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Cannes 2011: We Need to Talk About Kevin, reviews

Sasha’s review will be up shortly. Until then, we’re seeing a range of mostly deep enthusiasm from other critics blown away to various degrees today.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a lot of things: A visual essay on the color red, a triumph of sound design and musical-visual counterpoint, a chronologically disordered, collage-style portrait of a family’s disintegration; a character study of a woman who surrendered her urbanity and her independence for her family and reaps the whirlwind from those seeds of bitterness. It’s also a non-American director’s movie about the soullessness of American suburbia, which bothers me some because it’s so hackneyed but might bother me more if it weren’t so convincingly rendered. But when you break it down to essentials, it’s a monster movie — and I think all discussion of its craft and subtlety (which are considerable) or about how great or how evil it is are constrained by that fact.

The monster isn’t Eva, although she may have some doubts about that. The monster is her lithe and handsome teenage son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller in the present tense, and even more unnervingly by Jasper Newell as an almost affectless younger child), who has, we gather, committed an unspeakable, headline-grabbing crime. We know that from the beginning of the movie, by the way; Ramsay hopscotches compulsively backward and forward through time, frequently alighting on the night when Eva must push her way through a crowd of stricken onlookers and emergency vehicles surrounding her son’s high school. It’s the scale of Kevin’s monstrous act, and its tangled prehistory, that are gradually revealed.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: Producer-star Tilda Swinton brings her A-game to the role of Eva, the gaunt and haunted middle-aged woman living through an unending hell: her teenage son Kevin is in prison for committing a Columbine-style atrocity at his high school and she is perpetually assaulted and abused by the bereaved parents. Eva is simultaneously at the centre of this atrocity and at its margin: she must pay dearly in her wretchedness every waking moment and yet can make no restitution. All that is left to her is to replay, endlessly, the story of Kevin’s life and ponder her own role. Was she at fault ‚Äì other than in giving birth to him? Or was Kevin’s a fathomless, motiveless evil? Or is it simply that Kevin is a tragic and gruesome outlier: a freak exaggeration of the banal fact that boys get angry at their parents, angry at their schools, angry at new baby siblings, angry at themselves, and will find some way of acting out?

…Much has been made of the fact that Cannes, this year, is giving more of a chance to women directors. This certainly looks like a more female take on the traditional high school gun tragedy ‚Äì compared to, say, Gus van Sant’s Elephant. Ramsay’s superb film reminds us that someone does the dirty, dreary work of explaining, feeling unhappy, going on prison visits and generally carrying the can. And that may well be the mother. As Swinton’s Eva wearily washes off the red paint that someone has splattered over her porch, the movie wanly restates the undramatic truth: the mess must be cleaned up somehow, and it isn’t the men who wind up doing it.

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