ON THE SIDE
The spotlight at Cannes is on the movies in competition for the Palme d’Or, but the festival sidebar programmes always yield discoveries.
Control, which opened the Directors Fortnight strand this year, marks an assured feature film debut for Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, who has shot album sleeves for U2 and directed music videos for them, Depeche Mode and Joy Division.
Ian Curtis, the gifted singer-songwriter with Joy Division, is the subject of Control, which begins near Manchester, in 1973, when it was grim up north and Curtis was an introspective, Wordsworth-quoting 17-year-old David Bowie devotee. Two years later, Curtis marries his best friend’s girlfriend, Deborah Woodruff (on whose memoir the screenplay is based). He joins local band Warsaw, changes their name to Joy Division, and Manchester impresario Tony Wilson signs them to Factory Records.
The movie follows the rise of the band and the complications in Curtis’s life: fatherhood and its responsibilities; adultery with a Belgian fan; his first epilepsy attacks; and the pressures and demands of fame. It ends on the eve of the band’s first US tour in May 1980, when Curtis killed himself at the age of 23.
Control, which is in black and white, follows the traditional arc of the doomed rock star scenario. While it will hardly prove illuminating to Curtis’s admirers, it is fuelled with an evident empathy and affection for him and his music.
Corbijn found the perfect actor in Sam Riley, who belies his relative inexperience by bringing Curtis vividly to life, and he’s electrifying when he passionately performs on stage. Samantha Morton is affecting and refreshingly unmannered as the troubled Deborah.
Beginning a decade earlier, in 1962, and continuing through the 1970s, My Brother Is an Only Child follows the turbulent experiences of a disaffected youth in Latina, south of Rome. Born to Catholic parents, Accio enters the seminary as a precocious boy but is overtaken with postpubescent lust. In his late teens he enthusiastically joins the fascists, to the horror of his older brother, an avowed communist.
The screenplay is by Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli who, having scripted The Best of Youth and Romanzo Criminale, are clearly fascinated by the political and cultural movements of the period. This film, nimbly directed by Daniele Luchetti, is dramatically involving and entertainingly comic.
And then there is Zoo, which arrived in Cannes trailing potential notoriety because of its theme: men who have sex with horses. Readers of a sensitive disposition may prefer to turn the page now. As it transpires, the movie doesn’t sensationalise its subject, treating it matter-of-factly in a muted, stylised manner.
It’s not the first film to reflect on a sexual attachment between men and horses, which was fuzzily treated in Equus (1977). Zoo takes its title from the abbreviation of zoophile, as these self-declared horse lovers describe themselves. It describes how they made contact over the internet and gathered at a Seattle farm, where they filmed their sexual activities with the animals.
That came to light in 2005, when Kenneth Pinyan, a 45-year-old divorced engineer, bled to death after a stallion perforated his colon. Bestiality is not illegal in the state of Washington, so no charges were filed.
When none of Pinyan’s fellow zoophiles would appear on camera, director Robinson Devor recorded audio interviews with them, which are played under footage of actors in what is a dramatised documentary.
It is difficult and troubling as the men talk about “being zoo”, as the Pinyan character spends the weekend with his ex-wife and their young son before he meets his death, and when animal rescue workers question the zoophile assertions that the stallion had to be a willing sexual partner.
I suppose a ride is out of the question? A scene from the controversial Zoo