There has been talk this past year of the dour mood in cinema. The Cannes and New York film festivals, the polestars of American art-house culture, excited some and repelled many with their lineups of “gruesome,” “pessimistic,” and “bleak” provocations. Elitist, that dreaded word, was paraded out and slapped on both festivals, which were accused of being interested only in shoving veggies or dirt into the mouths of moviegoers. But such complaints are nothing new. Movies have always been a mass medium—and artists have long sought to expand the bounds of that definition. That tension between popular entertainment and high ambition is at the heart of a long-running argument about the direction of the movies.
French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin doesn't so much pick a side as ignore the dispute. At decade's end, he has emerged as one of the festival circuit's most adored names. His is a peculiar project. Though a maker of dense, allusive, eclectic, and formally radical films, Desplechin hardly thinks of himself as an inaccessible artist. Read Elbert Ventura on Kings and Queen.