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Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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The genesis of a new film monster


- A Machiavellian son and an outstanding Tilda Swinton as a broken mother. In competition at Cannes in 2011.

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

For her third film, British helmer Lynne Ramsay was back last May at the Cannes Film Festival where We Need To Talk About Kevin [+see also:
film focus
interview: Lynne Ramsay
film profile
was screened in Official Competition almost a decade after her second film Morvern Callar [+see also:
film profile

Eva (Tilda Swinton) is a young woman who has given up everything to have her first child, Kevin (Ezra Miller). The two have a difficult relationship from the start and her son’s worrying behaviour becomes even more troubling on the eve of his 16th birthday, when he commits a shocking and unforgiveable act, not only for his mother, but for an entire community plunged into sorrow and mourning. Before forgiving Kevin, Eva first has to overcome her own feelings of guilt, deeply rooted in her persona since the birth of her child, and even before that perhaps.

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Produced in the UK by Independent and adapted from Lionel Shriver’s American bestseller, We Need To Talk About Kevin differs from most British productions in that the directing style is unusual and the photography more what one would expect from an independent US production.

The story is set in the US, opening skilfully with much silence and lethargic editing, in order to communicate the feelings of the central character, Eva. Aside from variations in focus, literally, the visual metaphors recall blood and the flashbacks are like pieces of an incomplete puzzle whose motive, however, is clearly distinguishable.

The facial expressions of the British actress tell her story and she physically carries the stigma of the drama that has completely marginalised her. The stakes are quickly established and Eva must now get back on track by drawing some strength from her memories as she deals with her responsibility in her child’s appalling behaviour.

Ramsay subtly underlines the errors of a mother in desperate straits confronted with an offspring who acts as if he were the son of Satan. Kevin is a monster at every age. This is a true horror film, very different from Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which depicts the same drama. Kevin is unsound, provocative and Machiavellian in everything he does. He manipulates a slightly devil-may-care father (John C. Reilly) to isolate more irreparably his mother in a crescendo of distress until the irreparable is committed.

It is here that one has to look for the reasons for all the maternal guilt. Eva blames her failure as a parent, when she could have seen the disaster coming. Beyond this, however, Ramsey prefers to dwell on the question of acceptance for the sake of maternal love, for the sake of life even, which has come to a standstill because Eva cannot learn to accept.

As the title suggests, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a film on communication breakdowns and misunderstandings in a family when one of its members acts entirely irrationally. In order to create a portrait of this woman who completely interiorises her suffering, Ramsay opts not to stay entirely anchored to evocation and to give us some (relatively) more explicit images every so often. In the end, viewers are confronted with a decision that makes it difficult to take a position. A fact which they can rest assured is the desired effect.

(Translated from French)


international title: We Need to Talk about Kevin
original title: We Need to Talk about Kevin
country: United Kingdom
sales agent: Independent Film Company
year: 2011
directed by: Lynne Ramsay
screenplay: Lynne Ramsay
cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

main awards/selection

Cannes 2011 In Competition
Paris Cinéma 2011 
Telluride Film Festival 2011 
Toronto International Film Festival 2011 
Reykjavik Film Festival 2011 
Athens Film Festival 2011 
Fantastic Fest USA 2011 
Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2011 
Pusan International Film Festival 2011 
Gent International Film Festival 2011 
Mill Valley Film Festival 2011 
Hamptons International Film Festival 2011 
Morelia International Film Festival 2011 
Abu Dhabi International Film Festival 2011 
Chicago International Film Festival 2011 
BFI London Film Festival 2011 
Tallgrass Film Festival USA 2011 
Ljubljana International Film Festival 2011 
St. Louis International Film Festival 2011 
Plus Camerimage International Film Festival 2011 
New York City, New York 2011 
Göteborg International Film Festival 2012 

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