This year, the Cannes Film Festival kicked off with a restoration of Jean Eustache’s 1973 ménage à trois scandal “The Mother and the Whore” and concluded with a screening of controversial Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness,” creating an odd kind of symmetry for the event’s 75th anniversary edition, between which I somehow managed to screen all 21 films in competition. Made half a century apart, Eustache and Östlund’s rhyming triangles were hardly the only parallels to be found at Cannes — though anyone who’s ever binge-watched movies at a major festival knows the feeling of such connections, often just a fluke of the order in which you see movies whose images and ideas inevitably resonate with one another.
Consider this could-be coincidence: Roughly midway through Östlund’s influencer-skewering satire (a fitting follow-up to 2018 Palme d’Or winner “The Square”), a black-tie dinner aboard a posh ocean cruise goes sideways, touching off an outrageous sequence in which the disgraced attendees, puking every which way, wind up swimming in their own effluvia. Until this point, “Triangle” presents itself largely in aspirational mode, poking pinholes in the characters’ rarefied bubble. But this vom-arama creates a wonderful rift in the film’s high-class veneer, bringing everything down to the crudest of bodily functions (one character, erupting from both ends, alternates between sitting on and bending over her lavatory), à la restaurant scene in “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.”
It might well have been the scene of the festival, were it not for the perverse programmer who scheduled art-house punk Quentin Dupieux’s “Fumer Fait Tousser” right after, an absurdist smoking-themed comedy which features its own epic barf gag — and just like that, Östlund’s out-there set-piece seems to have met his match (not really, though the novelty certainly feels diminished). Another example might be donkeys, which factor into both “Triangle” and Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO.” The latter is a pro-animal, human-skeptical fable — imagine a modern riff on Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar” crossed with Countess Ségur’s “Memoirs of a Donkey” — which follows an ex-circus donkey as he wanders across Europe, interacting with people who abuse it, or the earth, or both. To my surprise, the film delivers much of the emotional punch found lacking in this year’s competition. Jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, we critics tend to sit fragile in front of the sacred Cannes screen. In such a state, it doesn’t take much to provoke a feeling of cinematic ecstasy, which makes the lack of such cathartic connections in this year’s relatively mediocre lineup all the more disappointing.
As far as I’m concerned, the festival’s defining scene occurs in “R.M.N.,” a rich and densely layered — but by no means impenetrable — social parable from director Cristian Mungiu (the talent behind “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”). Told in the cool, steady-handed style of Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev (“Loveless”), “R.M.N.” takes place in a rural Romanian town, where the…