Letter from Deauville: the art of the “hug” and the decline of American cinema

Posted Sep 9, 2022, 11:54 AMUpdated Sep 9, 2022, 11:55 AM

Since 1975, over the decades, the Deauville American Film Festival has received the biggest stars: Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Robert Redford, Gregory Peck, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood… During the 1990s, it took its distances itself from the rhinestones of Sunset Boulevard to become the French springboard for a dynamic independent cinema which flourished at Sundance. So with its ups and downs, Deauville he traces the seismograph of American cinema and therefore of America itself.

With open hearts

However, in its home stretch, the 2022 selection testifies to disoriented and exhausted characters, starting with the women. One loses her husband in a supermarket shooting and tries to rebuild her life (“Peace in the Valley” by Tyler Riggs), another is cloned before deciding to kill her double (“Dual” by Riley Stearns ), two get off drugs or work on it (“Stay Awake” by Jamie Sisley, “Blood” by Brad Anderson…), etc. Among the most original projects, “Aftersun” by Charlotte Wells takes place in Turkey and features Scots, while in “Watcher”, Chloe Okuno films an infernal Bucharest and “The Silent Twins”, the first feature film in French. English by Agnieszka Smoczynska, reconstructs the landscapes of Wales in Poland.

With a few exceptions (including the marvelous “Armageddon Time” by James Gray), the purely American works seem fixed in their imagery and their decorations. First: the secondary town where no one stops. We have traveled a hundred times this “Main street” whose emptiness is underlined by a guitar chord that resonates in the distance. We followed the lonely teenager between the lockers in the halls of the school. We spent evenings in the sinister bar, lit with ocher neon lights and inhabited by a distracted country echo. And how many Saturdays at bowling, punctuated by the crash of skittles? Between all these familiar places, we have fixed the immense sky, a horizon that the protagonists aspire to reach without succeeding.

These films work on the same values: benevolence, comfort… Faced with the violence of the century, tirelessly, this cinema only calls for re-soldering friendly and family ties through open-hearted conversations. Apogee of all confidence: the “hug” where the characters hug each other.

Some filmmakers try to escape this scheme by clinging to the major American genre: the western. The failure “God’s Country” by Julian Higgins revisits the isolated house, threatened by macho and boorish prowlers. The wood that is cut with an ax in the cold of winter, the arrow of the invisible archer… send us back to the wild west. The impressive Golden Camera of the Cannes Film Festival “War Pony” by Gina Gammel and Riley Keough, plunges into the bowels of an Indian reservation. It bears witness to the misery and above all the humiliation of the Amerindian peoples. There is a modern version of the ranch, with its fat owner and a superb appearance of bison, ghost of a lost golden age. Ghost also of a certain cinema.

Masterful cocktail

On the occasion of the publication of his sum work “Generics” (in 3 volumes Ed. Jockers), Deauville this year offers a “carte blanche” to the critic and historian Philippe Garnier. A selection that continues at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.

The former mainstay of the show “Cinéma Cinémas” has composed a masterful cocktail. Stands out is “The Great Blackmail” by Alexander Mackendrick (1957), a film of incredible brutality that follows the vampires of the tabloid press in the nights of Times Square. Also New York and without pity, “The City Without a Veil” (1948), by Jules Dassin describes an ordinary criminal investigation that takes us from high society to the underworld of scorching summer. “La chevauchée des bannis” (1959) is a fabulous western by André de Toth where a band of outlaws attack an isolated town in a snowstorm.

Robert Ryan and Burl Ives in André de Toth’s Ride of the Banished.©DR

These films of yesterday surprise today by their effectiveness. No digression, no useless plans, sentimentality, psychological explanations. Never a “hug”. “Hollywood Business”, the exciting documentary serialized during the festival, explained the structural crisis that is hitting the industry today and siphoning off its creativity. One day, perhaps, historians will determine that the decline of independent cinema began in the aftermath, when its characters got into the habit of finding solutions to plots by hugging each other. Arnaud Desplechin’s jury will unveil its prize list this Saturday, September 10.

48th Deauville American Film Festival


Until Sunday September 11. Info. festival-deauville.com

Letter from Deauville: the art of the “hug” and the decline of American cinema