‘Rumours’ Movie Review: Cate Blanchett Gets Weird (Cannes)

It’s been a long time since Cate Blanchett got weird. She’s played unlikeable, she’s played dark, she’s played strange, but not since Heaven in 2002, in which German director Tom Tykwer got her to shave her head and bomb the Italian police, has Cate Blanchett got weird. But Cate Blanchett is also one of the very rare actors in world cinema who is so talented and beloved that she can do what she likes, and the chance to work with giant weirdo Guy Maddin was obviously one she couldn’t pass up. Mr. Maddin, the notorious ‘enfant terrible’ of Canadian cinema, who co-directed Rumours with brothers Evan Johnson (who wrote the script) and Galen Johnson, will be able to parlay Ms. Blanchett’s appearance here into worldwide distribution for his weirdness at last. If only this had meant Rumours was a good film.

Ms. Blanchett plays Hilda, a German prime minister NOT modeled on Angela Merkel, who is hosting the G7 conference at a country estate where archaeologists have recently discovered many bodies of bog people. The other conference attendees are the American president (Charles Dance, in his own accent, and why not), the Japanese prime minister (Takehiro Hira), the Italian prime minister (Rolando Ravello), and the French prime minister (Denis Ménochet). There’s also Maxime the Canadian prime minister (Roy Dupuis), who is NOT modeled on Justin Trudeau, and Cardosa the British one (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who as a competent black woman in power is a figure of fantasy on all four levels. 

The seven repair to a remote gazebo for a working dinner with the goal of drafting a preliminary statement about their plans for the conference, but slowly they realize their attendants have vanished, their phones aren’t working, and they are alone in the woods. Well, not entirely alone. As they attempt to walk to safety amidst various other shenanigans, they find an enormous giant brain, as seen in the press photo. What’s even more disturbing than an enormous giant brain is that it seems to have control over one of their European Union counterparts, Maxime’s ex, Celestine (Alicia Vikander), who is discovered speaking gibberish later recognized as Swedish (Ms. Vikander’s mother tongue). Oh, and the bog people have resurrected, though this is not really a problem, as they are spending their time masturbating. Like I said: weird.

The trouble is, weird needs to be either shocking or amusing, and Rumours, is, unhappily for a movie that includes masturbating zombie bog people, neither. The gibberish-is-Swedish joke is the only one which lands. The audience at the Cannes Film Festival was desperate to laugh at the endless details of Maxime’s sex life, the dismissive attitude everyone has toward the Italian prime minister, or the way in which the French prime minister finds himself helpless in a wheelbarrow, but eventually everyone gave up trying to laugh and simply stared in disbelief.

The dialogue is largely an exercise to demonstrate how carefully these politicians are speaking to maximize how much it seems like they are doing while minimizing doing anything at all. It’s a masterclass in effective BS, but it was probably funnier on the page than it is acted out. On top of that, the first sight of the bog people was met with stunned silence, not the ideal response for the centerpiece of your weird movie. It’s bad enough that it’s not even a metaphor for the kind of people who put faith in the statements put out by the G7 in real life.

All that said, Ms. Amuka-Bird walks off with the movie, as her character is the driving force for much of the plot as well as the most empathetic. Ms. Blanchett does a great impression of a buttoned-up politician who you can tell used to be fun, and Mr. Dupuis gets to have a great time mocking the position of Canada on the global stage. But those of us who are not Canadian and therefore less used to the antics of Mr. Maddin will largely stare in amazement. It’s weird how a brilliant concept and a high-powered cast could go so wrong, and not in a good way. 

Rumours is now playing at the Cannes Film Festival.

Learn more about the film at the Cannes Film Festival page for the title.

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