Cannes Watch: Reviews of We Need to Talk About Kevin

by Melissa Silverstein
May 12, 2011 1:58 AM
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Here are some first looks at the female directed films being screened at Cannes. First up: We Need To Talk About Kevin - directed by Lynne Ramsey

From Xan Brooks in the Guardian:

We Need to Talk About Kevin is extraordinary – a maternal nightmare fired by a narrative that's not so much fractured as liquid; blending and folding its time-frame to mesmeric effect. Tilda Swinton is the middle-class American mum, toiling to process the actions of her sociopath son (Ezra Miller, positively sulphurous). Along the way, Ramsay's intense, distinctive visuals work a curious alchemy on Lionel Shriver's source novel, navigating a central conceit (the demon seed!) that in other hands might come across as crass and cheap. (I loved the night drive through a suburban Halloween, where skeletons, vampires and ghouls flit across the headlights beam like emissaries of the damned). Swinton, too, is terrific. Read more.

From James Rocchi on the Playlist:

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is one of the most beautifully bleak psychological fake-outs the cinema’s given us in years, as Lynne Ramsay (”Ratcatcher,” “Morvern Callar”) directs an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel. At first blush, Ramsay’s film would appear to be a look into the genesis and reasons behind the title teen’s killing spree; the film we get is something different entirely, a exploration of loss and pain and grief through the eyes of the mother (Tilda Swinton) left shattered and battered in the wake of her son’s irrational, irredeemable actions...

Swinton is superb, and if there were any doubt she’s one of our greatest living actresses, that has now been removed with one swift stroke. We see Eve as a young woman in love, as a young mother in crisis, as an older mother in … denial? Panic? Ignorance? We’re shown Eve’s flaws and failings as a parent—but if being an imperfect mother—tired and frustrated and ambivalent about parenthood—were enough to make a child a killer, the gutters would be overflowing with blood. Read more.

From Anthony Breznican in EW:

We Need To Talk About Kevin has delivered a gut-punch to the Cannes Film Festival. The movie, about a mother (Tilda Swinton) grappling with the aftershocks of a school massacre perpetrated by her sociopathic son, played like an early-morning waking nightmare at the start of the movie gathering’s second day. It earned raves, deeply affecting critics, and stirring predictions that it would claim the festival’s Palme d’Or grand prize, before most of the rest of the screenings had a chance to play. Read more.

From Drew McWeeny on Hitfix:

Lynne Ramsay is a major talent whose earlier films "Ratcatcher" and "Morvern Callar" both proved a mastery of tone and subtle, smart emotional tightrope-walking. It's been eight years since her last film, though, and for a fan of her work, that's been a difficult wait. Thankfully, her adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need To Talk About Kevin is exactly the right piece of material to re-introduce her to filmgoers, and I would imagine that after this film, there will not be another eight year gap between movies for her. This is an extraordinary movie, emotionally brutal, visually masterful, and performed without a single false note by a gifted cast, all of it pulled together by Ramsay with what looks like ease. Read more.

From Leslie Felperin in Variety:

After a nine-year sabbatical from feature filmmaking, Scottish helmer Lynne Ramsay is back with a vengeance with "We Need to Talk About Kevin," an exquisitely realized adaptation of Lionel Shriver's bestselling novel. In a rigorously subtle perf as a woman coping with the horrific damage wrought by her psychopathic son, Tilda Swinton anchors the dialogue-light film with an expressiveness that matches her star turn in "I Am Love." Craft contributions, especially from lenser Seamus McGarvey and editor Joe Bini, round out an immaculate package that will rep catnip for crix and get auds talking, but may be too bleak for the mainstream. Read more.

From Eric Kohn at IndieWIRE

“Ratcatcher,” Lynne Ramsay’s affecting 1999 directorial debut, focused on the tribulations of a lonely child surrounded by bad examples. “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Ramsay’s long-awaited third feature, deals with a similar character from the perspective of a concerned parent. Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel, this immersive look at a high-school shooter and his grief-stricken mother avoids sentimentality and constructs a sensationally moving evocation of the ultimate dysfunctional family. Read more.

From Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph

One of the main reasons why 2010 was such a mediocre year at Cannes was the complete absence in competition of any women filmmakers. This time round there are four — the most ever – and the most eagerly awaited of them is Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. The Scottish director of Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar has had a run of bad luck in recent years — The Lovely Bones was taken off her hands and given over to Peter Jackson — but she has lost none of her ability to create exquisite-looking and psychologically intense mood cinema from dark material. Read more.

From Sasha Stone on Awards Daily:

So many times now we’ve had to endure another tragic news story – some disgruntled teen has shot the whole school down and then killed himself. Sympathy goes to the victims and their parents, as well it should. Hatred and blame have to go somewhere, especially when the shooter has taken his own life. The first thought on everyone’s mind is always “what kind of a mother could raise such a monster?”

Such is the paradigm in Lynne Ramsay’s unsettling, unforgettable new film after a ten year hiatus, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Ramsay wisely comes at the film not wanting to give any answers, but to ask one question, specifically: whose fault is it? We’re not really comfortable with the idea that a sociopath could just be born that way. We’d much rather have someone to blame, and that someone is, without fail, the mother. Read more.

From Guy Lodge on In Contention:
Lionel Shriver’s 2003 bestseller “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a rare pop novel indeed: a nippy, low-comfort social essay that lures readers into messily untied arguments on topical subject matter the talk-show circuit would have far less trouble resolving. It might have made for a cluttered, stentorian film about things, particularly as the novel’s candid, epistolary format — a series of unreturned letters from an emotionally paralyzed wife and mother to her absent husband — lends itself to reams of dense, subtext-securing voiceover. Read more.

From Anna Robinson on Alt Film Guide:
In Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, a middle-aged woman (Tilda Swinton) has a difficult, distant relationship with her son (City Island's Ezra Miller), who, it turns out went on a killing spree at his high school. Dealing with her grief, she tries to contact her estranged husband (John C. Reilly). Based on Lionel Shriver’s book.

Tilda Swinton seems to be a strong contender for the Best Actress Award at Cannes. Depending on the critical reception of We Need to Talk About Kevin in the United States, she may have a chance at critics' awards later in the year, and, if so, at an Oscar nomination. That all depends, of course, on when the film will be released in the US. Read more.

From Andrew O'Hehir on Salon:
When two youngish guys in suits with briefcases show up at the front door of Eva, a scraggly-haired, anorexic-thin New York suburbanite played by Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin," she has plenty of reasons to be alarmed. People smash eggs in her supermarket cart, assault her in parking lots, splatter red paint across the front of her decrepit rented bungalow. So when it turns out that these guys want to talk to her about the afterlife, Eva laughs with relief. She already knows about that, she tells them. "I'm going straight to hell. Eternal damnation, the whole thing." Read more.

From Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian:
Cinema's worst ever case of post-natal depression is the subject of this compelling psycho-horror nightmare from Lynne Ramsay, adapted from the novel by Lionel Shriver. It is a movie which is a skin-peelingly intimate character study and a brilliantly nihilist, feminist parable: what happens when smart progressive career women give birth to boys: the smirking, back-talking, weapon-loving competitive little beasts that they have feared and despised since their own schooldays? Read more.

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