He's only 33, but Ryan Gosling has already become something of a fixture at the Cannes Film Festival, starring in the fest entries Blue Valentine, Drive, and Only God Forgives. For his fourth film in five years to play here, however, Gosling stepped behind the camera: He wrote and directed (but did not star) in today's Cannes premiere Lost River, which features Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, and Gosling's real-life girlfriend, Eva Mendes. What do you need to know about this unusual, divisive directorial debut? Let Vulture catch you up.
What's it about?
Lost River is a mother-and-son story, though Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her teenage son Bones (Ian de Caestecker) don't spend a lot of time together. She's working at a very weird fetish club in order to make the rent, while he's busy stripping houses in their almost-abandoned neighborhood. (Gosling shot the film in Detroit, and he makes extensive use of the city's run-down, post-apocalyptic feel.) Things look grim for their family's future, but when next-door neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan) tells Bones that an entire amusement park lies hidden at the bottom of a nearby body of water, the boy becomes convinced that this flooded, forgotten dream world holds the key to turning their bad luck around.
How has the movie been received?
Though Lost River's first press screening ended to applause, the mood was soon poisoned by a flurry of vicious tweets. "If a $200 haircut and $900 shades were given lots of money to defecate on Detroit, the result would be Ryan Gosling's directing debut," typed Grantland's Wesley Morris, while The Telegraph's Tim Robey called Lost River a "film-maudit crapocalypse" and Variety film critic Scott Foundas dismissed the movie as a "first-rate folie de grandeur." Yikes! I heard a few positive reactions on my way out of the theater, but they were muted; the movie is a bit baffling, as I think Gosling intended. If there's any consolation prize, it's that the reviews are still better than what Gosling got here last year with his booed, reviled Only God Forgives.
What kind of director is Gosling?
As a filmmaker, Gosling seems to have less of a personal stamp than a stamp collection, one assembled from other directors he's worked with and admired. The film's synth score recalls his work on Drive with director Nicolas Winding Refn, while the dreamy landscape shots evoke Terrence Malick. (Both are thanked in the credits.) He's clearly studied up on David Lynch and Carlos Reygadas, too, since the film's fetish club is drowned in Lynch-like surreality, and the opening scene of Lost River, which follows an innocent, babbling child around during magic hour, reminded me of the first sequence from Reygadas's recent Cannes winner Post Tenebras Lux. Gosling will no doubt direct again — he had originally planned to make his debut on a far more conventional film, a remake of the music biopic The Idolmaker — so it will be interesting to see if those influences will eventually coalesce into a sensibility all his own.
What does the movie look like?
Lost River is a dreamy art film, well shot by Spring Breakers director of photography Benoit Debie, and it eschews a conventional narrative to rely heavily on its beautiful images. Gosling is particularly enthralled with things set on fire — he lavishes attention on a burning bike and house set aflame, which crackle and blaze in slow-motion. Whatever you may think of the film, it will surely make for a very striking trailer.
What moments will everyone be talking about?
The weirdest shit in the movie goes down at its fetish club, manned by Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes. The latter makes quite a first impression: As Hendricks walks in looking for work, she spies Mendes dancing sensually for the crowd, clothed in a head wrap and skintight dress. Then, all of a sudden, a figure in black emerges behind Mendes and stabs her repeatedly! Blood sprays everywhere onto a delighted crowd, some of whom literally lap it up, and as Mendes's lifeless body is dragged offstage, she winks. It was all an illusion — the club's patrons thrill to simulated violence — and Hendricks eventually gets into the act herself, cutting off her own face in a magic act and dabbing the wet, red muscle beneath. What it's all meant to represent is unclear, though it casts the Mendes/Gosling relationship in a new light, since between that opening dance and a later knife-throwing act, Gosling subjects his girlfriend to several bloody blade strikes. At one point, Mendelsohn suggests that the clubgoers exult in gore because it allows them to blow off a little steam; if that's the case, and the notion springs from a personal place, Gosling and Mendes have surely made their movie into a very unusual therapy session.