The Cannes Film Festival is chiefly revered as a showcase for prolific, careerist auteurs, so the appearance of Savage Grace, the first feature in 15 years by New Queer Cinema co-instigator Tom Kalin (Swoon), was certainly striking—not that a film in which Julianne Moore stars as a woman who’s fucked and then killed by her gay son would lack for distinguishing features anywhere.
“I like to joke that I’m Norma Desmond in my castle with my monkey, and this is my
comeback,” says the eye-batting Kalin, 45 and clearly ready for his close-up. More seriously, Kalin, having kept busy with experimental video-making as well as teaching and political activism, says that the ’90s were difficult enough for a “gay man of a certain age,” that he’s “thrilled to have come out the other side, being able to make the film that I wanted to make.”
Like Swoon‘s gothic-romantic account of the Leopold and Loeb murders,
Savage Grace‘s fact-based tale of taboo sex and violent death seeks sympathy for those whom most filmmakers would consider undeserving of it. Moore plays Bakelite plastics queen Barbara Baekeland, a volatile class-climber whose loveless marriage helps push her deeper into a codependent, ultimately incestuous relationship with her enigmatic son (Eddie Redmayne).
“No one agreed,” says Kalin of the real Barbara’s acquaintances, though he could also be referring to viewers of Savage Grace, which boldly refuses to clarify its intentions or reduce the Baekelands’ wild pathology to psychobabble. Halfway through the fest, it’s the most provocative American film in Cannes—Sicko withstanding.