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Without fear of trash TV in Cannes 2023: Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore exploit their most camp record in ‘May December’

Without fear of trash TV in Cannes 2023: Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore exploit their most camp record in 'May December'

Since that phenomenal medium-length film in which he recounted the life of the singer Karen Carpenter with Barbie dolls (Superstar, 1987), todd haynes has shown a special sensitivity to incorporate kitsch and the most exaggerated aesthetics of the consumer society in his cinematography. It is possible that May December be his most radical work in that sense.

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The director of apparently serious and sensitive dramas like Far from the sky (2002) or Carol (2015), where the remodeling of the codes of Hollywood melodrama always favored emotional expressiveness over the realistic containment of the story, in his new film uses all the tools of the audiovisual sensationalism box which are common in telefilms accustomed to bringing real events to the big screen, the more morbid the better.

In this category enters the story that serves as the plot starter for May December. Julianne Moore plays Gracie, a teacher who had a scandalous affair with one of his students, a minor, widely covered in the tabloid press. A couple of decades later, the couple is still together, with children, and the story that made public opinion scream seems to have faded (except for the occasional hate mail in the form of feces in the mailbox) until a film adaptation.

At that moment it starts May December. Natalie Portman is Elizabeth Berry, the actress in charge of interpreting Grace in the film that is going to be shot. He has gotten their permission (rather grudgingly) to enter his life during the character preparation process and blend in as much as possible. Elizabeth is both in her husband’s current age range (Charles Melton, of Riverdale) as in the one of the teacher when she slept with her student for the first time, which anticipates where the shots of the subsequent psychothriller will go.

The limits of parody

That the relationship between the two women does not take even half a second to become cloudy, or that Elizabeth is willing to take Gracie’s impersonation in her personal life much further than any ethos would bear, won’t surprise any Hallmark or Lifetime school viewers.

The fun is seeing how Todd Haynes takes over those resources and turning points to mimic their own film language in the midst of all this farce. In his hands, the melody of michel legrand for The messenger (1971) is repeated as tirelessly as the impact music of any soap opera.

The wild performances of Portman and Moore push in the same direction and the fact that May December is a production of Gloria Sanchez Productions with Will Ferrell in the credits helps to position it in the same creative line of parodic works whose strength is born from the ridicule of ultra-seriousness as the false telefilm A Deadly Adoption (2015) or the miniseries The Spoils of Babylon (2014) and its sequel.

However, once these coordinates are established, more formal daring on the part of Haynes is missed. And perhaps more originality, or even depth, since it is easy to imagine this kind of tabloid satire of Person mixed with naked eve being much more fascinating and abrasive in the hands of directors like Brian DePalma (Passion) either Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls) who have amply demonstrated that for them the camp registry is much more than making a forced zoom from time to time.

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