Is David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future" really the scandalous film we imagined?

Is David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” really the scandalous film we imagined?

CANNES FESTIVAL – At each Cannes Film Festival, his scandalous film. So, since the announcement of the selection for this 75th edition, many have been betting on the return of filmmaker David Cronenberg to make an impression. His gory thriller The crimes of the future was presented in competition this Monday, and will be released in cinemas this Wednesday, May 25. But is it as shock as expected?

The film, set in an indeterminate “post-disaster” future, a world in ruins where pain has been abolished, features the director’s favorite actor, Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence2005; Shadow Promises; 2007, A Dangerous Method, 2011). This time in the shoes of Saul, a very special performer.

His creations? Tattoos made raw on his internal organs, during surgical operations carried out in public. Watchword: “surgery is the new sex”. The scalpel is wielded by Caprice, played by a wax-faced Léa Seydoux, while a nebulous police force, the Office of the National Organ Registry, represented by Kristen Stewart, monitors them from a distance.

“I’m sure people will leave the room within the first five minutes of the film. I’m sure. Some have seen the film and think that the last twenty minutes will be very hard, and that people will leave. A guy said he almost had a panic attack,” promised David Cronenberg himself in an interview with Deadline.

“Not as disgusting as we were sold”

However, reading the opinions of festival-goers who have seen the film (unfortunately we are not one of them), it seems that the expected scandal is not quite there. No boos, no discomfort, no massive desertions in the halls of the Palais des Festival. “The Crimes of the Future of Cronenberg is not the shock announced”, headlines the online media Slate. It is “by far not as disgusting as we were sold, but so much sweeter than expected”, comments a journalist from the specialized site IndieWire. And a critic of The Tribune of Geneva who says he is “very fan” to summarize: “There will be no scandal, but just rout”.

Asked by The HuffPost, the writer and film specialist Guillaume Evin argues that often films that are too “calibrated” as scandalous can “flop”. “Lhe biggest scandals are in fact those which we did not expect”, explains the one who has just published the book It’s a scandal: These films that shocked their time.

A scandalous film is “a highly flammable artistic product which hits the public opinion that receives it. And from this confrontation springs the controversy”, describes the author. And it may well be that for The crimes of the future of David Cronenberg, the controversy does not spring this time.

Yet it is to the soon-to-be 80-year-old Canadian filmmaker that we owe one of the shocking films in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. In 1996, the protagonists of Crash“barred with scars and harnessed with metal prostheses”, satisfy their sexual urges “in the middle of crumpled sheets and shredded flesh” from car accidents.

“We had never seen that before on the Croisette… The ‘old hands’ are on the verge of nausea when the ‘moderns’ swear by audacity and novelty. Boos respond to applause”, recalls Guillaume Evin in his book. David Cronenberg will leave with the special jury prize. And 25 years later, Julia Ducournau cites him as a source of inspiration for Titaniumwinner of the 2021 Palme d’Or.

“People were completely surprised by his concept of the man-machine. His work was atypical, deeply disturbing but completely surprising”, evokes the specialist who recalls that the notion of scandal fluctuates a lot depending on the time. “26 years later, it’s largely digested and maybe viewers are expecting something else.”

75 years of scandals

The list of “scandal films” that have marked the 75-year history of the Cannes Film Festival is already quite long. We could cite Irreversible by Gaspard Noé (2002), The Life of Adele (2013) and later Mektoub my love: Intermezzo (2019) by Abdellatif Kechiche or Antichrist (2009) by Lars Von Trier. Without forgetting to go back to the most resounding of them: Feastby Marco Ferreri.

In 1973, the Italian filmmaker films four quadras, joined by prostitutes, decide to lock themselves in a villa to “indulge in a sort of collective suicide by eating until death ensues” in mounds of vomit and excrement. “The Festival had its most degrading day and France, its greatest humiliation”, assures a critic on the airwaves of Europe 1. While the actors (including Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli or Andréa Férréol) will be whistled, booed and even insulted near the steps.

“The 1960s and 1970s were strongly ideologized and took on societal issues. It’s the golden age of scandal films”, breathes Guillaume Evin. When today a “form of self-censorship of producers, directors, screenwriters” linked to the film financing model would have reduced the field of possibilities according to the expert.

Yes The crimes of the future by David Cronenberg was not the Cannes Film Festival scandal that many imagined, will it be with the general public? Answer in the days to come from those who dare to venture into dark rooms.

See also on The HuffPost: “Too soon” or “the right time”? In Cannes, opinions differ on the timing of this film on November 13

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