Cold in July: Three men and a coffin
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2014: Jim Mickle returns to the Directors’ Fortnight with a succulent bloodfest that comically mixes different references to genre cinema
The American director Jim Mickle, invited to the Directors’ Fortnight for the second year running with Cold in July [+see also:
film profile] (last year he presented We Are What We Are), his fourth feature film, adapted from a novel by Joe R Lansdale and co-produced by the French company BSM Studio, offered to viewers at the Cannes Film Festival a mix of the cheekiest cinema genres as bloody as it is joyful – where we really feel the enormous joy that the famous actors of this film, present at the Croisette with Mickle and the novelist, said they were obliged to feel. We find in this film the southern sun and accents of the films of David Gordon Green, winks to the carnavalesque bloodbaths of Tarantino, a provincial and unhealthy dimension bathed in notes from synthesizers with a hint of a certain Lynch, infused with a very pleasant capacity of not taking oneself seriously, all the while providing a beautifully finished film (even the hero never forgets to finely polish the dramatic blood spurts which he causes, which is particularly funny given that he has the traits of the sociopath from the TV series Dexter).
The story takes place in Texas at the end of the 1980s. One night, alerted by the noise, a good father (played by the famous "Dexter", Michael C Hall, saddled with playing the role of this innocent killer with his mullet haircut and tight jeans), shaking with fear, shoots down an intruder with a bullet to the eye, an act of self defence which will all of a sudden launch him into two completely new roles, for this man who is otherwise a nobody with his small frame store. Overnight, in his little country town, he becomes a courageous avenger around whom everyone keeps quiet whenever he enters anywhere, as if he were a western hero entering a saloon. The metamorphosis is (still) only apparent: Richard Dane is still just an ordinary terrorised man, much more so than Russel (Sam Shepard), the father of the intruder whom he gunned down, a habitual offender like his son, who sets about stalking his family as far as the small bedroom of the blonde toddler whom Dane is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect, even if it means leaving the child to act as bait in order to help capture this relentlessly evasive man who threatens his orderly and right-minded, not to say ridiculous, home.
The events which follow shed light on the fact that Dane is doubly a victim, and that his sordid adventure was orchestrated by unscrupulous men which he only discovers by chance. Russel was also duped by them, and against all odds, the father sides with this intimidating criminal, who calls on an old comrade from the Korean War, Jim Bob (played by a fantastic Don Johnson), a pig-breeder and an incredibly effective private detective. Once the dashing farmer barges in in his flamboyant convertible, whose number plate reads "Red Bitch", the second half of the film begins, the most delightful part, as the unlikely alliance of these three determined men, operating outside of and against the law to restore justice, offers dialogues, jokes and colourful brawls, right up to the finest detail (from sound effects to blood explosions or to photos of pig specimens on the walls of Jim Bob’s “office”). The pace of the film becomes even more exhilirated (and exhilirating), and the truth that the three crusaders discover is so sordid, and the "undead enemy" which they are hunting so revolting (perhaps worse than the psychopath from Silence of the Lambs which we meet at times on his face, because added to the murder is a porno element mixed with organised crime – it’s got everything!), that a time comes when a drink is needed before breakfast.
To all of these positive aspects, which culminate in a highly cathartic "showdown", we add the absolutely gaudy and kitsch setting and costumes which the film team clearly made a feast of bringing together in order to conjure up that quintessential decade of kitsch, which was the 1980s. The result is indeed a delectable film, which you don’t have to be hungry to enjoy.
(Translated from French)