Pray, what is wrong with world cinema? And, pray, what is wrong with the Cannes Film Festival that it ought to have chosen such similar themes. Men and women in unhappy relationships -- and using their own children as pawns in a cruel game of chess.
In about the first three days of the Festival's ongoing 68th edition, I saw the same plot repeat in a movie from Iran, in one from the US and the third from France. Each of these had men calling the shots or thereabouts.
Obviously, cinema across continents is running out of ideas. Or, is it that man-woman marital rift is getting to be so widespread that films find it hard to ignore this aspect of human relationship.
American auteur Todd Haynes' Carol (with Cate Blanchett) is set in the winter of 1952, in New York. It is Christmas, but there is no joy in the life of the upperclass socialite, Carol (Blanchett). And when she meets a young lowly shop assistant, Therese, the older woman is attracted. With Carol's divorce with a successful businessman imminent, she plunges into a lesbian relationship with Therese -- who leaves her steady boyfriend to be with the rich woman. Caught in all this drama is Carol's young daughter, who is bewildered at her mama and papa fighting over her custody. In the end, Carol ends the war by telling her husband that they ought not to quarrel over that one precious thing which the two had created out of love. Their daughter.
Cannes then takes us to Iran, where Ida Panahandeh's Nahid is also about a separated couple -- with the custody of their son going to the mother on the explicit condition that she will not remarry. But who is to say how the heart will behave. When the debt-ridden Nahid (Sareh Bayat) meets Masood (Pejman Bazeghi), a well-to-do businessman, she flips for him. And when her ex-husband finds out about this, he takes away the boy. Like Carol, Nahid is extremely well enacted, wonderfully crafted and mounted with feeling. But then the subject is so cliched now, and neither Panahandeh nor Haynes can inject any novelty into their stories. Therein the movies slip.
Watch: Nahid trailer
While Carol and Nahid are subtly narrated, French auteur Maiwenn's Mon Roi, is a dramatic take on marital conflict. Here again, a child is involved, and since Tony ( Emmanuelle Bercot) is a lawyer, her husband Georgio (Vincent Cassel) finds it hard to get an upper hand. A cad to the core, he wants Tony (a man's name though) to remain his wife, while he sleeps around with other women with not a care. A classic case of a passionate affair -- where the couple make the most violent love and in such unusual places as kitchen surfaces -- turning horridly sour. Here too the performances are just superb (though a little overboard at times), and the movie has a zing about it. But come on, conflict in marriage and a little child torn apart by this raging adults is all so passe.
I am merely hoping that I do not get around seeing more of such bedroom squabbles in the coming days of the Festival, which will draw its curtain on May 24.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival for 26 years.)