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Cannes 2024: My Sunshine, Rumours, The Balconettes

I can’t think of three films more tonally disparate than these. There’s a coming-of-age drama with queer elements, a raucous apocalyptic satire, and a feminist ghost film. The first, “My Sunshine,” competes in Un Certain Regard. The other two, however, are genre films playing out of competition. The latter two are particularly fascinating because this year, more than most years, Cannes has been genre heavy: “Rumours,” “The Balconettes,” “The Shrouds,” “The Substance,” and “The Surfer” are some of the films that could easily fit in any midnight program—this doesn’t include the myriad of crime and action films that have also taken the fest by storm. Even with these waves, however, the schedule is still wide and varied in the emotion evoked by its selections.    

My Sunshine,” the second feature from director Hiroshi Okuyama, is a gentle, unassuming film about the pain and misdirection that can arise from young love. Takuya (Keitatsu Koshiyama) is an awkward child; he participates in organized sports because his friends are there, not because he has any genuine interest or skill in physical activities. In an early scene, we see him screw up fielding a baseball. When hockey season comes, more of the same of his half-hearted play arises. Two good developments, however, do occur at the rink: He develops a crush on Sakura (Kiara Nakanishi), a fast-rising figure skater coached at the rink by former skating champion Arakawa (Sōsuke Ikematsu). The latter thinks the two could pair well together despite Takuya’s skating skills being somewhat rudimentary. The trio, in turn, form a makeshift family that appears destined to crumble quickly. 

Okuyama’s coming-of-age film is deceptively simple: We follow Takuya and Sakura working together, building a rapport, and eventually finding comfort in one another. Takuya’s adoration for Sakura is often expressed through over-exposed POV shots, depicting Sakura bathed in ethereal light. Sakura, meanwhile, isn’t interested in her young, short partner. She has a crush on her coach, a desire that goes unrecognized by him because, unbeknownst to Sakura and Takuya, Arakawa is gay. 

The easy comparison for “My Sunshine,” a fairly swift, delicately edited and composed film, would be “Billy Elliot.” The story, after all, takes place in a small community where there aren’t many young boys figure skating (what many in the town assume is a girl’s sport). But Okuyama is working in a different mode than in that classic British film. He is interested in the essence and purity of love, particularly expressed by two children who’ve not had the experience of heartbreak and disappointment. While you do wish Okuyama developed the late tonal shift that occurs, imbuing it with greater depth—it’s a tad too basic, betraying the subtle complexity that makes this tidy narrative captivating—the broader warmth of “My Sunshine” is still profoundly moving. 

Writer/director Guy Maddin is a wonderful sicko. He’s never been hesitant to blend taboo subjects with comedy. But his latest film, “Rumours,” might be his broadest film to date. Effortlessly hilarious and deceptively thought-provoking, Maddin’s apocalyptic satire often recalls Armando Iannucci’s equally brilliant “The Death of Stalin.” Except, rather than being set in the USSR, where a power vacuum has caused bumbling, conniving politicos to position themselves into power—Maddin’s film is set at a G7 summit where world leaders are tasked with coming up with a defining statement to address a recent, unnamed crisis affecting the globe.  

Led by a sterling ensemble, Maddin’s wacky satire is given greater fuel by its efficient script—written by Maddin, Evan, and Galen Johnson. Casting and writing make for a perfect pair when Charles Dance, who doesn’t hide his British accent as American president Edison Wolcott, is asked by another character about his very British voice, only to be shushed when Dance finally attempts to provide an explanation. 

None of these bureaucrats are ready for a real crisis, which arises when fog rolls through their gazebo and the entire staff servicing them disappears. The politicians are left to their own devices, allowing petty squabbles and uncontrollable lust to take over. If you’ve seen some of the marketing materials, then you already know that a massive brain features prominently. Somehow, that is the least weird component of “Rumours,” a film filled with lurid blasts of neon and masturbating zombie bog people. The cast is adept at tackling the outlandishness. This could easily be, strictly, a broad comedy. But it’s not. Each actor—from Cate Blanchett as a lusting German Chancellor to Roy Dupuis as the mind-boggling hot Canadian Prime Minister to Rolando Ravello as an aloof Italian Prime Minister—breathes plenty of pathos into these oddball characters. This isn’t to say “Rumours” are sympathetic to these people; they outwardly deride them. But Maddin pulls an exceptional trick, crafting characters we care about even while we gleefully root for their demise.  

I really wish I liked Noémie Merlant’s rebellious feminist horror film “The Balconettes” more.  The “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” star’s second directorial effort is an odd little genre film. Taken from the perspective of Nicole (Sanda Codreanu), an aspiring writer, the film follows her close friends—wild child camgirl Ruby (Souheila Yacoub) and working actress Élise (Merlant)—who, from their balcony, stare across the street at the hunk living in another building. An awkward Nicole pines to be noticed by Magnani (Lucas Bravo). So much so that she considers writing a book about her far-flung attraction to him. 

Her dream seemingly comes true when Magnani invites the three women to his apartment for some late-night drinks. It’s a mirage. This perfect guy is pretty wretched. And when he turns up dead, the trio of women know they’re the prime suspects. The script, co-written by Merlant and Céline Sciamma, attempts a difficult balancing act during a cat-and-mouse game to hide Magnani’s corpse: Nicole’s writerly hopes often bob to the surface; Ruby spirals from the trauma of the previous night; Élise has an emotionally abusive boyfriend she needs to dump. The icky men in their lives account for the literal horror, and actual ghosts of dead, abusive men represent the phantasmagorical element. While the former is fully felt, the latter is too flat and blandly conceived to be more than a genre requirement.

In the “Balconettes,” with assistance from DP Evgenia Alexandrova, Merlant employs an active lens. In the opening scene, for instance, the camera leaps and bounds between the different scenes happening on various decks. It’s a fluid and smartly conceived sequence. At other points, however, they also turn to hand-held, presenting an unnecessary, nauseating aesthetic to certain scenes. Throughout the film, I also found myself returning to that aforementioned opening sequence. In that, we see a Black woman hit her abusive husband with a shovel. We only see her once more in the film. And yet, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I spent much of the film hoping she’d have an arc that never materialized. 

A last-act twist that can be seen a mile away further dampens the mood. The components are there: a strong ensemble, mostly sturdy camerawork, and an intriguing premise. But the parts rarely add up to a satisfying whole, and so the potential of “The Balconettes” is left annoyingly hanging in the air. 

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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