Things can get loud in Cannes, from the shouts of ticket-seekers along the Croisette to the near-constant thrum of disco music emanating from boats moored at the town’s piers into the early morning hours.
But silence was the order of the day on Wednesday, when two films screened featuring huge movie stars uttering just a handful of lines of dialogue. “Only God Forgives,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s noir-martial-arts-body-horror mash-up, features Ryan Gosling as a petty criminal abroad in Thailand, where through the malevolent offices of his mother (a perversely nasty Kristin Scott Thomas), he becomes embroiled in progressively more ghastly encounters – during which he says very little.
“This is the third film in a row where most of it is all about silence,” Refn said later that day, referring to his previous films “Valhalla Rising,” starring Mads Mikkelsen, and 2011’s “Drive,” starring Gosling. “Why? Well, silence the essence of cinema. We live in a world of constant dialogue, because most television is about giving info or receiving info through dialogue. So we’re used to that language. We’re used to being told what it is right away.” In a cinematic context, Refn observed, “Silence becomes very uncomfortable for people very quickly. Because silence also means [the movie is] not saying what it is. And when it’s not saying what it is, it forces the audience to either penetrate it or let it penetrate you. And that can be very uncomfortable.”
“Only God Forgives” received a smattering of boos at the press screening Wednesday morning, and seems destined to divide critics when it’s released in theaters in July. Refn shrugged off the reactions, noting that “Drive” received a similar reaction when it was shown to journalists at Cannes in 2011 – just before he won the Palme d’Or for directing. “A lot of people tend to forget what they originally thought,” Refn said with a smile. “Let’s put it that way.”
Just a half hour after “Only God Forgives” let out, another silent film unspooled to far warmer reactions: “All Is Lost,” J.C. Chandor’s masterful drama starring Robert Redford as a sailor grappling with a troubled sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A dazzling example of cinema at its purest and most technically proficient – recalling parts of “Cast Away,” “Life of Pi” and “Titanic” – “All Is Lost” marks a return for Redford to the kind of front-and-center role and deep acting that, at 76, feels all the more triumphant.
Except for a few lines at the film’s opening – and a few muttered expletives along the way – Redford relies completely on his own actions to physically convey his character, who goes nameless throughout “All Is Lost.”
“I believe in the value of silence in film, I believe in it in life as well,” Redford explained at a press conference after the screening. “And when you take that into a dramatic form, it becomes really interesting. Also it forces you as an actor [to completely inhabit] your role. It’s an attractive challenge to go completely into your character and trust the director to know what to do with it. … I had such faith in J.C. that I could let myself go, and as an actor who had also directed, that felt really good.”
Those keeping score at home will recall that Chandor made his directorial debut at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in 2011, with the Wall Street thriller “Margin Call.” One of Redford’s upcoming projects is “The Old Man and the Gun,” with another Sundance alum David Lowery. This is the first time Redford has worked with one of the thousands of filmmakers whose careers he’s helped launch. “Of all the people I’ve sponsored over 30 years, no one’s ever asked me to be in a film!” Redford noted. Judging from “All Is Lost,” it was worth the wait.