2023 Cannes Film Festival | Day 5-6 Capsule Reviews

Days 5 and 6 of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival may have just been my favorite days yet. From films starring actors like Cate Blanchette, Sean Penn, and Natalie Portman, I knew I was in for a treat… And boy was I not disappointed.

From a film about magical realism and its ties into religious allegories to one that questions our morals when it comes to saving lives. These two days emphasized and showcased that the films that have something to truly say about humanity will never die out. Here are my reviews for Days 5 and 6 of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

The New Boy | Director: Warwick Thornton

Synopsis: In the 1940s, during the dead of night, a 9-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy (Aswan Reid) arrives at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun, Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett).

'The New Boy' for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Review: This is by far one of my favorite films of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The New Boy appeals to me because of Thornton’s use of magical realism to exemplify the power of our connectivity to religion and virtue. “While it is clear that the writer/director is drawing from his own experiences with religion, it’s even more certain that he does not intend to sway his audiences either way. Instead, Thornton makes a beautiful point to suggest that religion and human morality are sometimes one and the same.

Whether you’re a young child stepping in upon the mistreatment of a peer or a seasoned nun who tells “good lies” to help those in need, the definition of these two concepts [using religion as a moral compass vs. relying on natural human decency] often overlap.

These elements to Thornton’s spiritually elevating yet morally simple concepts examined throughout are poetry in motion. These lessons along with the strikingly picturesque visuals offer an experience that is worth the watch even if viewers may not understand the ride on which they’re about to embark.

To make a film based on religion with such childlike wonder and free of judgment is beautiful. Thornton has created something profound and special.” I highly recommend this film when it comes out. Please check out my full review at Screen Rant.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Black Flies | Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire

Cannes Synopsis: Ollie Cross (Tye Sheridan), a young paramedic in New York, teams up with Rutkovsky (Sean Penn), an experienced EMT. Facing extreme violence, he discovers the risks of a job that every day shakes his beliefs about life… and death.

'Black Flies' for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Review: Sauvaire’s crime thriller opens up with pure chaos and headache-inducing camera movements. Specifically, the opening sequence showcases the havoc of saving lives and having to choose which patients to serve first in order of prioritization (and life-threatening injury).

It was quite the opener as the anxiety-infused scenes set the stage for the tone of the film. There’s just one element to this script that gave off huge red flags. For one, almost every single violent encounter involved a person of color (predominantly from the Latino/a and/or Black/African communities). One could easily look at the setting and say, ‘well this is just NY.’ However, it plays into a very racist concept that already plagues the medical field.

Besides that, things get intense quickly and maintain that energy from beginning to end. The script also nicely calls into question the ethics of EMT protocols with the standard morals of life. Is it within our right to choose who lives and who dies in the medical field? Under certain scenarios, the script smartly presents this conundrum to its audience.

For as much realism in this script, there are equal amounts of farfetched scenarios. Of course, the extreme cases are there to prove a point, and quite a point they do. But if there was anything Sauvaire could have left out, it should have been the white savior trope. It goes without saying, but it’s overused and unnecessary in 2023.

Despite that, this is truly an entertaining film. It says a lot more than meets the eye, and quite frankly, it’s better than it had any right to be. Strap on your seatbelts for this one. You’re in for a wild ride.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

How to Have Sex | Director: Molly Manning Walker

Synopsis: Three British teenage girls go on a rites-of-passage holiday – drinking, clubbing and hooking up, in what should be the best summer of their lives.

'How to Have Sex' for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Review: Every now and then a film comes along that is capable of stirring up a range of emotions in me. Recently, that film is How to Have Sex by Molly Manning Walker. Premiering at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Walker’s feature debut explodes with raunchiness and hypnotic energy.

But don’t let that stop you from being interested in the film [or being one of the walkouts like I witnessed here at the festival]. This wild and crazy holiday with friends says a lot more than what’s on the surface. Not only that, and at the minimum, it can remind you of the crazy adventures of early adulthood.

There’s a turning point in the feature at which audiences will notice a shift in tone–at least from the perspective of the central character. And the resulting story tells one of the most terrifying experiences that many teens and/or young women have faced. It calls into question the true meaning of consent and how the lines could be blurred for the naive. But it serves as a reminder that this heavy topic is a necessary one.

Director Walker does something really special within How to Have Sex. She demonstrates the importance of true friendship and allyship which all simply boils down to ‘women looking out for women.’ Even the smallest gestures go a long way. And being a friend means trying our damnest [or at least attempt] to recognize when our friends are not okay. And that’s something this script masters to a T.

If not for the message, see Neon’s feature for the show-stopping young actress, Mia McKenna-Bruce, who plays the central character Tara. Her performance is sensational. She truly knows how to work her facial and body expressions at the most important times with both subtlety and blatancy. McKenna-Bruce is simply stunning. Add this to your watchlist immediately, and you will not regret it!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May December | Director: Todd Haynes

Cannes Synopsis: To prepare for her new role, a famous actress comes to meet the one she will embody on the screen, whose sentimental life ignited the tabloid press and passionate the country 20 years earlier.

'May December' for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Review: Of all the films at Cannes 2023, none quite tickled me like May December from director Todd Haynes. Oddly enough, this is a script that tackles an incredibly heavy topic related to age gaps in dating and if underaged people can truly give consent.

Aside from that, this story does it well by adding humor and satire in a way that will surely leave a lasting impression among audiences. It’s incredibly quirky [especially with that whimsical yet appropriate score], and it doesn’t hold back leaning into its campy vibes.

It goes without saying but Natalie Portman manages to impress beyond what we already know she’s capable of. Her ability to take on the persona of Julianne Moore’s [who is also so damn wonderful here] character is hilarious and great to watch.

But if I had to pinpoint the standout performance of the film, that would, hands down, belong to Charles Menton. He plays his character with such restraint and sensitivity, that’s it hard not to feel empathy to how he progresses from the beginning to end of the film.

All in all, this is one of my favorite films of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The cast, the script, and the piercingly funky and quirky score will send chills down your spine in between making you laugh with discomfort. Get ready for an uncomfortable yet entertaining experience!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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