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Dhaka Tribune

Coppola's long-awaited epic 'Megalopolis' divides Cannes

  • The film is self-funded and 40 years in the making
  • 'Megalopolis' is set in a decayed, parallel New York
  • Boos and applause at early screening
Update : 17 May 2024, 12:07 PM

Hollywood titan Francis Ford Coppola returned to the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday to unveil his enormously hyped, wildly experimental and deeply divisive "Megalopolis."

The 85-year-old director's arrival at the world-famous movie festival -- where decades earlier he twice scooped the top prize Palme d'Or -- has been the frenzied talk on cafe terraces in the swanky Cote d'Azur city.

Would the epic $120-million project that he self-funded, and that has been gestating for some 40 years, be another masterpiece emerging from chaos, like "Apocalypse Now" all those decades ago?

Or would the film that Coppola sold part of his California wine estate to create be a chaotic mess?

One early press screening attended by AFP was greeted with both jeering boos and enthusiastic applause.

In early reviews, Deadline hailed "a true modern masterwork of the kind that outrages with its sheer audacity," but The Guardian called the film "bloated, boring and bafflingly shallow."

The Hollywood Reporter said the film was "a staggeringly ambitious big swing, if nothing else," while The Times of London ripped into its "nails-along-the-blackboard performances, word-salad dialogue and ugly visuals."

The philosophical and unconventional movie will certainly leave many casual viewers deeply confused.

"Megalopolis" takes place in New Rome, a parallel and decayed version of modern-day New York filled with bacchanalian parties, crumbling ancient statues, and a Madison Square Garden that hosts chariot races and Greco-Roman wrestling bouts.

Adam Driver stars as Caesar Catalina, a cape-twirling Nobel Prize-winning architect hell-bent on using his seemingly magical powers to rebuild the collapsing urban sprawl into a utopian and futuristic Garden of Eden.

Standing in his way is Frank Cicero, played by Giancarlo Esposito ("Breaking Bad"), an old-fashioned mayor who bitterly envies his visionary rival.

The ensemble cast features Aubrey Plaza as a social-climbing journalist, Jon Voight as a mega-billionaire patriarch and Shia LaBeouf as a bratty scion with a penchant for populist politics.

'Prophets'

Coppola, one of Hollywood's most revered and mythologized directors, was greeted on the Croisette red carpet with a grand reception befitting an old master.

Straw hat and cane in hand, he entered the packed world premiere -- the festival's hottest ticket -- having promised a film of operatic scale.

As the lights dimmed it quickly became clear that "Megalopolis" was certainly his most ambitious film.

He recently reeled off a list of influences that included Voltaire, Plato, Shakespeare, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, "Moses and the prophets all thrown in."

And, indeed, the movie is packed with endless quotes and references from the Ancient Classics to Enlightenment philosophers and modern novelists.

Dialogue flits from modern English to Shakespearean verse, and even Latin, and the drama is interspersed with archive footage ranging from the cosmos to Nazi rallies.

At one highly unorthodox moment, events on the screen interact with those in the real-life theatre.

Although Coppola has created several duds since his 1970s heyday, many still believe in his genius.

"Cannes is important to him and he is important to Cannes. He comes as an artist," said festival head Thierry Fremaux.

'Fairytale'

"Megalopolis" is one of 22 films competing for the Palme d'Or, facing a jury led by "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig, who will announce their verdict on May 25.

Also on Thursday, British director Andrea Arnold returned to Cannes with "Bird", chronicling a 12-year-old girl as she navigates a world of domestic violence, teen pregnancies and broken families.

Channelling similar themes to her award-winning "Fish Tank," "Bird" adds fantastical, metaphorical and playful elements, including a flamboyant turn from Barry Keoghan ("Saltburn") as the girl's young father.

A day earlier "Wild Diamond" -- also about a fragile teenage girl, but this time desperate to find fame on social media and reality TV -- was hailed by movie magazine Variety as "the arrival of a major filmmaker" in first-time French director Agathe Reidinger.

There were also great reviews for "The Girl with the Needle," a bleak period drama about a factory worker desperately trying to get an abortion -- with a murderous twist.

Still to come are a Donald Trump biopic, "The Apprentice," and new films from arthouse favourites David Cronenberg ("The Shrouds") and Italy's Paolo Sorrentino ("Parthenope").

Former Palme d'Or winner Jacques Audiard will present "Emilia Perez", billed as a musical about a Mexican cartel boss having a sex change, starring Selena Gomez.

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