CORRECTED: The title of this Un Certain Regard film is "Afterschool."
CANNES -- Love it or hate it, "Afterschool" by talented 24-year-old New Yorker Antonio Campos is a noteworthy feature film debut developed at the Cannes Residence Program. At a posh New England prep school, an introverted student finds himself witness to the tragic death by overdose of two beautiful twins. To work through his angst, he makes a film about them. Somewhere between Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" and French artiness, this is a sophisticated stylistic exercise too rarefied for wide audiences, but earmarked for critical kudos.
At the center of the film is Robert (Ezra Miller), a clean-cut teen so insecure and self-absorbed he has trouble relating to other kids at his elite prep school. Like an adolescent staring into the mirror, camera dwells moodily on Robert's handsome face, trying to find meaning behind his timid stare. While his roommate deals drugs and the other kids ignore him, he cultivates an Internet obsession, masturbating to clips of sexual violence. The hormones are flowing, but he is too repressed to make a move on the obviously available Amy (Addison Timlin), until she takes the initiative.
There is not much happening for the film's first half-hour of narrative, besides setting up a student film project in which Robert and Amy are required to film empty school corridors. Then, abruptly, two popular twin sisters rush into one of said corridors and die in Robert's arms, spitting up blood. The gruesome scene is filmed in long shot, apparently through the lens of a hand-held DV cam, so is hard to decipher. But that is the point (shades of Michael Haneke and "Cache"), as Campos deliberately mixes up film and reality. This is where mainstream auds, who have put up with a stubborn stream of long takes and offscreen framing devices, will probably throw in the towel.
Although it takes some time, the film does have a real point to make, condemning the blatant hypocrisy of school authorities who, in cahoots with the parents, find it easier to put a lid on the scandal as quickly as possible. Robert, judged the most traumatized, is given the task of creating a soothing "memorial film" for the dead twins; but being a conscientious artist, he will have trouble making others appreciate his work of truth.
Cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes plays a major role in recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of an isolated campus, run by strict rules. With its long-held shots and slow zooms, the camerawork has a rigorous beauty of its own, though the idea of framing shots so that half the action takes place off-camera becomes a wee bit obvious after a while.
Cast: Ezra Miller, Jeremy White, Emory Cohen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Addison Timlin, Rosemarie Dewitt, Lee Wilkof, Paul Sparks, Bill Raymond, Gary Wilmes, Christopher Mccann. Director-screenwriter: Antonio Campos. Executive producers: Andrew Renzi, Victor Aaron, Susan Shopmaker, Rose Ganguzza. Producers: Josh Mond, Sean Durkin. Director of photography: Jody Lee Lipes . Production designer: Kris Moran. Costume designer: Catherine Akana. Music: Rakotondrabe Gael. Editor: Antonio Campos
Sales Agent: Coproduction Office, Paris
No MPAA rating, running time: 122 minutes.