'Megalopolis' and 'Furiosa' bring star power to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (2024)

By Harlan Jacobson

PublishedMay 25, 2024 at 7:13 AM EDT

Cannes this year seems like the festival where the old guys came to dance or die and have fun doing it.

In competition for the Palmes d’Or here, Megalopolis will not be Francis Ford Coppola’s last film, even at 85, as he repeated in a press conference here what he has said for years about making films until he dies. His wine has made his films possible. Megalopolis is in its own particular category. It is both designed as a big canvas Caravaggio to ask big questions of people in high places and a small studio movie like his One From the Heart, for which he purposely went into a studio to make a manageable film in 1981, after Apocalypse Now nearly killed him in the Philippines. Of course, he won his second Palme D’Or for Apocalypse Now, after his first for The Conversation five years earlier. In the works for 30 years, on and off, and shot in Georgia, which made Coppola a better deal than New York State, Megalopolis is a $120 million light show with people. It is an echo of Coppola’s 1988 film, Tucker, about the builder of the 1948 car of the future, Preston Tucker, with a similar frenetic oom-pah of a visionary bouncing off the walls to bend the future his way.

'Megalopolis' and 'Furiosa' bring star power to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (1)

2024 Cannes Film Festival

Megalopolis has been the reigning champ at Cannes this year of negative reaction at first and countervailing positive push back, which is usually admitted with an “I must say I did like the Coppola,” as one A-list critic confided sotto voce in a lobby catchup. My wife poked me to say, “Me too,” the way Me too used to mean.

You’ve no doubt gleaned some details: Adam Driver is Cesar, head of Megalopolis’ city planning department in a Classics Comic Book kind of nod to both Shakespearean families and Robert Moses cut and pasted into our future cityscape. He’s a billionaire inventor of a miracle cellular substance to rebuild a collapsing stand-in for New York City, and which lets him go rogue over the usual city powerbrokers. Like Giancarlo Esposito, as Mayor Cicero, an avatar of real city politik – whose platform is to build a casino -- that Cesar says dooms us all, and Nathalie Emmanuel, who negotiates the distance between the two as Cesar’s lover and Mayor Cicero’s daughter. At stake is nothing less than the future.

Megalopolis hails from a certain style of filmmaking that just doesn’t happen all that often. The design-scape is like a wedding venue in Queens, with a script that culls lines from Roman poets carved into stone inter-titles, plus Hamlet and Petrarch. The women all wear togas, the men have bob cuts and all work their angles, and Adam Driver doesn’t shout his lines, except where actually warranted. The whole of it jumps from roof to roof like Super Mario but doesn’t much work as a film so much as an opera, as a libretto with a half dozen arias all of it waiting for a composer and an orchestra. Understood like that, bravo! Why not?

The latest installment in George Miller’s Mad Max storyline is Furiosa, subtitled a Mad Max Saga, which feels like someone in Warners marketing got nervous and needed to turn down the temperature and class up the appeal –saga--to broaden the demographics. The film had its debut on the Riviera-- not in Competition, but just for the red-carpet sex appeal of Anya Taylor Joy as the title character, Furiosa, mad as a hornet about being kidnapped and her warrior mother being crucified.

She ricochets around in combat high couture costuming and a lot of whiz bang machinery, including the husk of a Plymouth Valiant, and gets the best of the entire range of men you might otherwise find working in Corporate America but here in Miller’s obligatory, post environmental collapsed world have settled into being sand monsters in the desert where they have cornered and stockpiled at least two precious commodities: gas and bullets. At stake is nothing less than the future. I think I just said that about Megalopolis above. We seem to be getting closer to Apocalypse now.

'Megalopolis' and 'Furiosa' bring star power to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (3)

Cannes Festival 2024

Now, I loved Miller’s Road Warrior back in ’82, not so much Thunderdome with Tina Turner three years later and didn’t need to follow the story of Fury Road 8 years ago to know the new superheroes are women. I am just fine with seeing Taylor Joy as Furiosa use Steve McQueen’s silent stare to let the miscreants at hand in this chapter know they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Such as Chris Hemsworth as Dr. Dementus chewing the desert scenery. It opens fresh from Cannes stateside this Memorial Day weekend and is far preferable to watching people drive around in circles at 200 mph at the Indy 500 waiting for them to crash.

'Megalopolis' and 'Furiosa' bring star power to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (4)

Harlan Jacobson

Just a few more Titles from the 77th Cannes about which there is more to say include:

Sean Baker’s Anora, in which the sone of a Russian oligarch’s son in Brooklyn takes a lap dancer for a wild ride, and a serious contender for a Palme of some sort Saturday night.

The Apprentice, just when I’d gone 6000 miles across an ocean to tune out the drumbeat of Trumpamania, we get a film in the competition yet, possibly a film slated to stream only about the young Donald Trump coming into his own under the tutelage of Roy Cohn. In the 1980s, when Trump meets Cohn, he strutted about like a true co*ck for having put the Rosenbergs in the Chair. Much better than I expected.

Talk about a Monster’s Ball, director Ali Abassi plays the story from New York Magazine and Vanity Fair writer Gabe Sherman’s screenplay on Trump, in an understated, even somewhat sympathetic fashion. As Roy Cohn, Jeremy Strong dials up the internal smolder from Kendall Roy higher to Jaws levels of menace, but the harder part here is Sebastian Stan’s Trump, who perfectly humanizes a young brat from Douglaston, Queens and brings him into the operating room in middle age for liposuction and a bloody graphic scalp recision in which the future president’s head is sliced open and stapled shut—just to rub your nose in the point of view at work here.

'Megalopolis' and 'Furiosa' bring star power to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (2024)
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