‘Megalopolis’ Premieres at Cannes: First Reaction

Late in “Megalopolis,” Francis Ford Coppola’s plaintively hopeful movie about — well, everything under the sun — a character speaks to the power of love. It’s a wistful moment in a fascinating film aswirl with wild visions, lofty ideals, cinematic allusions, literary references, historical footnotes and self-reflexive asides, all of which Coppola has funneled into a fairly straightforward story about a man with a plan. It is a great big plan from a great big man in a great big movie, one whose sincerity is finally as moving as its unbounded artistic ambition.

“Megalopolis,” which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, is Coppola’s first movie since “Twixt” (2011), a little-seen, small-scale horror fantasy. “Megalopolis” is far larger in every respect, though at this point it’s an open question whether it will reach an audience of any kind. The industry, never a welcoming place for free-ranging and -thinking artists, is in the midst of another of its cyclical freakouts. Business is terrible and the sky is definitely, absolutely falling. Fear, panic and timidity rule the day, as they generally do.

And then there is a recent report in The Guardian with anonymous sources alleging that Coppola tried to kiss female extras. The executive producer Darren Demetre has said, “I was never aware of any complaints of harassment or ill behavior during the course of the project” and described the contact as “kind hugs and kisses on the cheek to the cast and background players.”

I thought about these allegations every so often while watching “Megalopolis,” particularly during one of the bacchanals that punctuate the story and especially when yet another semi-covered breast waggled onscreen. I didn’t find the breasts scandalous or remotely offensive; for one thing, the movie is a speculative fiction about a city that more or less looks like New York, if one modeled on ancient Rome. There the city’s wealthy citizens scheme, the poor suffer and a visionary architect, Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver), dreams of a “perfect school-city” in which everyone can become who they were meant to be.

The movie follows Catilina pondering his mortality atop what looks like the Chrysler Building. After gingerly crawling outside on a ledge, he gazes over the city and raises a foot in the air, then freezes as if contemplating the abyss. This apparent to-be-or-not-to-be moment initiates a story that finds him wrestling with imponderables, having anguished meltdowns and trying to realize his utopian project using a building material he has invented as he navigates assorted hurdles. Among the most persistent is the imperious mayor, Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), who has a beautiful daughter, Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), a party girl who can quote the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius by heart.

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