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Critic of ‘May December’, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore light up Cannes

Todd Haynes uses as an excuse the true story of the teacher who had an affair with a student to build the identity puzzle of ‘May December’.

    As a good semiotician, Todd Haynes, the director of ‘Carol’, is incapable of looking at reality without perceiving a host of signs and symbols. Consequently, his cinema is constituted from the superimposition of layers (and more layers) of texts from multiple sources. A master at negotiating between low and high culture, his new film, the magnetic ‘May December’, could be seen as the impossible encounter between the imagery displayed by Ingmar Bergman in ‘Persona’ and the salsa of gossip magazines. The film uses as a narrative hook the true story of teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who was sentenced to prison for maintaining a affair sentimental and sexual with a thirteen-year-old boy, with whom she later married and started a family. However, this starting material is not enough for the curiosity and creative voracity of Haynes, who prefers identity splits –it should be remembered that he invited six actors and actresses to play Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’– to fixed personalities. The solution is provided by screenwriter Samy Burch, who invites Haynes to situate himself twenty years after the Letourneau scandal, when Elizabeth, a television actress (Natalie Portman), approaches the protagonists of the story, renowned Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton), in his preparation for the filming of a film adaptation of the case.

    In this metafilmic context, Portman and Moore throw themselves into the game of cat and mouse. The complacent Elizabeth (Portman) tries by all means to penetrate the peaceful universe of Gracie (Moore), who boasts one of those idyllic suburban homes that Haynes knows how to turn into claustrophobic hellholes. In fact, Elizabeth’s foray into the life of Gracie and Joe brings out the darkest face of a family nucleus in which manipulation and neurosis wreak havoc in a well of immaturity. This emotional cocktail is served by the director of ‘Safe’ in the manner of Douglas Sirk, with one foot in the sensuality of the bodies and the settings (the action takes place in Savannah, the cradle of American Gothic) and the other in scenic baroque (Haynes once again gives free rein to his almost fetishistic relationship with mirrors, vehicles for his characters’ internal splitting).

    At the moment of truth, when the characters of the vampiric Portman and the sibylline Moore come face to face, the camera is located behind a mirror that allows the viewer to look at both actresses from the front, as it happened in some of the most iconic scenes of ‘Persona’. The idea is to suggest a dissolution of identities. The actress (Portman), who is initially presented as a subservient figure, becomes contaminated by Gracie’s indifference, while the exemplary housewife reveals, under the influence of the actress, her insecure and brittle background. But nothing remains fixed in the game of masks in ‘May December’, a film that adopts the codes of melodrama, conquers a tone of not to go soap opera and revolves around a soundtrack that incorporates, like a hammering ditty, the notes that Michel Legrand composed for ‘The Messenger’ by Joseph Losey. Thus, navigating through the waters of estrangement, Haynes once again demonstrates his keen eye for dissecting the identity chaos that lurks in the bowels of the Yankee psyche.

    For connoisseurs of female melodrama


    The best: Julianne Moore, full of joy, on the verge of laughter and/or tears in each scene.

    The worst: the intertextual density of the film limits its emotional scope.


    Address: todd haynes Distribution: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Cory Michael Smith Country: USA Year: 2023 Release date:Gender: Drama Script: sami burch Duration: 91 min.

    Synopsis: Twenty years after the high-profile romance between Gracie Atherton-Yu and her young husband Joe shocked the country, with their children about to graduate from high school, a movie is about to be made about their story. Actress Elizabeth Berry will be spending time with her family to try to better understand Gracie, whom she is set to play in the film, causing the family dynamic to unravel under the pressure of her outside gaze.

    Source: Fotogramas

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