Cannes 2022 – Armageddon Time: James Gray recounts the disintegration of the American dream in a hushed drama

The New York filmmaker returns to Cannes with an initiatory story with a strong autobiographical content.

James Gray is back home. Doubly. At the Cannes festival, first, where he had not presented a feature film since The Immigrant, in 2013, and where his films were almost systematically poorly received – before, almost as systematically, being “rehabilitated” when they were released in French cinemas a few months later. But James Gray, and this is even more important, also returns to his home, to New York, the setting of his first five films. In recent years, he had gone to try to reinvent himself in the jungle of The Lost City of Zthen in the cosmos ofAd Astraand, as he got further from his base camp, he seemed to become more and more introspective, to dive deep within himself. The Lost City of Z was a self-portrait of the artist as an insatiable adventurer, Ad Astra weightless psychoanalysis.

Logically, Armageddon Time is an intensely personal film, as if its author continued his journey, his intimate quest. In keeping with the vein of “à la Rome“, cute sin of ex-wonderboys of the 90’s now in their fifties (Tarantino, Richard Linklater, PT Anderson), the film takes place in 1980 (Gray was born in 69), and recounts a few painful months in the life of Paul Graff, an 11-year-old Jewish kid who befriends friendship, in a public college in Queens, with a young black man named Jimmy, with whom he likes to talk about space conquest and fool around in class. The film examines the feeling of betrayal that will take hold of the Jewish child when his parents decide to enroll him in a more exclusive private school and he must then leave his African-American boyfriend by the side of the road. .

Armageddon Time
Universal Pictures

Gray undoubtedly gives us here an essential biographical key, which allows us to better understand where this feeling of guilt comes from that haunts the characters of almost all his films, and encourages us to reread all his work retrospectively in this light. He articulates this very personal story with the American collective story: the class struggle tinged with racial inequalities that will separate Paul and Jimmy is played out against the background of the election of Ronald Reagan, who for many, on the verge of eighties, was synonymous with nuclear peril. It’s'”Armageddon Time” sung by The Clash at the time, and in soundtrack – a reggae of Willie Williams covered by white rockers…

Throughout the film, Gray weaves together a succession of Proustian reminiscences and sociological details that allow him to observe very finely the tectonics of the plates of a society in full metamorphosis. This idea that Jews and black Americans once shared a common experience, before being separated by the powers of money and this totally uninhibited “white privilege” which was about to sweep the zeitgeist US, is a fascinating subject, quite rare in the context of the great American learning stories. But it’s also potentially so explosive that Gray handles it with enormous care. This “political” restraint accentuates the muffled side of the film, extinguished, almost spectral. We think less of Coppola (eternal obsession with Gray) than of Sidney Lumet of the 80s, sensitive, nostalgic, bittersweet – feelings reinforced by the beautiful autumnal photo crafted by Darius Khondji, and the overwhelming appearances of Anthony Hopkins in grandfather descended from survivors of the pogroms of Ukraine, who serves as a moral compass for the young hero. Even when he turns into a thriller in shorts, Armageddon Time don’t raise your voice, and keep playing it soft, mezzo voice. This hushed, almost deceptive appearance is probably largely a trompe-l’oeil. Because under the surface of the beautiful whispered family drama, James Gray says very powerful, even shattering things about this great collective lie that was called the American dream.

Armageddon Timeby James Gray, with Banks Repeta, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins… Coming soon to the cinema.

Cannes: Anne Hathaway and Julia Roberts shine at the rise of the steps of Armageddon Time, by James Gray

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