Loving: Walking the tightrope of freedom
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: Co-produced by the United Kingdom, with its classic genre Jeff Nichols’ film is a perfect copy of American films about the fight against segregation
Never wasting the opportunity to serenade one another, Anglo-Saxon cousins the British and the Americans have long enjoyed a marriage of convenience in the film industry, with British studios throwing their arms open to US blockbusters which are then proudly accounted for in the British sector of the market, whilst actors from the island play on the fact that they share a common language with their American big brothers to establish careers for themselves that fast-track them to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and greatly ease their entry into the Oscars hall of fame. But this loyal relationship also regularly sees the United Kingdom co-produce for America, on the best that US mainstream arthouse film has to offer. This is the case for Loving [+see also:
film profile] by Jeff Nichols, which was unveiled in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It is the 5th feature film by the 37-year-old director, who is a regular at all the major film festivals, and showcases his highly methodical exploration of genre as he gets accustomed to working with bigger budgets and bigger audience ambitions.
After Shakespearian redneck family drama Shotgun Stories, realist borderline paranormal film Take Shelter (which won the Grand Prix at Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2011), modern adventure à la Mark Twain Mud (which was shown in competition at Cannes in 2012) and intimist supernatural thriller road movie Midnight Special (which was shown in competition this year at Berlin), Jeff Nichols this time broaches a great classic of American film: the fight against the injustice of racial segregation. Based on the story that led in 1967 to the decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia by the United States Supreme Court, which declared any law restricting the right to marriage based on the race of the spouses as unconstitutional, the film showcases all the director’s skills (his sense of realism and the great ease with which he gets under the skin of the working classes, his sense of omission, rhythm and atmosphere and the way he evokes emotion), as he knows all the tricks for incorporating the messages he wants to convey to audiences, but slips them in quick enough that it doesn’t weigh down a story rooted in a subject that is already all too serious. Measuring out the ingredients of the film in just the right proportions, he skilfully recounts the story of love and battles between men of Richard (Joël Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving, two lovers of different races whose marriage in 1958 in the neighbouring district of Columbia (to escape the law banning interracial unions in their home state of Virginia) drags them into a long-term struggle in which national stakes are much higher than their simple desire to live together as a family in the place they were born.
From being arrested to forced exile, from the intervention of civil rights defence lawyers to the media coverage of their case, from threats ("you’re disturbed, Your blood no longer knows where it belongs. It’s the law of God. The sparrow doesn’t mix with the robin. No! No!"; "I’m going to turn your skull to mush") to fear in the face of the mountain before them, with the strength of the family unity (a favourite subject of the director) thrown in: with Loving, Jeff Nichols brings us a perfect copy that nonetheless feels ever so slightly like it may be top of the class, brilliantly taking the subject matter to a new level. We’ll have to watch and wait to see what career path this exceptionally gifted filmmaker takes when the time comes to choose between going down the path chosen by Spielberg (which currently seems likely) or Malick (first period). One thing’s for sure: whatever he does, Jeff Nichols will be spoilt for choice.
Loving is being sold internationally by Insiders, the American subsidiary of Wild Bunch.
(Translated from French)