Natalie Portman and Todd Haynes delve into the nature of the May-December performances at Cannes.

CANNES, France — CANNES, France (AP) –

In Todd Haynes’ tonally shape-shifting “May December,” the first announcement of the film’s playful intentions is a theatrical zoom, some lush melodramatic piano notes, and the terrifying announcement that there are no more hot dogs in the fridge.

This moment — which Haynes says indicates “something tricky is happening in the language of the film” — is just a taste of “May December,” a subtle and unsettling drama laced with comedy and camp that Haynes presented in the film. weekend at the Cannes Film Festival.

As an actor, Natalie Portman is researching an upcoming film that wants to dramatize a scandal from 20 years earlier. He arrives in Savannah, Georgia to spend time with Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), who years earlier served as a tabloid for a sexual relationship with a seventh grader. She is now seemingly happily married to Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), with children of her own and a suburban barbecue.

Written by Samy Burch, the film navigates the delicate themes of performance and identity with a light but thoughtful touch. As Portman’s character becomes more and more like Gracie, ethical boundaries begin to blur.

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“It was such a wonderful script in tone, and it was so rigorous,” Haynes said in an interview with Portman. “It was constantly changing how you felt about or trusted one character versus another. That whole process as it went through the script was such a fascinating experience. And I just thought, Wow, how could you translate that visually?

“May December,” which is seeking a distributor in Cannes, marks the first time Haynes (who has worked regularly with Moore) has made a film with Portman, 41. For him, “May December” was an opportunity to not only work with a director he has admired for a long time, but also to discover his own appeal.

“It raises a lot of questions that I’m most obsessed with about performance, the purpose of art, and innocence,” says Portman, who also produced the film.

“When you explore all the layers — playing someone playing someone, making a movie about a movie within a movie — there are so many layers to artifice, and what truth we can bring out of artifice — it’s kind of the alchemy of what we do. to do,” adds Portman. “We use lies to tell the truth, and that’s magic.”

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“May December” has unofficial roots in reality. In some ways, Gracie is not unlike Mary Kay Letourneau, the Washington state teacher who went to prison after having an affair with a boy in the sixth grade.

Questions of identity and artifice have run through Haynes’ filmography, including the lavish ’50s romance Carol, the Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama “Far from Heaven” and his latest film, the documentary “The Velvet Underground.” . In Portman, he found an actor who shared a similar approach to the film.

“In many narrative film and fiction productions, there is an inner desire to redeem oneself in the process, to confirm one’s own goals, as it were. That’s something that I’m not particularly interested in as a director,” says Haynes. “And I’m drawn to actors who feel the same way, who are actually interested in creating distance, perhaps, between their own values ​​and ideas and those in the film. The character. “

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He praised Portman’s eagerness to “get into the most troubling aspects of the character”.

Portman famously played some real-life characters, such as Jacqueline Kennedy (“Jackie”), which required a lot of research. But in “May in December” he plays an actor much more reckless than him, but even in a performance that could easily have slipped into satire, Portman skillfully inhabits it.

“Most artists who tell stories want to keep their ethical stance in the light. A vampire can take a human emotion and a human story and use it and tell a story,” says Portman. “But hopefully the energy you find is the empathy and the curiosity to discover someone’s human behavior and someone’s inner self. That it’s empathy, not bloodsucking.

There were long conversations with Haynes and Moore as they prepared to make “May December” during a 30-day shoot in the spring, but unlike her character, Portman’s preparation for the role was largely already done.

“Well,” says Portman, smiling, “I’ve spent my whole life learning how to be an actress.”


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