In “The Great Gatsby,” which kicked off the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday night, Carey Mulligan utters Daisy Buchanan’s most famous line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel: “I hope she’ll be a fool,” Daisy says. ”That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world – a beautiful little fool.”
While “Gatsby” was having its damp debut next door – with Mulligan, co-star Leonardo DiCaprio and director Baz Luhrmann ascending Cannes’ iconic red steps in the pouring rain, the film later earning what The Hollywood Reporter called “muted applause” – the Mexican film “Heli” was chronicling how being born poor, in the midst of terroristic drug gangs and corrupt police, can make being a fool the worst thing a girl can be.
The grim, occasionally gruesome naturalistic drama by Amat Escalante is about a twelve-year-old who comes under the sway of an older boyfriend, and whose brother Heli (Armando Espitia) finds himself trying desperately to save both his and his sister’s lives as a result. Although nominally about a boy, “Heli” revolves around Estela and her fateful choices, which Escalante portrays as being conditioned less by her character than the corrosive social forces swirling around her.
Dire, downbeat, unremittingly brutal, “Heli’ couldn’t be farther removed from “Gatsby,” with its fetishistic 3-D depiction of 1920s-era excess that often eclipsed any of the original novel’s misgivings about materialism and heedlessness. In eerie, contemporized counterpoint, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” made its world premiere in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival on Thursday. Coppola’s dramatization of the real-life teenagers in Los Angeles who cased and robbed celebrity homes with the help of Internet gossip sites and tabloid television stars Emma Watson as one of the thieves, all of them teenagers besotted with drugs, fame, name-brand labels and breathtaking self-deception.
As it happens, “The Bling Ring” screened barely an hour after Francois Ozon’s “Jeune et Jolie” screened for the press. Marine Vacth plays Isabelle, a 17-year old girl who becomes a prostitute after being deflowered while on summer vacation. Filmed by Ozon with the same lurid fascination that Luhrmann and Coppola evince for clothing and jewelry in their films, Vacth’s coltish body and ripe features become objects in themselves in “Jeune et Jolie,” which seems like even more of an exercise in the hegemonic Male Gaze in light of the fact that only one female director has a film in competition in Cannes this year. (Both “Heli” and “Jeune et Jolie” are in competition this year.)
Ozon’s lecherously offensive depiction of a young woman searching for autonomy through sex is all the more tone-deaf for arriving the very week that Angelina Jolie announced she recently underwent a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. In one regrettable instance, a character in “The Bling Ring” actually invokes Jolie, announcing that she admires the glamorous actress for her “hot bod.” Today, of course, we admire Jolie for the body she’s turned from a fetishized screen object and into a profound manifestation of courage, self-determination and empowerment. Next to the sexist wish-fulfillment of “Jeune et Jolie,” what teenage girl wouldn’t instead want to be “Puissant et Jolie? The hottest bod, after all, is the one that’s strong, healthy, all yours.