Three Faces of Science-Fiction

in 56th Cannes Film Festival

by Caroline Vié-Toussaint

Never were cultural differences more obvious than in three science- fiction movies shown in Cannes 2003. Michael Haneke’s “Le temps du loup” (Out of Competion), The Wachowski brother’s “Matrix Reloaded” (Out of Competiion) and Yu Li Kwai’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (Un certain regard) were quite significant in their way to consider the genre. “Matrix Reloaded” treated it as your typical blockbuster would. Special effects galore in a middle of a ridiculous plot.

The Wachowskis are obviously looking for a kind of Star Wars cult status with this SFX catalog complete with bombastic dialogues, cliffhanger ending and cheap mysticism. In a country where religious fanatism is back in full blast with the Bush administration, Larry Fisburne’s preaching speech reflects the kind of hero hollywood tries to make us adopt as role models. It might not seem that way when you watch “Le temps du loup” but Michael Haneke’s flick also makes use of state of the art special effects. This visionary tale takes place in Europe after an apocalypse of some kind (pictures on a wall suggest an atomic disaster). A mother (Isabelle Huppert) and her kids try to survive in a hostile word. Unlike “Matrix Reloaded”, “Le temps du loup” SFX are invisible, Haneke put the technical innovation to good use in a more discreet way employing computers to work on the exposure or to create the constant smog surrounding the daylight scenes of his film. “Le temps du loup” shows how a rich european country would deal with a war-like situation. Much more intellectual than the Wachowski broher’s, Haneke’s approach of science-fiction is both fascinating and sophisticated. The austrian director plays with his audience, forcing it to confront its fears and its own latent ferocity. Like Haneke, Chinese director Yu Li Kwai has a low-tech conception of the genre, a choice motivated not only by budget concerns but also by aesthetics ones. This tale of two brothers, a mother and her young son in a futuristic continental Asia ruled by a sect is closer to Godard’s Alphaville sobriety than to american excesses. Its vision of a future where people lost touch with themselves to the point of having trouble coping with newfound freedom is extremely grim. As his austrian counterpart, the chinese director uses everyday objects and settings to create a vision closer to the audience (and much more pessimitic) than Wachowski’s.

The three movies reflect both the personality of their directors and the situation in the part of the world they were produced in. We can disagree on their cinematographic merits and relevance, they’re fascinating in what they reveal of our societies and their terrifying flaws.