Cannes Day 3: Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ Mystifies, ‘Bird’ Beguiles

Reactions to the Palme d’Or contenders, plus “Last Breath” gets picked up

Megalopolis
American Zoetrope

The Cannes Film Festival keeps on going, with the debut of one of the year’s biggest movies, an offbeat new animal film and a new acquisition.

“Megalopolis” Meets the World

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis,” a massive undertaking that the famed director has been toying with for the last 40 years, finally made its splashy debut. It was a big swing, for sure, requiring Coppola to sell off part of his winery to self-finance the film’s $120 million budget, and comes to the festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. Judging by the response, taking home the top prize seems like a longshot. But hey, “Megalopolis” existing at all probably seemed like a near-impossibility too.

Adam Driver, Giancarlo Esposito, Nathalie Emmanuel, Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Jason Schwartzman and Grace VanderWaal star in the ambitious drama. “Megalopolis,” which is full of allusions to the Roman Empire and oversized visual flourishes, pits an idealistic architect (Driver) against a powerful politician (Esposito) for control of a futuristic city.

But now that “Megalopolis” has arrived, what’s the word on the long-in-the-works epic?

After the screening, which included both a standing ovation and some jeers, the critics weighed in.

New York Magazine critic Bilge Ebiri, who recently wrote a piece about the necessity for experiments like “Megalopolis,” described the movie as “a work of absolute madness,” and while he notes some of the movie’s shortcomings (including its notable cheapness, yes, even on a budget of $120 million), he notes that “might be the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every single batshit second of it.”

New York Times critic Manohla Dargis ultimately gave the film a positive review, while noting “I don’t think ‘Megalopolis’ will be for everyone, but art rarely is.” Even the critics that weren’t totally on board concede that they are happy that “Megalopolis” is here, even if it isn’t the straight up masterpiece many were hoping for. The Playlist’s Rafaela Sales Ross makes this explicitly clear in their review, writing “I’m not yet convinced it works, but my goodness, am I thrilled it exists.”

Not that every critic was enamored with Coppola’s gonzo vision (which, it should be noted, includes a character communicating with a live actor in the theater – will be curious how they’ll pull that off on Poughkeepsie). Dave Calhoun, in his review for Time Out, wrote “it’s fair to wonder why it ends up being, one, so little fun, and two, so deadening on an intellectual level” before writing that someone like Baz Luhrmann should have taken over the story (???) “to make sense of the collision of past, present and future references.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was similarly unimpressed, describing Coppola’s passion project as “a bloated, boring and bafflingly shallow film.”

Our own review (by Ben Croll) described it as “grandiose and goofy,” with Coppola delivering a film that is “expertly assembled and sleepily directed all at once; it wows with its imagination and erudition all while leaving you little more than bemused.”

And while Coppola has secured distribution for “Megalopolis” in many international markets, he has yet to secure domestic distribution, beyond a vague mention of IMAX exhibition, meaning that it could be a while before we get to make up our own minds about his massive undertaking.

“Bird” up to Bat

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold, whose previous films “Fish Tank”  and “American Honey” both won the July Prize at Cannes back in 2009 and 2016 (respectively), is back with another neorealist drama, this time starring Barry Keoghan (who boarded the film after dropping out of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator II”) and Franz Rogowski, who starred in last year’s breakout indie “Passages.”

One critic wrote on X that it was “my favourite film of Cannes so far.” The Guardian awarded the film three stars and described the film as “a chaotic social-realist adventure with big, chancy performances, grimly violent episodes, tragedy butting heads with comedy and physical existence facing off with fantasy and imagination.” (Honestly, that sounds pretty great to us.) Another British outlet, the Telegraph, also gave “Bird” three stars, while describing the movie as “bizarre.”

Our own review (by Chase Hutchinson) was enthusiastically positive, pointing to the film’s engagement with magical realism as a big plus. “This may throw some of those expecting it to remain grounded, but that only makes the moment it takes flight all the more arresting. It’s a big swing, but a worthwhile one,” wrote our critic.

Hopefully we will see the film soon; it was co-produced by BBC Film and the BFI, among other entities, and was picked up by Mubi for distribution in the UK and Ireland. It has yet to secure domestic distribution, but with reviews like this, it’s only a matter of time.

“Last Breath” Finds a Home

One movie you’ll definitely be able to see in the not-too-distant future is Alex Parkinson’s “Last Breath.” It was announced that Focus Features has acquired the U.S. rights and select international territories for the upcoming thriller “Last Breath” from Longshot films and Dark Castle Entertainment.

The film is based on a documentary from 2019 with the same name that Parkinson co-directed with Richard da Costa, and will star Woody Harrelson, Finn Cole and Simu Liu. Mitchell LaFortune, David Brooks and Parkinson. Stewart Le Maréchal, Al Morrow, Anna Mohr-Pietsch, Jeremy Plager, Hal Sadoff, Norman Golightly, and David and Paul Brooks are producing.

According to the official synopsis, “Last Breath” “is an exhilarating true story following a seasoned deep-sea diver as he battles against the raging elements to execute his final rescue mission. This heart-pounding film is a gripping tale of teamwork and resilience that takes audiences on an electrifying race against time.”

FilmNation is handling international sales on the film, which is being taken to buyers at Cannes.

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