VIgo Mortensen. Kristen Stewart. Lea Seydoux. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that David Cronenberg has signed the hottest actors in cinemas for his new film. And the film itself was, at least for a day, the hottest entry in the Cannes competition.
The ship that goes down dramatically in Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” (FAZ, May 23) has long since run aground near Cronenberg. In the first shot of Crimes of the Future, a little boy is playing on the beach. He then goes into the house and starts chewing up a plastic trash can. His mother puts him on the bed and smothers him with a pillow. Then she calls the father and asks him to pick up “the thing”.
Anatomy lesson on the living object
The next thing we see is a man lying in a shell of skin, bones and flesh. He slept badly because his body has already produced a new organ. This Saul (Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Seydoux) call themselves artists, but what they’re actually doing is reminiscent of a live anatomy lesson. Mortensen lies down in another grey-brown shell, and Seydoux cuts open his stomach with remote-controlled scalpel arms and removes the organ that has grown inside. Sometimes the two of them lie together in their operating room, and then the scalpels dance on their naked bodies like stinging hornets. Surgery, according to Crimes of the Future, is the new sex.
What David Cronenberg has been putting on in the cinema for a good fifty years has been called body horror, but you could also call it explorations into the realm of biomechanics. Cronenberg is interested in the point where flesh and metal, body and technology collide, not because he demons the technological world, but because he wants to know why humans function so poorly in it. In Crimes of the Future, this pattern gets a contemporary ecological twist, as the child who dies at the beginning is the first example of a new human species able to feed on plastic. “We have to start eating our industrial waste,” says the boy’s father, who is also the head of a techno-eco sect that produces the power food of the future from plastic dust pressed into chocolate molds in its secret laboratory. The post-global authorities are suspicious of this activity, which is why Saul is assigned to inform the activists. But something else appeals to the belly breeder: he wants to take part in the “Contest for Inner Beauty”, with agent Timlin (Stewart) supposed to help him.
Crimes of the Future was filmed in an industrial suburb of Athens, so you’ll see Greek characters everywhere and the occasional rusted-out fishing trawler, but the truth is that the film is set in its own, purely Cronenbergian universe. In it, close-knit communities meet in shadowy catacombs to watch a woman have her cheeks slashed or her foot mauled with a sickle knife, and lovers grab not each other’s chests and hips but their scarred bodies to work on a fresh surgical wound to suck around. It can be found visionary or repulsive, and the film gained a reputation when it premiered in Cannes for having viewers screaming from the theaters at previews. But up close, his visual provocations seem almost familiar, thanks in no small part to Cronenberg’s own life’s work. He has already explored the mutating abilities of the human body in “Videodrome” and “The Fly” and played with the pleasure of torture and mutilation in “Crash”. The special quality of his new film therefore has less to do with its content than with its style. “Crimes of the Future” has a somnambulistic sheen reminiscent of late Fellini or Bergman. The great directors, it seems, return to their roots as they get older. For Bergman it was the world of childhood, for Cronenberg it is the operating room.
The classical touch of “Crimes of the Future” fits the underlying museum-like character of this anniversary festival. In any case, if Cannes wants to rejuvenate itself after the Corona break, it still has a long way to go. The cinema of the Korean Park Chan-Wook also looks aged, although the director is not yet sixty. In “Decision to Leave,” Park tells the story of a police officer who falls in love with a beautiful murderess for the third time. It looks very elegant because Park’s camera has a keen sense of colour, light and atmosphere, but style isn’t everything. Its effect wears off after a day. In Cannes, however, they are looking for films for eternity.