Presented at the close of the 70th Cannes Film Festival, A Beautiful Day won the prize for screenplay and male interpretation. If the first one has …
Presented at the close of the 70th Cannes Film Festival, A Beautiful Day won the prize for screenplay and male interpretation. If the first is surprising, the second imposes itself with violent evidence.
Lynne Ramsay likes to cultivate unease. The British who had stood out with the disturbing We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011 reiterates with A Beautiful Day , which is already drowning in rave reviews. Juggling with glorious influences, the director delivers here a divisive work, bathed in an unhealthy but fascinating climate.
Although she wants to assure us otherwise, her latest feature film is above all an opportunity to demonstrate the formal mastery of her art. The deliberately refined scenario could also suggest that the form would take precedence over the substance.
We follow Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former navy destroyed by the war who has turned into a formidable hired killer. Charged by a senator to save young Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) from a pedophile ring, he unleashes a tornado of violence, thinking of exorcising the wounds of his own childhood.
If the scenario inevitably makes one think of Taxi Driver , it is rather towards the cinema of Refn that the film is oriented. It fits in perfectly with the fables of the latter’s atmospheric fables. Ramsay delivers an ingenious staging, suggesting great brutality without showing it each time. The whole thing is sublimated by the photography of Thomas Townsend, which occupies almost all the shots with the stocky figure of Phoenix.
The director films the glances, elusive or insistent, and substitutes them for the spoken word. Like the taciturn driver of Drive , Joe doesn’t have much to say, much to experience. Joe Bini’s elliptical set-up also skilfully hints at the traumas he suffered. Ramsay thus puts everything that is visually possible to serve the suffering of his actor, alone in front of the whole world. This fury is sometimes crossed by quiet moments, like an underwater scene bathed in a magnificent chiaroscuro.
In quasi-trance, Joaquin Phoenix is once again exceptional. Since his delirious digressions in I’m Still Here , the native of Puerto Rico seems in full possession of his means. He thus delivers his best performance since The Master . Shaggy beard and bloodshot eyes, he swallows the screen. Only the diaphanous beauty of the young Nina seems to provide a palpable counterweight to her presence, making her reassuring. The mystery of Joe fascinates, but camped on a deliberately abstract position, Ramsay does not want to deliver more.
This lack of development acts like a glass ceiling on an otherwise very short work (1h25). It cannot therefore hold a direct comparison with its cinematographic tributaries.
The hero of Taxi Driver showed a face that America did not want to see. Forty years after the film’s release, Travis’s redemption is still not evident. Her disturbing outlook on life, women and society still raises questions today. The same goes for Iris (played by a fabulous Jodie Foster), a twelve-year-old prostitute who seemed to have three times more. Like these two, Joe and Nina are also entitled to their scene at a dinner party . But they don’t have that much to say to each other.
By using a similar narrative structure, without infusing it with the depth necessary for an attachment to the characters, A Beautiful Day has the effect of a dream. It remains imprinted in the retina for a long time, while its substance quickly fades over the next few days.
Eyeing Nicholas Winding Refn’s cinema, A Beautiful Day uses its staging to explode in our faces. Lynne Ramsay takes the opportunity to demonstrate real know-how, and offers a role of choice to a particularly inhabited Joaquin Phoenix. But this visual slap cannot compensate for a too light writing, which prevents one from becoming fully attached to these characters damaged by life. A journey as aesthetic as it is hypnotic, which unfortunately goes a little too fast.