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Think your family’s bad? Cannes films beg to differ

May 17, 2011

This blog was written by Nick Vinocur in Cannes:

With jealous dads, sadistic sons and abandoned children in their key roles, many films in competition for the top prize at the Cannes film festival this year are taking on the very darkest sides of family life.

Two of the movies, Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and Israeli film “Footnote”, ask what happens when jealousy or hatred take the place of love and affection in a parent-child relationship.

“Footnote”, by director Joseph Cedar, is about an academic family in which father and son, both professors of Talmudic studies, end up hating one another due to jealousy over honours in their respective careers.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” features a sadistic son who appears to hate his mother, played by Tilda Swinton, from the day he is born and does everything in his power to punish her, including a killing spree at his high school.

While “Footnote” takes a lighter tack, drawing laughs at its first screening in Cannes, neither movie gave the spectator any suggestion that in the end, love would prevail. To the contrary, in these families, the undertow of sadism or jealousy proves stronger than any filial bond — a dark view of modern family life on the filmmakers’ part.

In “The Kid With a Bike”, by Belgian filmmaking duo Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, there is a little more optimism — but not much. A 12-year-old boy moves mountains to locate a father who has abandoned him, only to be told that he is not wanted.

“There is a general crisis in social links,” Luc Dardenne said at a press conference earlier in the festival. “People are very alone now, much more than in the past — and this is indeed related to the breakdown of the family.”

The movie lightens up somewhat at the end, however, with the suggestion that young Cyril may find a better life in the care of Samantha, played by Belgian actress Cecile France. Still, whatever joy emerges from the film is hard-fought.

That is no surprise in Cannes, where the official selection has often rewarded hard-hitting films for their relevance to social realities — not making audiences dream.

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