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At a Cannes Film Festival that appears to be loaded with strong documentaries, a standout emerged Wednesday from the Cannes Premieres section with the world premiere of Leo Scott and Ting Poo‘s Val, a portrait of the actor Val Kilmer, which was very warmly received at the Theatre Claude Debussy (and by The Hollywood Reporter‘s critic Sheri Linden in her review), and which will hit Amazon Prime on Aug. 6.
The film largely comprises footage shot by Kilmer, who broke through as a dashing 26-year-old in 1986’s Top Gun, over a span of several decades, intercut with footage of him in the present day as a 61-year-old navigating life with a breathing tube, the result of a tracheostomy that he underwent after receiving radiation to treat throat cancer. Needless to say, the contrast is striking.
But the doc, of which Kilmer is a producer, is not a pity party. In fact, it’s an often funny and brutally honest portrait of an artist: someone who early in his career was labeled a cocky, difficult, pretty boy, but who — as illustrated by the footage and its accompanying narration written by Kilmer and voiced by his son Jack Kilmer, who is the same age now that his dad was when he made Top Gun — was actually a grief-stricken (his younger brother drowned at 15), ambitious (the youngest student accepted at Juilliard at the time) and committed but frustrated artist (we see him tirelessly rehearsing Shakespeare), and remains one to this day, albeit in artistic endeavors that do not require the use of his voice.
Is Val totally objective, or does it polish Kilmer’s past a little? I would guess the latter — but it certainly isn’t propagandistic. Indeed, it includes extensive old footage and audio of him behaving less than kindly toward director John Frankenheimer and cinematographer William Fraker.
The truth is the film is less about how Kilmer navigated his career than it is about how he navigated his life — particularly after his health took a turn for the worse. Few are the movie stars who would have allowed themselves to be seen as Kilmer does in this film — not only his changed appearance, but also his vulnerability, from when he gets sick at a fan convention to when he acknowledges his humiliation at having to relive his past glories in the first place in order to continue to make a living.
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