Postcard from Cannes #7: Crazy love

·5-min read

Passionate, head-over-heels love stories are nothing new on the big screen. There are as many variations as there are couples in the world. If you’re up for some crazy cinematic love potion, “Stars at Noon” and “Decision to Leave”, both in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, will fit the bill.

“Stars at Noon” directed by French filmmaker Claire Denis, is based on a novel by Denis Johnson. It goes deep into the rabbit hole of impossible love, taking us to hot, sweaty Nicaragua, where armed men drive around in trucks and revolution is in the air.

Dusty ceiling fans turn lazily and signs in restaurants tell customers there’s no meat or chicken available and the wifi is out of order. It doesn’t strike you as the most comfortable time or place for a love affair.

Trish, lithe, with pouty lips, black curly hair and an insolent air is clearly stuck here. She’s ready to have sex for some US dollars, or at least get some free aircon. Margaret Qually brings an explosive sensuality to this woman who is on the edge of a precipice.

Along comes a sweet-faced businessman staying at the Intercontinental. Daniel (played by Joe Alwyn) tells her he is developing "business opportunities" with "humanitarian overtones".

He asks her what she’s doing in the country and she responds with the fabulously flippant line “I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell”.

Their love affair begins haphazardly. It starts with sex (something we see a lot of in this film), and we take it she’s seducing Daniel to stock up US dollars, hard to come by in a country about to face elections.

When in the hotel bathroom, pocketing some shampoo, she spies a gun in Daniel’s washkit, and suspects her new-found “Englishman” (as he’s known in the book) is up to something fishy.

High stakes

We learn that Trish’s passport has been confiscated for some reason and she’s used her contacts as a wannabe “journalist” to find a safe hotel and possibly money to leave the country in a hurry. The stakes are high.

The love aspect only begins to creep in when the couple realises that they need each other to get out of their increasingly dangerous predicament. It turns out he’s being tracked down by police, and she has been blacklisted.

They go on the run, and try to cross into Costa Rica. There is the suspense around how they do this when armed guards are everywhere, consultants ready to double cross each other and the infrastructure is close to zero.

Death and betrayal are on the cards. Will they stick together? How will their fledgling relationship survive?

The context and intrigue of "Stars at Noon" provide a tense and interesting backdrop for a romantic thriller, but halfway through the film loses its pace with strange plot twists.

Only the black market makes sense. Everything has its price. Everything is for sale, even love.

Back to Seoul, again

Winner of the 2004 Grand Prix for "Old Boy" (Oldeuboi) and the 2009 Jury Prize for "Thirst" (Bak-Jwi), Park Chan-wook is back in competition at Cannes six years after "The Handmaiden" (2016).

With detective thriller “Heojil Kyolshim” (“Decision to Leave”), the South Korean director has woven a love story into a murder investigation.

Song Seo-rae (played by Tang Wei) is accused of killing her husband. Detective Chang Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), is put on the case, which is eventually ruled as suicide and he’s asked to move on.

However, Chang Hae-joon cannot get the strange story out of his head. This woman has hypnotized him completely. Despite his horror at her absence of sorrow or remorse, he is attracted to her. He starts staking out in front of her flat at night, spying on her as she eats icecream dinners alone in front of the TV.

Double life

Meanwhile, he returns each weekend to his wife who lives outside the city. She gradually begins to suspect her husband is leading a double life and she ends up dumping him.

We learn that Song Seo-rae is a manipulative character, rather like Trish in “Stars at Noon” – a bold and fearless woman, capable of showing no emotion at all when learning about the death of not just one, but two of her husbands; a terrible coincidence. Is she guilty or innocent, or a bit of both?

Her angelic expression belies her ruthlessness. But Chang Hae-joon is hopelessly in love with her. Over the course of the film, he loses himself in her, and begins to doubt everything he’s done.

Blurred lines

There is an interesting visual technique that helps magnify this sense of falling into a void. As Chang Hae-joon stares through his binoculars, we suddenly see him in the room with Song Seo-rae, but actually, it’s what he’s projecting in his mind. The spectator is swept up in the moment and begins to question what is real and what is fiction.

She loves him back in her own way, keeping recordings of his voice on her phone like talismans.

Unfortunately this is not going to be a happy love story. The title of the film makes sense by the time the conclusion rolls around, leaving the viewer slightly underwhelmed and perplexed.

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