Saturday, May 4, 2024

Bertrand Bonello's "The Beast" at The Grand Illusion Cinema: May 4 - 16

In Antoine Barraud's self-reflexive drama "Le Dos Rouge", Bertand Bonello plays himself as a director researching a planned future project on the theme of the monstrous. His quest spans centuries of history, art, music and philosophy, producing an implacably French blend of intellectualism, carnality and oblique storytelling. In "The Beast", it's as though Bonello has discovered the incarnation of what he finds most monstrous in the 21st century. Which he subsequently names in his interview with Variety, "I was curious about the America that produces these kinds of figures, those who take refuge behind atrocity". And as Glenn Kenny's review for suggests, the beast in question is none other than fear itself. The film's opening passage reveals that the fear belongs to a popular Parisian concert pianist played by Léa Seydoux, who around the time of the 1910 flood of Paris, confesses this fear to George MacKay's Louis, a young Englishman with whom she soon begins an intense, yet unstable liaison. Beginning in this, the first of three time periods, Bonello delivers not just his most densely packed narrative architecture, but one of the most potent science fiction horror films of the decade so far. "The Beast" is a vision of three imminently doomed nightmare times, all of them visions of a vexed world, as it moves towards and reveals its inevitability. Through the exploration of this triplicate world, Bertrand Bonello has produced an unnerving, sensually disturbing disquisition which draws inspiration as much from J.G. Ballard, as it does Aldous Huxley, as it explores the past, present and future of humanity. The latter is possibly the most troubling of the three, as it exists on the precipice of being effectively deconstructed and re-formed by machine intelligences.

In Peter Bradshaw's five-star review, "Bertrand Bonello’s Audacious Drama Throbs with Fear" from last fall's Venice Film Festival, wherein "After Cannes Rejected Bertrand Bonello’s ‘The Beast’: It’s Now Venice’s Boldest Movie", Bradshaw relates that its concoction is both audacious and, satisfyingly, traumatizingly sexual, with a chilling indifference for comfort in the face of sweeping, expansive potential for disastrous change to the human experience. The film depicts the shock of the inescapable and new, loosely based on the vantage of the protagonist of Henry James 1903 novel, "The Beast in the Jungle", who is neuotically paralysed by the conviction that "the beast" in question is crouched in the jungle of the future. Bonello is thrilled by the fatalism, and the erotic potential of this inscrutable danger. His direction imbues the whole of the three time periods with a sense of being equally unknowable, and tantalizingly alluring, each holding the promise of coming face to face with discovering the doom of its era. In the New York Times, Bonello is the "Master of Puppets" of this tale of civilizational collapse and existential retribution, yet the review argues for all of its audacity, and immensity of scope, it is held together by something more delicate. As IndieWire puts it, Bonello’s films are typically “more interested in negotiating the semiotics of emotion than provoking it,” but “The Beast” turns out to also be a rather tangible, and tragic, love story, "Léa Seydoux and George MacKay are Star-Crossed Lovers in Bertrand Bonello’s Magnificent Sci-Fi Epic".