“OH! WAS THAT FESTIVAL SEX?” wisecracked a publicist outside the Salle Debussy this morning after he was accosted below the waist by a too-aggressive member of the scrum pushing to get in to see Gus Van Sant’s Restless, which opens Un Certain Regard. The bodily contact along the Croisette was much lustier than what was on-screen: Written by first-time screenwriter Jason Lew, Restless recounts the romance between two teenagers—orphaned, funeral-crashing Enoch (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis), and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a naturalist with a brain tumor given three months to live. Wasikowska, who gives one of the best interpretations of roiling adolescent passion in the recent Jane Eyre, helps leaven the emo goo of Restless, a film that droops with its own tender earnestness.
Another kind of festival sex—depraved, baroque, and mostly offscreen—takes place in Sleeping Beauty, the first film from Australian novelist Julia Leigh, one of four women in the Competition lineup this year (the highest number in the festival’s history). Emily Browning, who, coincidentally, replaced Wasikowska in the lead role, plays Lucy, a university student with a series of odd jobs: medical-research subject (for which she patiently submits to having a long tube threaded down her esophagus), café waitress, office filer—and an upscale sex worker paid to go into deepest slumber while geriatrics do what they want with her. The white-haired gentlemen, however, are respectfully asked to obey the rules of the soignée proprietess: “No penetration, and take care not to leave any marks.” Slobbering, violent mouth exploration (including possible tooth extraction), and creaky dry humping are permitted.
Bodies—covered in tomato sauce?—also writhe in the dream-sequence opening scene of Lynne Ramsay’s Competition entry We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel about a teenage mass murderer told from the perspective of his mother, played by a hollowed-out Tilda Swinton. Ramsay’s first film since 2002’s Morvern Callar traces the development of the sociopath of the title from infancy. Though Ezra Miller is undoubtedly sinister as the archery-obsessed adolescent Kevin, the festival may need to create a Palme d’Enfant to acknowledge the formidable, creepy talents of Jasper Newell, who plays Kevin at age eight—and is the most baleful child actor I’ve ever seen.