There are some films that everyone talks about, heatedly among friends, without even having seen them at the cinema. Elephant is one of them. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the tenth movie by the American film maker and the second chapter in his “death trilogy” [also including Gerry (2002) et Last Days (2005)], premiered at Cannes in May 2003. By declaring that “cinema is also what allows us to survive traumas”, the French actress Isabelle Huppert awarded two prizes to Elephant: the film won the Palme d’Or and the Best Director Award, a first at the most famous French film festival in the world, where its rules do not allow a full-length feature in competition to win two awards (unless it’s the best Actor Award).
If there was a lot of talk about this film after its screening at Cannes, having amazed the jury - that year presided over by French director Patrice Chéreau - it’s because Elephant is all about the Columbine shootings of 1999, when two high school kids killed a teacher and 12 pupils, wounding another 24. In the USA, the HBO-produced film totalled 208,520 admissions compared to more than 600,000 in France.
In the same vein as Elephant, another film is currently ruffling feathers. The Hunt, whose release was initially set for last September, has been banned in cinemas by the most controversial US President of all time, Donald Trump. The reason lies with its storyline imagined by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (both responsible for the dystopian series Watchmen, about a race war in North America, broadcast on HBO) where 12 strangers wake up in a warehouse, without knowing why, and are then chased by a group of evil leaders who want to kill them… for entertainment. A script that reminds us of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a film by Pier Paolo Pasolini released in 1976 where teenagers are locked up by fascists in a manor house and forced to become their sexual guinea pigs. This time, The Hunt is all about a manhunt, with plenty of blood spurting and guaranteed suspense: a story that greatly displeased President Trump, who saw in this fiction a sad mirror to the reality of his country, endlessly destroyed by mass killings.
Directed by Craig Zobel (to whom we also owe episodes of the two very excellent TV series, The Leftovers and Westworld shown on HBO) and produced by Jason Blunt (Get Out), The Hunt has finally managed to slip through the cracks, even if it did attract the wrath of the White House. In wanting to ban a film from being released when he hadn’t even seen it himself, President Trump has simply aroused the impatience of the whole world, who are now desperate to see Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don't Cry) and Julia Roberts' niece, Emma (American Horror Story) in this subversive and satirical, therefore utterly tantalizing, thriller.
The Hunt (2020) by Craig Zobel, set for release in the USA on March 13th and in France on April 22nd.