Dark drama about school killing spree jolts Cannes

Thu May 12, 2011 8:30am EDT
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By Nick Vinocur

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Wanton cruelty and twisted family dynamics took center stage in Cannes Thursday with "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a dark drama in which Tilda Swinton plays the mother of a sadistic son.

Dragging the Cannes film festival into a darker mood on day two, the movie by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay jolted critics with its stark, unflinching portrayal of a mother-son relationship defined not by love but cruelty and mutual hatred.

Tension and a sense of anxiety run high from the start of the film, which opens with Swinton's American character, Eva, attempting to put her life back together in the wake of a tragedy and facing outrage from her neighbors.

As her house is vandalized with splashes of blood-red paint and townspeople slap her face in the street, Eva isolates herself and retreats into her past -- remembering her family life in a series of extended flashbacks that give the movie a halting, disjointed feel.

Sticking closely to Eva's point of view, Ramsay shows the birth of her son and tracks his development from colicky baby to taciturn boy, played by Ezra Miller, who seems intent on punishing his mother by any means -- from spilling food to killing his sisters' pet hamster to the movie's murderous climax.


Despite some carefully framed scenes of horror, Ramsay said the movie's intent was not to show violence but take on the psychological taboo of a dysfunctional mother-son dynamic.

"Sometimes the child is born and you don't know who that child is," she told journalists at a news conference. "It's not a film about a high school shooting, it's about a mother-son relationship...It's about guilt."   Continued...