-to-be-cuckolded slimeball who watches customers' trysts through hidden cameras, and Dayana (Nataly Rocha), Elias's hot-to-trot wife, who shows Heraldo the ropes of the place. Not a single one of the principals can act, and Aïnouz has a rather blunt sense of noir fatalism. (At the end, when someone asks Heraldo what happened, he responds, "I was born, that's what.") But getting your eyeballs scorched for two hours counts for something.

When the festival announced its selection, one of the bigger wild cards chosen for competition was "Beating Hearts," directed by Gilles Lellouche, who is well-known as an actor in France and whose direction of the comedy "Sink or Swim" earned a César nomination. At the same time…Gilles who? And the running time is 166 minutes?

It turns out that "Beating Hearts" is an ambitious attempt at genre fusion, combining elements of a crime film, a star-crossed romance, and a musical. The first half, set in the 1980s, is a teen love story: Clotaire (Malik Frikah), who's from the wrong side of the tracks, wins over the school's straitlaced new girl, Jackie (Mallory Wanecque). Most of the film's best sequences involve music, and when Clotaire impresses Jackie with his performance in a fight, suddenly everything falls away and the two share a dance number.

The couple's love is incredibly pure—they've even got a mixtape labeled "C + J = [heart]," whose contents are mainly represented by Prince's recording of "Nothing Compares 2 U." They'll be able to test that song's thesis when, as the genre dictates, a violent incident tears them apart. After crosscutting between Jackie's inability to concentrate on schoolwork and Clotaire's struggles with the law, the movie fades to black, then rolls up—or at least cuts—to a club in the 1990s. Jackie is now played by Adèle Exarchopoulos. She also soon marries, which makes her prospects for getting back together with Clotaire (now embodied by François Civil) pretty dim.

And? "Beating Hearts" doesn't have much of a second half; the movie feels like it's killing time until the pair's inevitable reunion. Every so often, "Beating Hearts" will hit on a musical or visual idea that suddenly makes it soar. (A shot of a bloody phone receiver almost singlehandedly justifies the competition placement.) But Lellouche and his co-screenwriters, Audrey Diwan (the director of "Happening") and Ahmed Hamidi, haven't figured out how to proportion the film. Major plot threads are left dangling, yet the stakes in an epilogue scene seem bafflingly low.

Ben Kenigsberg

Ben Kenigsberg is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He edited the film section of Time Out Chicago from 2011 to 2013 and served as a staff critic for the magazine beginning in 2006. 

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