By Jake Howell

Cannes Un Certain Regard Review: Lost River

Lost RiverIf Lost River is the film Ryan Gosling wanted to debut as his first film—and you only get one first film—then I’ll be the first to admit that I had him pegged (artistically speaking, anyway) as someone entirely different.

There are always one or two movies at Cannes that are prematurely tossed aside by critics immediately after the initial press screening, and it appears Gosling’s film is an example. It’s not the deepest picture at this festival by any stretch of the imagination—and it is self-indulgent to a fault—but this film is certainly an experience, albeit an avant-garde one; while I didn’t gain anything meaningful from the narrative aspect of Gosling’s fable, there’s no denying Lost River is primarily a strong visual offering, replete with striking compositions, arresting images, and a nuanced color palette.

One part urban fantasy, one part body horror “macabaret,” and two parts the hipster fringes of Instagram, Gosling’s film is a fairytale of sorts set in the ghostly ruins of Detroit. Billy (Christina Hendricks), single mother of two sons—a toddler named Franky and a teenager named Bones (Iain De Caestecker)—live in a house they can’t afford for much longer, and to make ends meet Billy begins working in a decadent sex club that offers a “bloody good time.” The family lives next to Rat (Saoirse Ronan), essentially a quiet, rodent-carrying manic pixie dream girl for Bones to admire; outside of this narrative bubble is the rampant anarchy spread by Bully (Matt Smith), the self-proclaimed king of town. Bully scours the nightscapes with his disfigured crony looking to bury Bones, and it’s a race to see who will end the other first.

Lost RIverIf you go into an avant-garde film expecting a cohesive narrative, there is little to do but remind yourself that this is experimental work and continue from there. Elliptical editing, filtered lighting, unusual camera angles—hell, even different modes of camerawork (Gosling takes a GoPro for a spin)—this is what you can look forward to (or dread) in Lost River, and it’s juxtaposed against a soundtrack that sounds similar to the atmospheric, thumping, generally crepuscular music the Chromatics did for Drive (but of course). Yes, Drive. And even Only God Forgives. These films come to mind not simply because of Gosling’s lead performances in them, but because of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s distinctively electric aesthetic that Gosling is certainly inspired by here. But countless filmmakers pay shameless homage to the auteurs they admire, so this is par for the course, and it’s critically inconsistent to criticize Gosling for doing so himself.

Lost River boasts some memorable pictures (burning buildings, sunken highway lamps, a faceless woman), and though they may have come from Gosling’s pen, these images owe much to cinematographer Benoît Debie, the lens-genius behind Spring Breakers and Enter the Void. The same is also applicable to production designer Beth Mickle (who also worked on Drive), and to his credit, Gosling lists their names and many more with massively-sized font flair at the top of the film. Lost River has a remarkably strong artistic department, so while the plot may be a little too metaphorical to mean much of anything (and remember, Gosling isn’t actually in the movie), this is an admirable outing—and an intriguing first feature—nonetheless. Hell, it’s better than anything James Franco’s ever churned out.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon