The Island: Cannes 2011 Review

Cannes Film Festival
Eccentric Bulgarian drama may have a hard time attracting visitors.

Ambitions outweigh accomplishments in director Kamen Kalev's offbeat thriller about a couple's trip to Bulgaria.

For his sophomore effort, Bulgarian director Kamen Kalev returns to the Directors’ Fortnight with The Island, a film that’s as far from his gritty debut, Eastern Plays, as can be imagined. Part amour fou two-hander, part offbeat psycho-spiritual thriller, its ambitions wind up far outweighing its accomplishments, though an alluring performance from lead Thure Lindhardt could bolster Euro arthouse play.

From the opening scene, where tightly wound businessman Daneel (Lindhardt) has his fortune read in a crowded Parisian café, it’s clear that Kalev is making an about face from the realistic, street-set dramatics of his first feature. When we’re then introduced to Daneel’s girlfriend, Sophie (actress/model Laetitia Casta), who surprises him with a trip to Bulgaria – only to find out once they get there that the supposedly German-born Daneel is actually a Bulgarian orphan – we know things are going to get weirder.

In that sense, The Island doesn’t disappoint, but making heads or tails of what happens when Daneel and Sophie wind up crashing at a run-down monastery on a remote isle, and then Daneel begins to lose his mind, is not something the film really encourages. Rather, Kalev (who also wrote the screenplay) takes a detour into Lynch and Tarkovsky territory, though his storytelling skills and aesthetic prowess are below the level needed to sustain a narrative that creeps further and further towards quirksville without completely justifying its choices.

There’s some promise early on, and one would think that the island will be a place where Daneel and Sophie can work out their various couple issues, the principal one being Sophie’s hidden pregnancy. But things quickly fall apart when Daneel runs into a woman (Boyka Velkova) who may or may not be his birth mother. Add to that a dead body, a slew of Biblical references, a song by Tom Waits and a supporting role by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowksy, and you’ve got all the elements in place for artsy head-scratcher, though wait: there are way more wackier things in store.

Much of this would be hard to swallow if it weren’t for the intense performance of Danish actor Lindhardt (Angels & Demons), who gives Daneel a chaotic spiritual bent that partially anchors all the madness. Casta (Gainsbourg) has a harder time wrapping herself around some of the English-language dialogue, and several scenes look to have been re-dubbed. Camerawork by Julian Atanassov is sustainable while Jean-Paul Wall’s score overreaches.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: Le Pacte International
Production companies: Waterfront Film, Art Eternal, The Chimney Pot, Film I Vast
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Laetitia Casta, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Boyka Velkova, Russi Chanev, Mihael Mutafov
Director: Kamen Kalev
Screenwriter: Kamen Kalev, in collaboration with Stefan Piryov
Producers: Elitza Katzarska, Stela Pavlova
Director of photography: Julian Atanassov
Production designer: Sebastian Orgambide
Music: Jean-Paul Wall
Costume designer: Stanislava Yanakieva
Editors: Asa Mossberg, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
No rating, 109 minutes

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