There was a lot of buzz — and not necessarily the good kind of buzz — surrounding bad-boy director Abel Ferrera’s “Welcome to New York,” his fictionalized account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, which was screened on Saturday for press and market ahead of its VOD-only release in France (a theatrical rollout is planned for America later in the year). I was busy seeing the enigmatic and dreamy Italian competition entry “Le Meraviglie” (“The Wonders”) by Alice Rohrwacher during the screening and wild after-party, which reportedly vied with the film for obscenity and grotesquery. In the wake of the film’s release, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said that the former International Monetary Fund chief planned to sue Ferrara for defamation. (DSK is reportedly “heartbroken and terrified” and refuses to see the film.)
After a long, party-studded weekend on the Croisette, David Cronenberg’s celebrity satire “Maps to the Stars” debuted in competition. With an all-star cast (Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson), the Canadian auteur’s first film shot in L.A. works best when savaging Hollywood culture, name-dropping (“Harvey’s producing and you know Harvey. Harvey is Harvey,” is one of the gems in Bruce Wagner’s screenplay), and mocking the lifestyles of the rich and weird. But the film is so busy making fun of child stars, personal shoppers, the vanity of aging actresses — shades of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” — and quack New Age therapists that it doesn’t bother to stop and think what it’s all about. There is also a central incest drama to the film, which creates an accidental resonance with Keren Yedaya’s “That Lovely Girl,” which was profiled in an earlier festival post.
Cronenberg, a frequent guest to the festival, rarely explores his Jewishness in his films (unless you’re tempted to see his 1986 remake of “The Fly,” starring Jeff Goldblum as a riff on Kafka). One exception is the short “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World,” which screened here in 2007 as part of the omnibus film “Chacun son Cinéma” (“To Each His Own Cinema”) commissioned to celebrate the festival’s 60th edition. Making a film about Hollywood culture allows Cronenberg to slip in the odd Jewish name or reference (a particularly nasty child star refers to his agent as “The Grand Rabbi of Death and Dying”), but the most unusual thing about “Maps to the Stars” is how much demented humor there is, especially for a director whose films are often serious to a fault.
Later that day, Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” unspooled. A collaboration with his frequent screenwriter Dan Futterman (who wrote Miller’s first film “Capote”), “Foxcatcher” sees comic actor Steve Carell (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) playing shockingly against type as John Eleuthère du Pont, the scion of the industrialist dynasty who killed Olympic gold medalist David Schultz in 1988. Based on Mark Schultz, David’s younger brother’s biography, the film is an unsettling portrait of a disillusioned, weak-willed man (Channing Tatum is emotionally and physically committed as Mark) who welcomes the dubious attentions of a wealthy and somewhat sinister benefactor in order to get out of his brother’s shadow. A virtually unrecognizable Mark Ruffulo plays David as the film’s only fundamentally good character, the unwitting victim of his brother’s jealousy and du Pont’s cool savagery. And then there’s Carell who, with the aid of a prosthetic nose, bears an uncanny resemblance to du Pont. More than anything, Miller is an actor’s director. Here, he directs Carell to perfection, until his star practically disappears into the character, much the same way that Philip Seymour Hoffman became Truman Capote.