The Cannes Love Affair With American Cinema Takes Unexpected Turns

One truism of the Cannes Film Festival is that no matter how alarming the news about the American movie world, Hollywood — however you understand that word — retains a powerful grip on this event. Cannes is a thoroughly French affair, but its love forle cinéma américainis evident everywhere from the faded images of Hollywood stars that are scattered about to the honorary awards that the event bestows. On Saturday, it will present an honorary Palme d’Or to George Lucas, the 11th American to get an award that it’s given out just 22 times.

Given the United States’ long domination of the international film market, it’s no surprise that the country looms large here. The Disney adventure “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” it is worth pointing out, was No. 1 at the box office in France and in much of the rest of the world when Cannes opened last week; it still is. That said, the hold that American cinema maintains on this festival goes beyond market share. Americans have also won more top awards at Cannes than filmmakers from Britain, Italy or France. This fact that reminds me of the moment in “Kings of the Road,” the 1976 Wim Wenders road movie, when a character says, “The Yanks have colonized our subconscious.”

There are always movies from around the world here, of course, but the selections that often generate the loudest chatter are either from the United States or are Hollywood-adjacent. Three such titles this year are a heat-seeking troika that involve American notables who, after a period of relative domestic quiet, have showily returned to the international stage. Kevin Costner is here with “Horizon: An American Saga,” a baggy western that’s the first chapter in a multipart series, and Francis Ford Coppola has a new epic, “Megalopolis.” Then there’s Demi Moore, who’s being hailed for her bold starring role in “The Substance,” an English-language horror movie from the French director Coralie Fargeat.

Demi Moore as an actress of “a certain age” in “The Substance.” Credit…Universal Pictures

A gross-out fantasy that suggests Fargeat has watched her share of David Cronenberg movies, “The Substance” centers on a beautiful actress, Elisabeth Sparkle (Moore), who is what’s often irritatingly called a certain age. When her TV show is canceled, the actress does what you might predict given the movie’s exaggerated look and tone: She despairs at what she sees in the mirror and reaches for an outrageous solution. This turns out to be the mysterious treatment of the title, which allows her to effectively generate (birth) a younger version of herself. This Demi 2.0, as it were, is played by Margaret Qualley, who, like Moore, bares her all in a 140-minute movie that’s as simple-minded as it is bloated.

I am (personally!) sympathetic to the points about women, beauty and age that Fargeat seems to be trying to make. Yet the movie never gets beyond the obvious, and the whole thing soon becomes grindingly repetitive despite its two vigorous lead performances, all the many eye-catching shots of Qualley pumping her butt like a piston and the chunky tsunamis of gore. Far more successful on both feminist and filmmaking terms is “Anora,” Sean Baker’s giddily ribald picaresque about a Brooklyn sex worker, Ani (Mikey Madison), who, more or less impulsively, weds the absurdly juvenile son of a Russian oligarch.

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