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  • Writer's pictureJack Salvadori

Cannes #77 - "Megalopolis" Review


I believed in America.


And I believed in New Hollywood, helmed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Thus, it particularly saddens me that Megalopolis, the legendary director’s long-awaited epic dream, is not the late masterpiece I anticipated.

Forty-five years after the triumph of Apocalypse Now on the Croisette, Coppola competes for the Palm d’Or once again. Expectations were insurmountable, especially after the hyped reactions from an industry screening last month, classifying the project as extremely unconventional. Well, that’s a very kind way to put it… You would assume that studios have been ungrateful to Coppola, who, after crafting some of the greatest masterpieces in film history not only had to self-finance his latest project, but he is also struggling to score distribution deals. For once, however, the studios may have a point.


The idea at the core is promising and fascinating: an alternative universe where New York is instead New Rome, and its society is shaped around the customs and style of a hypothetical modern Roman empire. Patrician families pull the strings of the city, with Mayor Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) on one side, and genius Nobel Prize winning architect Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver) as his vocal opponent. The latter desires to rebuild the metropolis from scratch into a utopian society, structured around principles and technological advancements.

Just like the film, Cesar’s dreamland is theoretically promising, but once it shines on the silver screen, it’s an embarrassing cluster of bad CGI, resembling a Windows 2000 screensaver. What is not computer generated is blandly shot like a perfume ad, which goes hand in hand with the flat music, soapy dialogues and over the top performances a-la-Dick Tracey. The colourful characters plot against each other in dollar-store Machiavellian schemes, and a very talented ensemble of actors feels highly underused, most notably Dustin Hoffman relegated to an unflattering side role. The plot-holes increase exponentially, and despite its 138 minutes a lot seems to be missing, perhaps due to the infinite rewrites of the script (rumours claim that there have been over 300 versions). Coppola’s eye is cast on concepts rather than characters. However, these ideas such as living in a better world for the future generations, sound preachy and shallowly kitsch.

 

By the end of the film, one has more questions than answers, with the main one being: how is this possible? Comparing a director’s heights with his latest works is never a fair assessment, but how can He be the same master who delivered those perfect scenes from The Godfather and The Conversation, where no detail was left unnoticed?

The egomaniac and delusional architect who wants to build an idealistic empire in his own way inevitably mirrors the octogenarian filmmaker, who challenged all conventional production standards and the studio system, making the movie entirely through his own means. It is therefore impossible to discern the artistic qualities of Megalopolis with this audacious personal bet, and it should be appreciated under this light rather than as a picture per se. Coppola’s spot in film history is secured, and yet he gambles everything on what, at $120 million, can be considered the most expensive “experimental” movie ever made.

He is determined to redefine how a movie can be told, including an unprecedented theatrical interaction midway through the screening, with the lights going up to show a journalist in the cinema interviewing Cesar on the screen. Unexpected, but eventually this is but a gimmick that does not matter in the film.

 

If history is cyclical, Francis Ford Coppola wants to be Marcus Aurelius, but instead turns into Nero.


1/5


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