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Festival de Cannes 72 Countdown: American Honey, 2016

We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.

American Honey, 2016

Prix du Jury – Andrea Arnold

Prix du Jury Œcuménique, Commendation – Andrea Arnold

Although the Official Competition for Cannes in 2016 was brimming with diverse quality, as per usual, the overall buzz of the prize-giving was a little underwhelming. Headed by Mad Max: Fury Road director, George Miller, the jury conferred to hand out some winners considered a tad surprising. Nothing for the likes of these highly favoured films: Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade), Elle (Paul Verhoeven), The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook), Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) and Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar).

The prize for Best Actress was crammed with heavy-hitters. Veteran Sônia Braga was many people’s favourite for Aquarius. While Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake), Ruth Negga (Loving), and Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper) were all touted for the victory somewhere or other. And what about the electricity surging for breakthrough actress, Sasha Lane, for American Honey?

Writer and director, Andrea Arnold, was back in Cannes, looking to upgrade her previous two efforts in prize-receiving. Following Jury Prizes for both Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009). When the accolades were handed out, there were a few frowns.

American Honey

The Director prize was shared by Cristian Mungiu for Graduation, and Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper. As well-received as those films were, that prize was far from predictable. Xavier Dolan’s meek It’s Only the End of the World somehow grabbed the Grand Prize. And Ken Loach won his second Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake.

“A lens-hugging break-out central performance from Sasha Lane just about carries the movie to the finish line.”

With Jaclyn Jose handed the Best Actress prize for the uninspiring Ma’ Rosa, and Asghar Farhadi winning Best Screenplay for The Salesman, it would be yet another Jury Prize for Andrea Arnold. A pretty impressive record, for sure, but maybe third time is not such a charm with this mixed bag of recipients. Nothing, too, for Sasha Lane, then, in what was an extremely competitive line-up for actresses.

With American Honey, British filmmaker Arnold ventures out with her road movie, implying something altogether bigger, broader, bolder. Making huge leaps across the waters to produce a film set in the States, Arnold certainly has afforded the right to do so. Proven herself a worthy maker of films with authenticity, integrity and ground level human scope.

American Honey

A much-buzzed about Cannes-favorite, American Honey, steps a little outside of Arnold’s usual comfort zone, but still retains her grasp in the art of memorable film-making. Especially in the realm of gritty stories about women. That said, this latest effort was not as glorious as the wave of praise suggested. Some fine moments, sure, but this is certainly no Fish Tank.

A lens-hugging break-out central performance from Sasha Lane just about carries the movie to the finish line. But at close to three hours it is a long, long journey. What the screenplay tends to do is rely on its own regurgitation of the same character frictions and life lessons to be learnt. Arnold, too, really goes to town with her music playlist, cramming the picture with so many songs. An acquired tastes many of them, that too often do we have to witness on-the-road sing-alongs it loses novelty faster than I would have liked.

“American Honey is a gorgeous film. This will devour the senses of many – hook, line and sinker.”

Back to Lane, though, an assured performance, her heavy expressions and no-fear attitude display her character’s inner turmoil. While Shia LaBeouf just seems to be playing another misunderstood idiot. Hard to believe why our heroine would be smitten with this guy for so long. Hats off to Riley Keough, in super-bitch mode, devours the scenery when she enters, and is mercilessly under-used and under-developed.

I’ll rave about the Robbie Ryan cinematography though, given a clear platform to really let his hair down with his talent for visual scope and outdoor lighting. Arnold has not particularly tripped here, her dedication and determination are all over this. She’s so aware of her craft, and what makes characters tic.

American Honey

There’s a comforting, semi-exciting feel at times as we spend time crammed into the mini-bus as roadies discuss their Darth Vader obsessions or show off their unusual pets. There are some real highlights – the strolling bear; the shopping for the kids of a junkie mom; Lane’s Star calling out LeBouf’s Jake in her first canvassing opportunity.

American Honey is a gorgeous film. This will devour the senses of many – hook, line and sinker. That said, there are some questionable, rather than affecting, plot shifts for me. Perhaps a film at its most illuminating as drifts and swings rather than develops as a story, but it is just not enough in the end given the film’s over-long duration. Andrea Arnold and Sasha Lane, though, provide enough talent and gusto to be full until supper.

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