How do you follow up one of the most unusual and unlikely Oscar winners in recent memory? If you’re Michel Hazanavicius, you make a movie that seemingly screams “nominate me!”
Ironically, it seems as if “The Search,” which premiered on Wednesday at Cannes, falls short of its very serious goals.
Reports are that there was some hearty booing after the screening, and critics are split on the film, both amongst themselves and even within their own reviews. “The Search,” which is a sort of remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 film set in post-war Germany, has three story lines set amid the Russian invasion of Chechnya in 1999: A young Chechen boy, who escapes with his baby brother after his parents are killed and his sister is raped, is taken in by a relief worker played by Hazanavicius’ wife and “Artist” Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo; the young boy’s sister goes looking for him; and a young Russian is turned into a killing machine by ruthless soldiers after getting arrested for smoking weed.
TheWrap’s Sasha Stone admits that the film is flawed in many ways, but was won over by the import of its message (though she notes that the real conflict, which continues to this day, is far less black and white):
It ends up being emotionally compelling because of Hazanavicius’ willingness to tell the story with sentimentality… Either you go with it or you don’t. If you do, you will forgive the film’s flaws — some stereotyping and perhaps unbelievable plot points. If you don’t go with it, you willfully overlook the importance of a story that seeks to bring our attention to just what happened to the Chechen people, much of which few people knows about. You will do this because the movie didn’t work for you, and of course, that is your prerogative. But sometimes there are things about a film that seem to matter a lot more than one viewer’s comfort level.
THR’s Todd McCarthy erred on the side of not going with it, though he did enjoy parts of the film:
The result is vivid when focusing on those directly involved in the war but laborious when devoted to the fretful hand-wringing of do-gooder outsider characters, which is a lot of the time… the scenes with the foreign aid workers are windy, platitudinous, repetitive, familiar and not always very dramatic.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was unimpressed with the execution of the film, writing in his two star review:
It could be that Hazanavicius wanted, once again, to channel some of that Old Hollywood big-hearted sincerity — just as he did with his silent-movie triumph The Artist. But the outcome here is naive and misjudged; Hazavicius can’t help turning his boy into a sort of Chaplinesque Kid, and there’s a very disappointing central performance from Bérénice Bejo.
The Telegraph’s Tim Robey also gave the flick a two star review and a great may sighs:
“The Search” is a sober, hatchet-faced and very laboured exposé of Chechnyan war crimes. The self-importance factor is so high, and the reward so low, that it’s the first film in this year’s Cannes competition to invite a hearty chorus of indignant booing.
Indiewire’s Eric Kohn suggests that cinephiles should just stick to the original version of “The Search”:
“The Search” lacks the the credible emotions of the original and never assembles a convincing reason for its existence. Instead, Hazanvicius’ first conventional dramatic effort is a dispiritingly bland attempt at wartime perseverance. [It] is a dogged kind of film, an eat-your-greens experience, and one which quickly starts to feel like punishment.
In other Cannes news, rich people are still partying on yachts.