TIFF 2011, Day 2: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Today’s TIFF started with a whole lot of line-ups. It’s so good to see so many excited moviegoers! In the morning, I went to the box office to pick up my ticket for Sunday’s Premium screening of Shame (be jealous!) and I added Tyrannosaur to my Friday schedule. (That’ll be a packed day with Hysteria, Take Shelter, and Wuthering Heights already penned in.) I wanted to add an afternoon show for today; however, none of the “On sale” films piqued my interested, so I rushed on over to the AGO and took a spot in the rush line for Le Havre. Le Havre seems to be one of the more in-demand films at the fast, and the queue of moviegoers was far too long for everyone to get in. Unfortunately, I was among the fifty or so people who were out of luck. Hopefully word will be passed along to distributors and Le Havre will eventually be coming to a theatre near you. [Here’s Sasha’s review of Le Havre from Cannes.]
Since I only had the night-time screening, I decided to make a detour to Roy Thompson Hall while en route to We Need to Talk About Kevin. I made it to RTH just in time for the red carpet segment of the Moneyball premiere, and I managed to see Anna Faris, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and…. BRAD and ANGELINA!!! It was very exciting to see Hollywood’s hottest couple in person (even though I was about six rows deep). I even managed to snag a few pics! Only at TIFF would I spend an hour creeping on stars whose film I’m seeing the next day…
Finally, getting to the day’s film, We Need to Talk About Kevin set an awfully high bar for the next week of the festival. The film truly lives up to the raves that Sasha and many others have heaped upon it already. The film is an excellent adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s shattering novel about a mother, Eva, who tries to reconcile her degree of guilt in the school shooting committed by her son, Kevin. While Shriver’s novel is composed entirely in correspondence between Eva and her husband, Franklin, Lynne Ramsay follows her act of dispensing with the first-person narrator of Morvern Callar, and tells We Need to Talk About Kevin with raw, jarring visuals, and an ingenious sound design.
Ramsay’s evocative visual scheme creates multiple parallels between Eva and Kevin. Through astute framing and clever, well-timed match cuts, the film enhances the physical and psychological similarities between Eva and Kevin. The two characters are equally well served by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. Swinton’s laudably understated performance ranks among her best. Eva seems so full of life in the flashbacks to her early years, but when the film chronicles the present, Swinton’s sullen and weary face is a deeply affecting portrait of maternal hell. Miller also invests Kevin with a subtle complexity beneath his demonic grin. Like mother, like son.
In addition to the eerie similarities Ramsay draws out between the two Khatchadourians, the director has an uncanny way of turning mundane details of their daily lives into chilling omens of their downfall. Ramsay’s recurrent close-ups and her ability to use ordinary objects to universalize the Khatchadourians’ situation are quite startling. Her visual scheme also makes We Need to Talk About Kevin a very accessible film through her potent symbolism, especially in her expansion of the scene in which Eva finds her house splattered with red paint. No matter how hard she scrubs, Eva simply can’t remove the stain on her home without making it look like she has blood on her hands.
Most impressive, however, is Ramsay’s restraint in her handling of the weighty subject matter: aside from removing the epistolary structure, the most noticeable change from the novel is the fact that Ramsay largely withholds the actual depiction of Kevin’s rampage, and instead forces the viewer to watch Swinton’s face as Eva relives it all in her mind. Ramsay also avoids making the film too heavy by adding a comedic edge to Eva and Kevin’s turbulent relationship. Particularly helpful in this regard is John C. Reilly’s fun performance as Eva’s doofus husband; however, neither Reilly’s performance nor the sharp irony of the film seem like mere comic relief. Instead, Ramsay often turns said comedy back on the audience, and somehow makes it a part of the unsettling horror. Accentuated by uniformly strong performances and top-grade craftsmanship, We Need to Talk About Kevin undoubtedly brings one of contemporary cinema’s most authentic voices to the fore. Kevin should easily rank among the best of the fest, if not the year.
Up Saturday: The Artist, Moneyball, The Descendants, and Take this Waltz!